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Hello, you’ve come to the home of the HillBilly Logician, Tony Vance.  Please take some time to look over the BLOG posts here, there is much on theology and apologetics, as well as church life from a HillBilly’s point of view.

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The HillBilly Logician lays down the law to Stephen Law (Part 3)

I’ve spent two articles already (here and here) on Stephen Law’s arguments against theism in one of his recent articles (here).  My first post was dealing with his overview of the logical inconsistencies (he claims) and his failure to prove his point.  In the last article I addressed one of his ‘internal’ arguments against omnipotence, demonstrating his lack of understanding of theist’s (especially Christians) view of omnipotence.  This article will be my last, as I look at his argument that God and evil cannot co-exist.

The ‘Problem of evil’ as it is often described, is one of the oldest and most difficult issues for a theist to deal with.  First there is the logical problem (Law deals mostly with it). Alvin Plantinga has been successful in dealing with it (in my and many other’s opinion, Law disagrees).  There is also the emotional problem of evil, one not as easily addressed.  It is what I think most non-believers actually are dealing with, if evil is a hindrance to their belief in God.

EXTERNAL OBJECTION-EVIL

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Law summarizes his claim succinctly;

“The logical problem of evil involves the thought that the theist’s belief in the existence of evil is logically incompatible with their belief in God. It’s argued that a God, being omniscient, would know of the existence of such evil, and, being omnipotent, would have the power to prevent such evil. Moreover, being perfectly good, God would not want evil to exist. Thus, if evil exists, then God does not.”[i]

In other words, God and evil could NOT exist in the same world.  Law argues, “a theist might respond to the logical problem of evil by suggesting that, though there might appear to be evils, the evils are in fact illusory.”[ii]  A theist (especially Christian’s) ignoring evil has ignored reality.  That evil exists is almost without controversy, as atheist like Law rail against theists for its existence…if there is a God.  Sadly, evil is one of our most apparent realities that we have.

There is of course a distinction that must be made.  There has generally been recognized as two *types* of evil.

“Moral evil. This is evil that results from the misuse of free will on the part of some moral agent in such a way that the agent thereby becomes morally blameworthy for the resultant evil. Moral evil therefore includes specific acts of intentional wrongdoing such as lying and murdering, as well as defects in character such as dishonesty and greed.

Natural evil. In contrast to moral evil, natural evil is evil that results from the operation of natural processes, in which case no human being can be held morally accountable for the resultant evil. Classic examples of natural evil are natural disasters such as cyclones and earthquakes that result in enormous suffering and loss of life, illnesses such as leukemia and Alzheimer’s, and disabilities such as blindness and deafness.”[iii]

Few would argue that ‘natural evil’ could not exist if God does, granting that it not be gratuitous.  Most of the issues are with ‘moral evil’ and that God, if omni-everything, could stop evil if He wanted.  Law argues that theist can turn to “pseudo-profundity”[iv] as an argument to prove evil and God can exist together.  His terminology is akin to saying “black is white” and that we are really not contradicting ourselves(!).  This is not an argument any theist I know (especially Christians) would argue.

 

LAW’S BEST TRY

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The problem of evil (evidential or logical) is a powerful argument against theism, at least on the surface (and I grant that many intuitions lean toward this).  Law notes, “Theists are usually committed to two claims: the claim that God (defined as omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good) exists, and a claim about the world – that it contains evil. The suggestion is these two claims are logically inconsistent.”[v]   This argument is as old as any against theism.  Alvin Plantinga has answered this, and philosophers have granted his argument as sound;

“Does Plantinga’s Free Will Defense succeed in describing a possible state of affairs in which God has a morally sufficient reason for allowing evil? It certainly seems so. In fact, it appears that even the most hardened atheist must admit that (MSR1) and (MSR2) are possible reasons God might have for allowing moral and natural evil.”[vi]

Law claims there are some (granting it is not ‘many’) that push back against Plantinga’s arguments.  “The suggestion is that the existence of any evil at all – be it of either variety – logically entails the non-existence of God. Thus, according to Mackie, belief in the existence of both God and evil is ‘positively irrational’.”[vii]  I, again, must push back on the ‘uh-un-not-so’ fallacy employed by Mackie (and by extension Law), as not dealing with Plantinga’s argument, as he must.

Law tries to bring Plantinga’s argument down;

“Mackie is unconvinced by Plantinga’s treatment of the logical problem of evil. He argues that there is a plausible position on free will – compatibilism – on which free actions may nevertheless be causally determined. In which case, God can choose to create a world in which free agents and moral goodness exist, but no evil exists because those free agents are caused always to do the right thing.”[viii]

Law’s ‘best’ argument comes down to “God could have determined a free will being to do what God wants!”  Compatibilism is determinism (divine or natural) and others have said so, “It should be noted that this position is no less deterministic than hard determinism – be clear that neither soft nor hard determinism believes man has a free will.”[ix]  This is philosophy at its worst; try and make a contradiction not, and one that is not, one.

 

BIBLICAL ARGUMENT OF EVIL

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Does the Bible speak of evil?  It could be said it speaks of it as much, if not more, as it does about good.  Look at the very beginning of creation, its self.  “And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.”[x]  Good here probably means ‘proper’ or as it should be.  I don’t think God was declaring a moral statement.  The creation was working as it should, at least in that first week(!).  We move over a few pages and we get this;

“And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”[xi]

We can argue that at that moment, sin (which is another way of saying evil) plunged all of creation into a ‘not-good’ mode.  Paul said, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.”[xii]  Paul here argues that sin (again we could substitute ‘evil’) entered the world at the moment of Adam’s transgression.  One could argue (as some do) God brought down the curse upon the world, or as others do, that Adam’s sin corrupted the world and the result is sin is our reality.

It would be hard for any to argue the world and man are not corrupt.  Natural disasters, man’s inhumanity to man, and the world seems out of kilter, how does one account for such things?  Christian theism has the best and most reasonable explanation for evil’s existence.  Evil is a result of disobedience to God and it has consequences.  The Bible describes the result of and explanation for why evil exists.

 

CONCLUSION

Again, Stephen Law is a brilliant philosopher and he plays drums(!).  I am sure there are many much more capable than me that have taken on Law’s arguments, and I would suggest you investigate for yourself these ideas.  I would argue that theism (especially Christianity) answers much of the objections that Law raises.  The contradictions he claims are there seem less apparent when further explored, even Law seems unconvinced of SOME of his own arguments.  I am confident that Christianity will survive the claims of Law and I’m sure Stephen Law will be unfazed by my taking him to task, as well.  Though I hope some will see the answers Christianity can offer to such objections.

 

 

 

[i] Law, Stephen, “Logical Objections to Theism – an introduction”, http://stephenlaw.blogspot.com/2018/05/logical-objections-to-theism.html

[ii] ibid

[iii] Trakakis, Nick, “The Evidential Problem of Evil”, https://www.iep.utm.edu/evil-evi/

[iv] Law, “Logical Objections…”

[v] ibid

[vi] Beebe, James R., “Logical Problem of Evil”, https://www.iep.utm.edu/evil-log/ (in this article MSR1-is God creates a world of free-will creatures, something He deems valuable and MSR2-is the world was plunged into ‘evil’ by Adam’s sin)

[vii] Law, “Logical Objections…”

[viii] ibid

[ix] https://www.monergism.com/topics/free-will/compatibilism

[x] Genesis 1:31 (KJV)

[xi] Genesis 3:17-19 (KJV)

[xii] Romans 5:12 (KJV)

The HillBilly Logician lays down the law to Stephen Law (Part 2)

This is now part two of my look at Stephen Law’s recent article.  In the first part, I discussed the three areas that Stephen Law thinks theism (more accurately, Christian theism) has logical inconsistencies.  He believes there are internal, external, and what he calls “nonsense”[i] logical problems with theism.  I addressed the three areas (see here) and think he fell short of his claims.  The next few articles address the responses (his actual counter responses to possible objections) and examples he uses to argue his three main points.

I again want to emphasize the respect and admiration I have for Dr. Law- his wit, brilliance, and academic achievement are to be noted.  Dr. Law doesn’t spend all his waking hours addressing theism, or Christianity, and is involved in many other national issues (he is British) such as Brexit.  I know my arguments have made him ‘quake’ in his boots and is anticipating my further arguments(!).

We will enumerate his responses and examples and try to briefly address them in the same order he has his objections, namely; internal, external, and nonsense. With this article, we will begin with his internal objections (as he sees them).  Let us dive into the world of an esteemed atheist and see if we can address his issues with theism, and let a HillBilly tackle some philosophy if I might.  This second part will deal with his arguments against omnipotence.

 

INTERNAL-OMNIPOTENCE

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Law begins the response section (in other words HOW a theist might respond) with this simple statement.

“When presented with an internal objection, theists may:

(i) maintain that the alleged logical contradiction is merely apparent,

or

(ii) drop the divine attribute(s) causing the problem.”[ii]

I am okay with these choices, as it seems we addressed the objections and concluded that Law had either presented an “alleged” contradiction or it was something we didn’t necessarily attribute to God.  For example, Law argues that omnipotence is an internal objection, which no (that I am aware of) sophisticated theist has ever agreed to.

Law continues his misunderstanding of omnipotence.  Law supposes that omnipotence *should* mean God can do anything, even illogical things, I noted; “Law notes, “If God is omnipotent then he can bring about any state of affairs.” Any state of affairs? Can God make a world of married bachelors?  Can God create a world full of squared circles?  The obvious answer is NO!”[iii]

“But why suppose that God’s inability to bring about such logically contradictory states of affairs entails he lacks omnipotence? One suggestion would be to say that logical impossibilities are no real limitation on God’s power, for it is not as if there is some possible state of affairs – the existence of a four-sided triangle, say – that God is somehow prevented from realizing. Rather, the expression ‘There’s a four-sided triangle’ fails to pick out any possible state of affairs.

So, some may conclude, when properly understood, the claim that God is omnipotent generates no contradiction.

Alternatively, a theist confronted with the Riddle of the Stone might adopt option (ii) and drop omnipotence from the list of divine attributes. That provides a straightforward solution, though it’s a far less popular move.”[iv]

Law seems to argue that either one must ‘redefine’ omnipotence or drop it as a problem, as it is ‘obvious’ he has demonstrated God can’t be omnipotent if He can’t do the ridiculous.  Law has not given a common understanding of omnipotence, as most theist would describe God.  Additionally, theist (especially Christians) would argue that God’s impeccability is a powerful *limit* on God’s omnipotence. “Literally understood, impeccability is the inability to sin.”[v]  So, again I would argue that there are certain things God cannot do, and this is no limitation on God’s omnipotence, as it is not possible for God to sin.

 

THE BEST FOUR

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Law gives four very ‘strong’ arguments against God’s omnipotence:

“1. God, if omnipotent, has the power to bring it about that he is not himself omnipotent. But, being necessarily omnipotent, God must lack that power. Therefore, there exists no necessarily omnipotent God.

2. God, if omnipotent, has the power to bring about evil. But God, being essentially morally perfect, cannot bring about evil. Therefore, God does not exist.

3.God, if omnipotent, can bring about his own non-existence. But God, being a necessary being, cannot do this. Therefore there is no God.

4. God, if omnipotent, possesses the power to bring it about that another omnipotent being exists. But there cannot be more than one omnipotent being (the existence of one omnipotent being limits the power of all other beings – for example, if God, being omnipotent, can bring it about that I sneeze now, there can’t be another omnipotent being able to prevent me sneezing now). But a being that lacks the power to bring it about that another omnipotent exists is not omnipotent. Therefore, there exists no such being.”[vi]

Law’s four arguments are what I would call, the argument of language.  In other words, I can just say what I want, and it must be taken as a *good* argument against your position.  For example, consider the Los Angeles Lakers.  If you said, “the 80’s Lakers were the greatest basketball team ever assembled!” I might retort, “no great team could wear purple!” My argument has no bearing on the validity of yours (though I actually agree that the 80’s Lakers were the best!).

Law first states that God, “if omnipotent, has the power to bring it about that he is not himself omnipotent.”  This statement is as absurd as any he uses.  He is asking God to be not Himself (as omnipotence is an attribute that is based in His essence).  Why think this is anything close to a description of omnipotence?  Why *must* God be able to do the nonsensical to be omnipotent?  God can no more not be (if He exists) than I could be a member of the 80’s Lakers.

The second is a more thoughtful argument and one even Christians struggle with.  Some theologians even argue God DOES bring about the evil, as it is part of His purposes and in the end, it is for His glory and that makes it ‘good’, at least ultimately.  Other theologians have argued that evil is a privation of good, not a separate created *thing*.  I actually believe God cannot do evil, as it violates His impeccability, addressed above.

Law’s third is absurd on its surface.  The ability to make oneself non-existent, if omnipotent, seems ludicrous. Asking God to be or not to be (I’ve heard that somewhere before) seems non-sensical.  It seems that if God is a necessary-being, His non-existence makes all else non-existent, and this argument would never take place.

Finally, his fourth is speaking of God’s ‘inability’ to create another omnipotent being.  Again, I don’t know how this is even a good argument as Law actually addresses the absurdity of *two* (or more for that matter) omnipotent beings existing at the same time.  Their powers would cancel each other out, like in his sneeze illustration.

It seems that what Law is asking of the ‘omnipotent’ is that He quit being omnipotent, right before He uses it to create some evil, then quit existing, and oh, yeah, create another omnipotent being.  Again, I don’t see how any of those follow from a classical understanding of the idea of omnipotence.  Granted, a rudimentary understanding of the concept often has the idea of “doing anything” as the basis of omnipotence, more thoughtful theologians/philosophers have understood it to mean that He is able to do anything logically possible, without restraint.

 

BIBLICAL OMNIPOTENCE

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The one time omnipotent (in the KJV) is used is here, “And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.”[vii]  The Greek Word: παντοκράτωρ (Transliteration: pantokratōr)[viii] is found 10 times in the manuscripts (Greek, New Testament) and nine times it is translated almighty (again in the KJV), and probably has more to do with God’s sovereignty than omnipotence.

There are plenty of passages that speak to God’s omnipotence, but it is more of a philosophical notion than Biblical (and I think the Bible argues for it).  One of our earliest known biblical books addresses this idea, “I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee.”[ix]  This seems a basic idea of omnipotence, “that no thought can be withholden from thee.”  God can do as He ‘wishes’!  Again, another place speaks of it (God directly speaking to Abraham), “Is any thing too hard for the LORD? At the time appointed I will return unto thee, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.”[x]  It may have seemed ‘impossible’ for Sarah to have a child (she seemed incapable and now had reached an age that seemed improbable, as well!), but God’s *ability* was not hindered by the circumstances.

I would actually argue the best definition of God’s omnipotence can be found in the very first page, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”[xi] All that has come into existence has its foundation in God, if He exists, and that seems pretty omnipotent to me.  If God exists then all that we see, know, and could ever experience were brought to existence by His doings.  Omnipotence, from a Biblical point-of-view, seems summed up as creator and sustainer of all that is.

 

CONCLUSION

Law’s arguments against omnipotence rest on logically contradictory presumptions, at best.  At worst they are merely absurd statements that are on the surface so.  Law makes no strong argument against omnipotence except the argument of evil.  Even granting God *created* it, it could be argued it was for an ultimate good, as Jesus’ death on the cross was an unspeakable evil but for an ultimate eternal good.  Saying “purple means red” doesn’t make purple mean red, just because I say it is a way to make purple, not purple.  Just as saying omnipotence means doing illogical things makes omnipotence not possible!

[i] Law, Stephen “Logical Objections to Theism- an introduction”, http://stephenlaw.blogspot.com/2018/05/logical-objections-to-theism.html

[ii] ibid

[iii] Vance, Tony “The HillBilly Logician lays down the law to Stephen Law (PART 1)”, https://hillbillylogicblog.wordpress.com/2019/01/04/the-hillbilly-logician-lays-down-the-law-to-stepehn-law/

[iv] Law, “Logical Objections…”

[v] Wierenga, Edward R., The Nature of God: An Inquiry Into Divine Attributes; Cornell Studies in the Philosophy of Religion (Cornell University Press, 2018), Pg. 203

[vi] Law, “Logical Objections…”

[vii] Revelation 19:6 (KJV)

[viii] Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary

[ix] Job 42:2 (KJV)

[x] Genesis 18:14 (KJV)

[xi] Genesis 1:1 (KJV)

The HillBilly Logician lays down the law to Stephen Law (PART 1)

I think one of the most brilliant minds of our generation is Stephen Law.  I’ve described him as my favorite atheist.  He is witty, brilliant, and plays drums!  Some may ask, exactly who he is. According to his website (blog), “Stephen is Reader in philosophy at Heythrop College, University of London, and editor of the Royal Institute of Philosophy journal THINK.”[i]   Law is a very distinguished philosopher cited by many in the field of philosophy.  He has even debated the esteemed Dr. William Lane Craig (see here).

Recently, Law had published an article on his blog that is a pre-published philosophical paper entitled “Logical Objections to Theism- an introduction”[ii] and there are some things that I find quite puzzling with his thoughts (objections).  First, it must be noted that his idea of ‘theism’ seems strongly biased towards Christianity, and other versions of theism are not as strongly represented in his paper.  Second, his objections are all ‘logical’ (per Law) and take three forms; internal, external, and “Nonsense objections.”[iii] Finally, I am not on par with Dr. Law and suspect my treatment of his work will garner no ‘great’ interest, but I am willing to tread the waters of ‘deep’ philosophy and show that HillBilly Logic can stand the heat.

I think I should note that I believe scripture bears out the idea of God’s omni-attributes.  Philosophy has long helped us cash out the meaning and explanation of omnipotent and omniscience and the like.  As a Christian theist I still must fall back on the Bible as a final authority of what it means, and more importantly for this discussion, what it DOESN’T mean.  I am claiming Law has created strawmen in which he has tried to burn ‘Rome’ down, he often cites attributes or qualities (and he admits at least sometimes) that are not essentially/universally held to ideas of God.  This first part will look at just the three objections he has proposed, and in a future article we will tackle his ‘examples’.

 

INTERNAL LOGICAL CONTRADICTIONS

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Law attacks ‘theism’s’ internal logic in two areas; omnipotence and personhood.  The first surprises me as Law trots out a tired and tried version of, “Can God make a rock so big He can’t lift?”  I’ve encountered this by young Christians and internet-atheists and have pointed out that the Bible makes it clear God CAN’T do some ‘things’, “That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us.”[iv]  Law notes, “If God is omnipotent then he can bring about any state of affairs.”[v]  Any state of affairs? Can God make a world of married bachelors?  Can God create a world full of squared circles?  The obvious answer is NO!  Law’s argument was answered much better than I could long ago by C. S. Lewis.

“His Omnipotence means power to do all that is intrinsically possible, not to do the intrinsically impossible. You may attribute miracles to Him, but not nonsense. This is no limit to His power. If you choose to say, ‘God can give a creature free will and at the same time withhold free will from it,’ you have not succeeded in saying anything about God: meaningless combinations of words do not suddenly acquire meaning simply because we prefix to them the two other words, ‘God can.’ It remains true that all things are possible with God: the intrinsic impossibilities are not things but nonentities. It is no more possible for God than for the weakest of His creatures to carry out both of two mutually exclusive alternatives; not because His power meets an obstacle, but because nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God.”[vi]

The second internal objection is much more complicated as Law addresses God’s ‘simplicity’ and ‘personhood’.  Law said, “The concept of simplicity seems to require that God be non-temporal… The concept of personhood, on the other hand, appears to require that persons be temporal…”[vii]  He thinks the two attributes are a contradiction as something cannot be both temporal and non-temporal.  I would argue that Law has misapplied God’s simplicity and his personhood.  The classical understanding of divine simplicity is;

“God is radically unlike creatures in that he is devoid of any complexity or composition, whether physical or metaphysical. Besides lacking spatial and temporal parts, God is free of matter-form composition, potency-act composition, and existence-essence composition. There is also no real distinction between God as subject of his attributes and his attributes.”[viii]

What makes God a ‘person’? This becomes a much larger debate among philosophers.  There is not a generally accepted idea of what it exactly entails.  John Locke had a definition, “thinking, intelligent being, that has reason and reflection, and can consider itself as itself, the same thinking thing in different times and places.”[ix]  Others have defined personhood more metaphysical (even spiritual), “persons are immaterial souls or pure egos.”[x]  I think what makes a person a person is that they are, they can be an ‘I’.  In other words, it is appropriate for me to say, “my wife’s Roomba swept the house,” or “*it* did it.”  It would be incorrect (as relating to personhood) to say, “you did it Roomba!”  Persons can make decisions and interact with other persons, non-persons can’t.

God is unique, and Jesus spoke to this, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”[xi]  Jesus spoke to God’s *personhood* here, and that God is *pure* spirit, and our interactions must be *spiritual* as well.  There is a lot to argue to what exactly interacting with God on the spiritual plain entails, but for our purposes here we see that God is unique from other persons, but inter-personal, none-the-less.

Law notes, “a person must be capable of possessing psychological states, such as beliefs and desires, which must have temporal duration…”[xii]  To which I would say, why must that be, why must psychological states be temporal?  I can see a psychological state that could be eternal (if persons are).  If God as a spirit is omniscient, as theologians have argued, he doesn’t need to believe anything- He KNOWS.  Law seems to narrowly define personhood as to create a contradiction that doesn’t exist.  Theism ADMITS God is different in His ability (omnipotence), His knowledge (omniscience), and even His love (omnibenevolence).  If God exists, his *personhood* is different.

 

EXTERNAL LOGICAL CONTRADICTIONS

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I was flabbergasted that Law lists as his external objection, “Probably the best-known external objection is the logical problem of evil.”[xiii]  He again uses an old tired objection that has been addressed and answered by Alvin Plantinga.

“A world containing creatures who are sometimes significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all. Now God can create free creatures, but he cannot cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if he does so, then they are not significantly free after all; they do not do what is right freely. To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, he must create creatures capable of moral evil; and he cannot leave these creatures free to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so…. The fact that these free creatures sometimes go wrong, however, counts neither against God’s omnipotence nor against his goodness; for he could have forestalled the occurrence of moral evil only by excising the possibility of moral good.”[xiv]

In other words, if God had ONE morally sufficient reason to allow evil, it is not illogical that evil would exist if God is Omni-everything.  In creating a world, it seems that it would be less than perfect, as opposed to God, as God COULDN’T create a world that had morally perfect people, like Him, that would be illogical.  In essence God would be creating God(s). C.S. Lewis, again, gives a good response.

“Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata—of creatures that worked like machines—would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other…. And for that they must be free. Of course, God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently He thought it worth the risk.”[xv]

Here, is where libertarian free will (LFW) is a strong argument, as God created creatures capable of choosing.  Adam and Even in the Garden had the ability to choose: eat the apple of not!  Plantinga’s argument relies heavily on the idea of LFW, as does Lewis’ (at least inferring such).

Of course, I would argue that the idea of *evil* makes no sense outside of the existence of God. “Only if God exists is there an authoritative and unchanging standard (God’s nature) that establishes what is morally right.”[xvi]  To put it in HillBilly, evil ain’t true if God ain’t true.  Evil is not something atheist should invoke, for it presupposes an *ought*, a good that should be.  If it is evil to steal my neighbor’s car, then not stealing it is what I OUGHT to do.  There seems to be a standard outside of ourselves, that can only end with God.

 

NONSENSE OBJECTIONS

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Law thinks that talk of God is *meaningless*. “Why might we conclude that God talk is neither true, nor false, but meaningless?  Most obviously, because we find it fails to satisfy our preferred criterion of meaningfulness.”[xvii]  Of course Law here is pushing his presuppositions of no God, and I would argue it poisons the well. He is referring to a philosophical idea often called ‘logical positivism’ or ‘logical empiricism’.  A.J. Ayer and the logical positivists pushed this idea, “A statement is meaningful if and only if it is verifiable.”[xviii] Law goes on the explain Ayer’s two criteria for positivism; they must be observable and able to be analyzed.  The absurdity of Law’s (specifically Ayer’s and the positivists) is shown in science.

“A statement is meaningful only if it is verifiable; but, in scientific theories, there are many statements which are not verifiable — for example, assertions dealing with quantum particles or relativistic gravitational fields. These statements are too “theoretical” for a direct test; strictly speaking, they are meaningless.”[xix]

Ayer’s colleagues were known as the ‘Vienna Circle’ (from the location they meet) and logical positivism is a form of verificationism, which has been soundly dismissed.

“While the idea to show metaphysics once-and-for-all and across-the-board to be not false but meaningless—arguably the most distinctive thesis associated with the Vienna Circle—did indeed have to be abandoned…”[xx]

Law even admits Ayer’s notions are lacking in some sense, “Note that verification, in Ayer’s intended sense, is a fairly weak notion.”[xxi]   Of course if the criteria of Ayer’s logical positivism is applied to its own statement, it becomes self-refuting.

“The idea there is that the verification principle itself shouldn’t be applied to itself. You shouldn’t say that this statement is meaningful only if it can be proved by science to be true or false. Ayer would say it is just an axiom from which you begin. You start with this as a foundational principle. And Trigg’s point is – but then it just becomes arbitrary because there is no evidence for it. It is an arbitrarily adopted axiom. Why should we do that? I think that is actually understating the difficulty of the verificationist’s position. The fact is this is an axiom that is utterly implausible because it would foist upon us an understanding of meaning that is so narrow that the vast majority of human speech and language would have to be dismissed as meaningless.”[xxii]

CONCLUSION

Law has not shown true logical contradictions but built straw-gods to knock down.  Law is clever and makes sure that the ‘definitions’ are skewed toward ideas that are easily refuted, if you want there to be no God.  This first part has looked at Law’s three main arguments, and I think we have shown there are powerful problems with his ideas.  In Law’s paper he deals with some of the objections that some may bring against his ideas, and we will deal with them in a second part.

 

[i] http://stephenlaw.blogspot.com/

[ii] Law, Stephen “Logical Objections to Theism- an introduction”, http://stephenlaw.blogspot.com/2018/05/logical-objections-to-theism.html

[iii] ibid

[iv] Hebrews 6:18 (KJV)

[v] Law, “Logical Objections…”

[vi] Lewis, C. S., The Problem of Pain, Chapter 2 (“Divine Omnipotence”), 1940

[vii] Law, “Logical Objections…”

[viii] Vallicella, William F., “Divine Simplicity”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2018 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2018/entries/divine-simplicity/

[ix] Korfmacher, Carsten “Personal Identity”, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, https://www.iep.utm.edu/person-i/#SH1b

[x] ibid

[xi] John 4:24 (KJV)

[xii] Law, “Logical Objections…”

[xiii] ibid

[xiv] Plantinga, Alvin, The Nature of Necessary, 1974 (Oxford: Oxford University Press), pg. 166-167

[xv] Lewis, C. S., Mere Christianity, 1943 (New York: Macmillan), pg. 52

[xvi] Turek, Frank, Stealing from God; Why atheists need God to make their case, 2014 (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress), pg. xv

[xvii] Law, “Logical Objections…”

[xviii] ibid

[xix] “Logical Positivism”, http://people.loyno.edu/~folse/logpos.htm

[xx] Uebel, Thomas, “Vienna Circle”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2016/entries/vienna-circle/

[xxi] Law, “Logical Objections…”

[xxii] Craig, W. L., “The Alleged Conflict Continues!” (transcript of ‘Reasonable Faith’ podcast), https://www.reasonablefaith.org/media/reasonable-faith-podcast/the-alleged-conflict-continues/

Hide and Go seek with God, does He win?

One of the objections of atheists/agnostics/skeptics (hereafter AAS) is the hiddenness of God.  Why can’t everybody just see/experience God?  Why does He choose to reveal Himself to some (like Abraham and Moses), but not more or even all? This is a quandary and is understandable that some raise this as an objection to the existence of God.  I think there is some very clear reasons that God ‘seems’ hidden to AAS or even ‘actually’ is hidden.  God’s nature, if He exists, is, by definition, much different than ours.  Of course, this is ‘God’ as the Christian Faith views Him.  The things I will be addressing here do not apply to just any kind of god(s), such as Thor or Osiris, for they were mere parts of the created world.

God, if He exists, would create all that is; time, matter, space- all that we CAN interact with.  God would then, by necessity, be time-less, space-less, and matter-less.  Logically it follows that if time, matter, and space were not, then they existed as God began creating our Universe (all that exists, in essence), thus God does not have the qualities of time, space, and matter.  This becomes significant as we go forth.  Now, I am sure that some AAS will say that it doesn’t follow that God would be time-less, space-less, and/or matter-less, but if, as the Bible suggests, God created all, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”[i]  The scriptures make further clarification, “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.”[ii]

 

SCIENCE

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Why can’t God be discovered?  If God exists, the AAS will say, science should be able to ‘measure’ or ‘figure-out’ what He is.  Today many thinks that science has all the ‘answers’ or will eventually.   This belief, often called ‘scientism’, is gaining a stronger hold on culture and the scientific community.  Thus, if God can’t be ‘scientifically proven’ He does not exist.

“Scientism is the belief that all valid knowledge is science.  Scientism says, or at least implicitly assumes, that rational knowledge is scientific, and everything else that claims the status of knowledge is just superstition, irrationality, emotion, or nonsense.”[iii]

Scientism is on the slippery ground of its own making, as it can’t prove even science is valid, without many philosophical assumptions.    Some assumptions that science must have are:

  • “There are natural causes for things that happen in the world around us…

  • Evidence from the natural world can be used to learn about those causes…

  • There is consistency in the causes that operate in the natural world.”[iv]

This leaves science at the mercy of some philosophical notions and at the least some hard assumptions.  Science is not able to answer some of life’s most important questions, such as; what beauty is or is that wrong or right.

“Moral judgments, aesthetic judgments, decisions about applications of science, and conclusions about the supernatural are outside the realm of science, but that doesn’t mean that these realms are unimportant. In fact, domains such as ethics, aesthetics, and religion fundamentally influence human societies and how those societies interact with science. Neither are such domains unscholarly. In fact, topics like aesthetics, morality, and theology are actively studied by philosophers, historians, and other scholars. However, questions that arise within these domains generally cannot be resolved by science.”[v]

 

SPIRIT

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Jesus tells us “God is a Spirit.”[vi]   This is significant, and helps us explore the question at hand.  Why does God not ‘reveal’ Himself more clearly?  Jesus continues, “… and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”[vii]   Leaving aside the idea of ‘truth’, Jesus notes that God is only/mostly interacted in a ‘spiritual’ realm.  Jesus’ words seem to agree that God is, at least, space-less and matter-less, a dis-embodied entity.  This is not insignificant, and I would argue that this is paramount to the question at hand!  If God is not …well…like us, we should not expect that He is interactable in a world of physical properties.

By extension, this ‘Spirit’ that created all (in the physical universe) can also operate it, being its Creator.  God can ‘appear’ and make Himself known, in His time and for His own purposes.  The Incarnation becomes the most perfect example of this.  The Incarnation is the Christian doctrine that “… the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”[viii]   In the beginning of John’s Gospel, he makes it clear that the “Word” is God, and more particular the Son of God-Jesus.  Any AAS will be quite skeptical of this point.  We will revisit this later.

 

FAITH

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The Bible makes it clear that faith is a significant aspect of ‘knowing’ God.  Faith is not, as some AAS claim, a blind belief.  The Bible attributes a sense of trust in something, as a definition of faith.  “Faith simply means believing that something is true, and then committing our lives to it.”[ix]  I would argue that faith is a conviction that you build your life around, trusting it for life here and the life to come.  The Bible said, “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”[x]  There is a ‘presupposition’ in some sense, I think is safe to say.  It is not ‘blind’ as one cannot have faith in something they don’t ‘know’ anything about, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”[xi]

Faith is essential, according to the Bible, for being a follower of God/Christ, “And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.”[xii]  The idea of ‘saved’ in Christian doctrine is being saved from death and sin, “Salvation is simply a process of confessing and believing. A man must confess that Jesus is Lord, which signifies his realization that Christ must have full rule over his life with all of His righteous requirements. This confession of Christ as Lord also assumes that it is Christ who will work and fulfill His own righteousness within man.”[xiii]

 

INCARNATION

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It seems to me that those AAS that complain about God’s ‘hiddenness’ ignore that God “became flesh and dwelt among us.”

“Mainstream Christians believe in an invisible agent – the Judeo-Christian God – possessing both the super-power of omnipotence and the super-faculty of omniscience. They also believe in associated extraordinary and miraculous events, including the pivotal miracle of the resurrection.”[xiv]

Jesus, according to the Christian Faith, is God taking on human flesh, becoming God in a very ‘knowable’ way.  A story I once heard relates one man’s agony about the idea of the incarnation.  His friend remarked, “If you were an author of a story, your characters have no way to ‘know’ or ‘find’ you.  Except…if you, as the author, write yourself into the story.  That is what God did, in Christ, writing Himself into our story, making Himself KNOWN!”  I am not sure the source or validity of this story, but its analogy is valuable, none-the-less.  The ‘hiddenness’ of God is destroyed at the manger.  Just as the shepherds and wise men discovered (yes, I am fully aware they didn’t visit the same night!), God had ‘written’ Himself into our story, as a babe.

Some will say, “granted, even if God did come 2000 years ago, what good does that do me?”  To which I will say; I do understand but for me the eye-witness accounts are astounding.  Notice, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.”[xv]  The readers of John’s letter were most likely not eye witnesses of Jesus’ life and ministry as well, but John is painting a picture of the hope we can have in one who came.

 

CONCLUSION

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I understand the idea of God’s ‘hiddenness’ as it seems to many AAS.  Yet, I think we look thru the wrong lens to ‘see’ Him.  If we were looking for some bacteria a microscope is the prefect instrument, but it does you very little good looking for an asteroid.  The Bible said, “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.”[xvi]  Paul argues we have Jesus manifested as a revelation of God, “Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.”[xvii]

Notice Paul said Jesus (or “the mystery”) was made known (“manifest”) “to his saints.”  I would argue that it is by faith, “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.”[xviii] Faith is an essential ‘element’ to ‘seeing’ or ‘knowing’ God and also we must understand that is not by the five senses.  The great mystery of how God can be known and will be known seems spelled out in these words from the great Apostle.

“But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory:  Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.”[xix]

[i] Genesis 1:1 (KJV)

[ii] Romans 1:20 (KJV)

[iii] Hutchinson, Ian H., Monopolizing Knowledge: A scientist refutes religion-denying, reason-destroying scientism, Fias Publishing, 2011, Belmont, MA, Pg. 2

[iv] ‘Basic assumptions of science’, https://undsci.berkeley.edu/article/basic_assumptions

[v] ‘Science has limits: A few things science does not do’, https://undsci.berkeley.edu/article/_0_0/whatisscience_12

[vi] John 4:24 (KJV)

[vii] ibid

[viii] John 1:14 (KJV)

[ix] Graham, Billy, ‘Answers’, https://billygraham.org/answer/can-you-give-me-a-simple-definition-of-faith/

[x] Hebrews 11:6 (KJV)

[xi] Hebrews 11:1 (KJV)

[xii] Acts 16:31 (KJV)

[xiii] https://www.allaboutgod.com/how-to-be-saved.htm

[xiv] Law, Stephen, ‘The X-Claim Argument Against Religious Belief – pre-publication draft’, http://stephenlaw.blogspot.com/2016/07/the-x-claim-argument-against-religious.html

[xv] 1 John 1:1-4 (KJV)

[xvi] Romans 1:20 (KJV)

[xvii] Colossians 1:26-28 (KJV)

[xviii] Hebrews 11:3 (KJV)

[xix] 1 Corinthians 2:7-10 (KJV)

Middle Knowledge’s Implications for Various Doctrines

In the history of the Church many great theologians have had lasting impact.  John Calvin’s influence are immeasurable, even lending his name to the modern movement called Calvinism.  Augustine (of Hippo) was another who’s influence is claimed both by Catholics and Protestants.  Another great theologian that is not as well know, but should be, is Luis de Molina.  Molina lived from 1535-1600 and was a Jesuit priest.

“While Molina, like Desiderius Erasmus (1466 – 1536), chose to work for reform from within the ranks of the Roman Catholic Church, the issues with which he dealt — God’s sovereignty, grace, providence, and predestination and their relation to human free will and social justice — are ecumenical in character and stand at the forefront of contemporary evangelicalism. It should be emphasized that little in Molina’s thought is specifically Roman Catholic in its orientation.”[i]

Molina was foundational for a doctrine called ‘middle knowledge’ though he was interested and wrote on many more topics, including areas such as usury, society, and social justice and how the Bible addresse them and the Church should respond to these issues.    We are going to look exclusively at the idea of middle knowledge and the implications it has for our understanding of God and other biblical implications.

“Today Molina’s theological system, denominated Molinism, occupies a significant place at the table of evangelicalism.”[ii]

WHAT IT IS

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So, to understand middle knowledge we must understand what it is.  Putting it simply (and we will expand it in a moment) middle knowledge is in the middle of two other ‘types’ of knowledge God is said to have; free knowledge and natural knowledge.  First, “Free knowledge is the exhaustive knowledge that God has about our world as well as the comprehensive knowledge about whatever will occur in that world.”[iii]  Also, “God’s natural knowledge would be His knowledge of all things of potential existence influenced by individuals though not necessarily in actual existence. God knows this set of knowledge from all eternity–before the creation of the universe.”[iv]

Scientia Media (Latin for middle knowledge) is the idea that between God’s natural knowledge, His knowledge of all ‘possibilities’, and His free knowledge, everything that will be, is His middle knowledge. “In short, middle knowledge is God’s prevolitional knowledge of all true counterfactuals.”[v]  In other words, God’s middle knowledge is knowledge of what ‘would’ be ‘if’ circumstances were different, known as counterfactuals.  This is not a concept hatched out of thin air, as Molina thought the Bible was full of counterfactuals.  I think there are a few concepts/doctrines that are best explained if God has middle knowledge.

PROPHECY

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God ‘knows’ what will happen, this is part of His omniscience, but middle knowledge makes sense of counterfactual knowledge, such that God knows what WOULD happen IF such and such was the circumstances.

“An account frequently cited by Molina portrayed David inquiring of Yahweh through an ephod, a divining device containing the Urim and Thummim (differently colored stones respectively connoting an affirmative or negative reply) and out of which one of those stones would be drawn.”[vi]

This account is found in 1 Samuel 23.  David asks God for guidance, “Then said David, O LORD God of Israel, thy servant hath certainly heard that Saul seeketh to come to Keilah, to destroy the city for my sake. Will the men of Keilah deliver me up into his hand? will Saul come down, as thy servant hath heard? O LORD God of Israel, I beseech thee, tell thy servant. And the LORD said, He will come down.”[vii]  This gets to a foundational aspect of middle knowledge, as we see these subjunctive statements, ‘if’ this one thing happens ‘then’ this other will.  This ‘if-then’ idea is seen in the next verse, “Then said David, Will the men of Keilah deliver me and my men into the hand of Saul? And the LORD said, They will deliver thee up.”[viii]   God warns David, and David does not allow the men of Keilah the opportunity to turn him over to Saul.  Consequently, Saul ‘changes’ his mind, “Then David and his men, which were about six hundred, arose and departed out of Keilah, and went whithersoever they could go. And it was told Saul that David was escaped from Keilah; and he forbare to go forth.”[ix]

There are two ideas here that seem plausible, God knew Saul WAS NOT coming and only told David he was as a hyperbolic statement OR God knew IF David stayed THEN Saul would come.  What is NOT plausible is God lied, “God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?”[x]  Some would say that God did lie, Saul didn’t come to Keilah, so the ‘prophecy’ was wrong!  Except if counterfactual knowledge is true, and God can know it thru His middle knowledge.

PROVIDENCE

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The doctrine of providence is an essential and orthodox doctrine and is best understood with God’s use of middle knowledge.  What is providence?

“The classical view of divine providence holds that every event—including human thoughts, choices, and actions—occurs according to God’s sovereign will. “All things,” the Heidelberg Catechism declares, “come not by chance, but by his fatherly hand.” This view of providence allows for genuine human causality; divine and human agency are held together.”[xi]

Both man’s responsibility and God’s sovereignty are held in tension, according to providence.  Molina’s view seems to make it clearer.

“Molina concurred with Luther and Calvin that placing God’s counterfactual knowledge after his creative decree would obliterate libertarian freedom, a consequence that Luther and Calvin accepted. But because Molina judged that this consequence ran contrary to the infallibility of Scripture, Molina placed God’s counterfactual knowledge before the divine creative decree, thus rendering it logically impossible for God to control. Now certainly, Molina insisted, God could easily prevent a libertarian creature from freely doing something by not making that creature at all or by putting that creature in different circumstances where it would freely choose to do something else.”[xii]

Many thinks that if God has middle knowledge this makes Him less sovereign.  Nothing could be further from the truth, “According to Molina, God causes everything to happen by concurring with the choices of free individuals and stochastic processes in producing their effects. However, God does this in a way that preserves contingency, including human freedom and indeterminacy in the natural world.”[xiii]  God uses man’s libertarian freedom, “stochastic processes,” and how all that interacts, and this is all guided and ‘controlled’ by God’s middle knowledge.

POWER (SOVEREIGNTY)

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Much of the criticism of the doctrine of middle knowledge surrounds God’s sovereignty.  Many of the critics are ‘divine determinist’; believing God casually determines all things and man has no libertarian freedom (free will).  Sovereignty does not necessarily mean ‘determine’ or the idea that God ‘controls’ everything, “sovereignty is not threatened by either libertarian freedom or randomness but is rather augmented by his ability to control the effects of both.”[xiv]  God being ‘able’ to sovereignly work within the confides of libertarian free will and random events (stochastic processes) ‘makes’ God’s sovereignty even more impressive if middle knowledge is the process He uses.

“God’s sovereignty means that God is the ultimate ruler or lord — the summum dominum — because all of his decisions both logically prior and logically subsequent to creation were not affected by anyone or anything outside himself.”[xv]

It is that God is sovereign that this world was instantiated.  Middle knowledge proponents will often use ‘other worlds semantics’ which is simply the idea that God could have created a different world, i.e. a world that Hillary won presidency not Trump, or the South won the Civil War, or one in which you or I were not created.  These ‘worlds’ (they do not exist but in the mind of God) represent the choices God had at His disposal and His sovereignty defined which and how they would be created.   Thus, the middle knowledge advocate affirms God’s sovereignty ultimately, as what ‘world’ we live in is His decision.  Once a ‘world’ is created (in other words, this ‘world’ or actual world) God has used His middle knowledge to accomplish His sovereign will.

PREDESTINATION

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The most fascinating doctrine that has strong implications under middle knowledge is predestination.

“God’s choosing to elect or reprobate certain individuals by creating a world in which they would or would not attain to salvation rather than another world where they would freely do the opposite or not even exist has nothing to do with their freely chosen belief or unbelief; God simply, in his absolute sovereignty, selects the world he wants.”[xvi]

As an aside, middle knowledge is not directly related to soteriological (doctrine of salvation) issues.  Those that believe God has/uses middle knowledge, usually designated as Molinist, differ on how God uses His middle knowledge related to salvation.  Under the middle knowledge system, one could believe God is irresistible (à la Calvinism) and one is elect individually, before the foundation of the world.  Another middle knowledge proponent may believe election is corporate, and one is elected because they have freely accepted Christ (à la Arminian).  There is no one ‘position’ within ‘Mere Molinism’ that holds to one type of soteriology or another.  In other words, Molinist can be synergist or monergists.

Not all middle knowledge adherents believe as Molina did on predestination.  Today’s greatest advocate of middle knowledge, Dr. William Lane Craig, holds to a version of ‘Transworld damnation’.

“God has actualized a world containing an optimal balance between saved and unsaved, and those who are unsaved suffer from Transworld damnation.”[xvii]

By Craig’s account, those that are unsaved in this ‘world’ would have been unsaved in any other ‘world’ He could have created.  Molina disagrees and makes a strong case for unconditional election, as well.

“For by choosing which feasible world to actualize, God predestines to salvation, or elects, every individual in that world who would freely accept his prevenient grace, and he predestines to damnation, or reprobates, every individual in that world who would freely reject his prevenient grace. Such is the meaning of Romans 8: 29 – 30 and 1 Peter 1: 1 – 2, which affirm that predestination is according to (namely, it corresponds with) God’s prior counterfactual knowledge of the conditions under which each possible individual would and would not freely be saved. This is not to say that the circumstances making up the feasible world determine whether one is saved or lost, as all such circumstances are freedom-preserving in character. Rather, God middle-knows the essence of each possible individual in that world so well that he knows which way the individual, if instantiated, would freely choose even though it could choose otherwise. Far from being some form of determinism based on essence, this is simply to say that God knows the essence of each possible individual so well that he knows its contingent properties, properties that do not form part of the essence or in any way shape the essence. Thus Molina’s doctrine of predestination is entirely harmonious with libertarian human freedom, and the respective sets of biblical texts teaching individual predestination and human freedom may be simultaneously affirmed at face value. However, we must not therefore think that predestination, for Molina, depends on human free choice. For every elect person, God could have just as easily chosen another feasible world in which the same individual would have freely rejected his saving grace or not existed at all. Likewise, for every reprobate person, God could have just as easily chosen another feasible world in which the same individual would have freely embraced his salvation or not existed at all. Molina insisted that no reason can be given concerning why God selected one feasible world over a host of others except for his sovereign will. Since this predestinary choice is in no way predicated on how any person in that world would respond to his grace, Molina’s doctrine of predestination champions the doctrine of unconditional election. This is the clear teaching of Romans 9…”[xviii]

CONCLUSION

I am not claiming the Bible affirms the doctrine of middle knowledge.  Nor am I claiming it is ‘clearly’ taught in scripture.  But I am claiming that if we take a look at the difficult passages that seem to make no sense with other systems (such as Calvinism or Open Theism) we make better sense with the doctrine of middle knowledge in place.  The two greatest doctrines that seem at odds in all of Christian history is God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility.   Middle knowledge reconciles these issues.

“Molinism argues that God perfectly accomplishes His will in free creatures through the use of His omniscience. It reconciles two crucial biblical truths: (1) God exercises sovereign control over all His creation, and (2) human beings make free choices and decisions for which they must give account.”[xix]


[i] MacGregor, Kirk R. Luis de Molina: The Life and Theology of the Founder of Middle Knowledge, Zondervan. Kindle Edition. (pg. 12)

[ii] MacGregor, Luis de Molina (pg. 12)

[iii] Slick, Matt, ‘What is free knowledge and is it biblical’, https://carm.org/what-is-free-knowledge-and-is-it-biblical

[iv] Slick, Matt, ‘Natural Knowledge’, https://carm.org/dictionary-natural-knowledge

[v] MacGregor, Luis de Molina (pg. 79)

[vi] Ibid, (pg. 80)

[vii] 1 Samuel 23:10-11 (KJV)

[viii] 1 Samuel 23:12 (KJV)

[ix] 1 Samuel 23:13 (KJV)

[x] Numbers 23:19 (KJV)

[xi] Witmer, Stephen, ‘Don’t Underestimate the Doctrine of Providence’, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/dont-underestimate-providence/

[xii] MacGregor, Luis de Molina, (pg. 90)

[xiii] Ibid (pg. 106)

[xiv] Ibid (pg. 118)

[xv] Ibid (pg. 198-199)

[xvi] Ibid (pg. 151)

[xvii] Craig, William Lane. “Response to David Myers.” Religious Studies, vol. 39, no. 4, 2003, pp. 421–426. JSTOR, JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/20008489.

[xviii] MacGregor, Luis de Molina, (pg. 150-151)

[xix] Keathley, Kenneth, Salvation and Sovereignty, B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition, (pg. 5)

Why Determinism makes some things irrelevant

I am an unashamed libertarian (about free will, and a little bit politically).   Libertarian free will(hereafter LFW) is the idea that (1) our will is free (the freedom that is required for responsibility) and (2) and our will is free as incompatible with causal determinism.   I am unable to see how determinism is a legitimate way the world operates.  “Causaldeterminism is, roughly speaking, the idea that every event is necessitated byantecedent events and conditions together with the laws of nature.”[i]  Determinist believe everything that is hasbeen caused by prior events or conditions (such as one’s nature) and could nothave been otherwise.  A non-determinist(of which those that advocate LFW are) believes that this is not the case.  A non-determinist does not deny influencesand other factors but hold to the idea that one is able to ‘decide’ withoutbeing determined to do so.

“We exercise libertarian freedom in forming or executing an intention only if our deciding or willing is not the product of deterministic  causation — that is, provided there is no set of conditions independent of our exercise of will which, together with scientific law, make it certain that we shall decide or will as we do.”[ii]

One may ask if determinism is only possible in an atheistic/naturalistic framework.  The answer seems to be  no.  As John Lennox has noted in his most recent book, determinism may be a ‘high’ or ‘low’ form.

“We might call the atheist variant a determinism from below, since it regards human beings and their behavior as nothing but products of the physics and chemistry of the basic stuff of the universe.  The theistic form we might think of as a determinism from above, since it regards human beings and their behavior as nothing but predetermined products of an inexorable and all-controlling divine will abovethem.”[iii]

I am not sure if determinism is true or not (though my suspicion is that it isn’t).  It seems there are some things that are ‘irrelevant’ if it is.  In other words, some ‘things’ may be so, but if determinism is true, they seem superfluous.  I will admit I have meet compatibilist (believing free will and determinism are compatible) that believe in a determinism that is only ‘first cause’ and not exhaustive.  In other words, a form of determinism in which our choices are influenced by the things that were determined (such as our nature, mind, etc.).  I guess my issue is with a more exhaustive form of determinism, a determinism that ‘causes’ all our choices, and free will is not possible.  In other words, a determinism that is ‘first’ cause and every cause after that.

I think there are three very important concepts that are clearly unnecessary if determinism is true, though that doesn’t negate the possibility that they are so.  Let me explain, as I argue these very important concepts are irrelevant on a‘deterministic’ framework (‘high’ or ‘low’ version).

RATIONALITY

Have you heard someone say, “well, that’s not very rational.”  Rationality is intuitively used almost every day in our lives.  Is it rational to run that red light?  Is it rational to think gremlinsare ruining my stew?  LFW presupposes thatwe use our experiences, faculties, and knowledge to make decisions constantly.

““What would it be rational for an agent to do or intend?”could mean:

By doing or intending what would the agent make her responses (i.e., her attitudes and actions) cohere with one another? Call the answer, stipulatively, what it would be rationally coherent for the agent to do or intend.

What does the agent have reason, or ought she, to do or intend? This is the question that an agent characteristically asks when she is deliberating about what to do or intend, or when someone else is advising her what to do or intend. (Note that claims about reasons are weaker than claims about “oughts”. One could have a reason to do something without it being the case that one ought to do it, as when the reason is outweighed by competing reasons. However, it is generally thought that if one ought to do something, then one has a reason to do it.)”[iv]

Rationality is part of the ‘decision-making’ process, it seems to me.  Rationality is defined as:

“1: the quality or state of being rational

2 : the quality or state of being agreeable to reason: reasonableness

3 : a rational opinion, belief, or practice —usually used in plural”[v]

Rationality is simply the idea of understanding things, using one’s faculties and evidence to come to a decision.  Determinism makes rationality irrelevant.   If I am determined to ‘believe’ something, then… I didn’t use ‘rational’ means to get to the answer.  That doesn’t mean rationality isn’t true, it still could be, but it seems totally unnecessary if we are determined beings.   Consider that on a deterministic ‘world’ one is determined to believe what is correct, but so isthe one that doesn’t believe.  They were just as determined as the other. 

TRUTH

Here I find the ‘low’ version of determinism’s appeal to evolution as a problem.  Evolution is based on a simple notion; survival of the fittest.  Nothing about this concept needs or requires truth.  Evolution is a ‘process’ that could be described as deterministic.  One evolves as one is and is determined to do so based on the circumstances evolution ‘engineered’.  Darwin himself questioned the validity of truth (and it seems rationality, as well) if evolution were true.

“But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?”[vi]

So, what exactly is truth? Many theories and arguments abound and what it ‘is’ fill philosophy books from eons back.  One theory that I hold to, and seems the most plausible, is referred to as the ‘CorrespondenceTheory’, “The basic idea of the correspondence theory is that what we believe or say is true if it corresponds to the way things actually are – to the facts.”[vii]  It’s true if it is, to put it in a ‘HillbillyLogician’ form.  Determinism makes truth irrelevant, it seems.  If we are determined to believe certain propositions, whether they are true or not is of no consequence.  We could not rationally ascertain if one proposition is true over another if we didn’t have LFW.

LOVE

Finally (for this article), determinism makes love irrelevant.  Love could still be true and rational (pulling them all together!), even if determinism is true. It seems to me that love ‘exists’ best in a world of LFW.  I think the best argument for this is from the comics/movies and the relationship of Harley Quinn and the Joker.  My good friend Tim Stratton rationally discusses the truth.

“…we have good reason to think that genuine love requires libertarian freedom. In fact, comic book characters can help illustrate why libertarian freedom is necessary for genuine love relationships. Consider a relative newcomer to the DC Comics universe named, “Harley Quinn.” Some have described the love she has for the Joker (Batman’s arch nemesis) as unmatched. In fact, many think the love Harley has for the Joker is the epitome of love. This relationship was portrayed in the recent movie “Suicide Squad.” Indeed, Harley longs to be with the Joker and seems to be willing to do anything to be in his arms. Harley Quinn demonstrates that she lives for the Joker, she is willing to die for the Joker, and she is willing to kill for the Joker. Her life revolves around the Joker and she is devoted to following him no matter the costs…You see, according to the Suicide Squad movie, the Joker kidnapped and brainwashed Harley against her will. The Joker forced himself upon her and causally determined her to be unable to resist him by changing her nature. Left to Harley’s own devices, she would always reject the Joker if given a choice, but the Joker took any ability away from her to choose otherwise. She has been manipulated, she has suffered psychological trauma, and she has been raped against her will (even though the Joker has forced her to “voluntarily” think  and act in accords to his will).

You see, the Joker has no idea what it truly means to beloved. All he has is a kidnapped woman who has no genuine choice but to follow him. Although Harley “voluntarily” follows the Joker, she literally has no ability to do otherwise — she is basically no more than a programmed robot.

Now, I’m sure the Joker would have preferred it if Harley Quinn would have freely chosen to love and follow him as that would have brought him more glory, but since she would not freely choose to be with the Joker, he had to force himself upon her against her will. The Joker simply became “irresistible” as she had her ability to resist stolen from her. Now she has no ability but to follow him and “voluntarily” utter the words “I love Mr.J.””[viii]

Determined to love, is just not true or rational, it seems to me.

CONCLUSION

Again, let me re-emphasize; rationality, truth, and love may very well be part of a ‘deterministic world’.  My conclusions are that they just aren’t necessarily…necessary.  To be fair, some compatibilist will argue that even if determinism is true, we are free to use rationality, truth is able to be discovered, and love is certainly experienced.  So, again, my ‘beef’ seems with a more dedicated determinist, that they must grant were determined to believe what they do, as much as I am.  It seems to me a Maximally Great Being (MGB) is the ‘least’ determined, even in a deterministic world.   God (MGB) had to have LFW, for He could not have been ‘determined’ by any other cause.  Anything that caused the MGB todo something would be…maximally greater. If God possessed LFW, is it possible He created beings in His image? 

One other ‘thing’ I did not mention that seems irrelevant ina deterministic world is faith.  Dr. Lennox explains it better than I, and I will conclude with his thoughts.

“This capacity to trust is related to our freedom of will and is part of our nature, created by God whether or not we believe in him.  It is a Wonderful gift of God’s grace to us as his creatures.  It creates the possibility of love and genuine relationship, and is part of the image of God stamped in our nature.  To suggest that humans do not have that capacity, but that their fate is determined by their possessing or not possessing some special and very different kind of “saving faith”- one that it is the prerogative of God alone to give arbitrarily –massively diminishes rather than enhances the glory of God’s character, to say nothing of its dehumanizing effect on us.”[ix]


[i] Hoefer, Carl, “Causal Determinism”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2016/entries/determinism-causal/&gt;

[ii] McCann, Hugh J. and Johnson, Daniel M., “Divine Providence”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2017/entries/providence-divine/&gt;

[iii] Lennox, John C., Determined to Believe: The Sovereignty of God, Freedom, Faith, and Human Responsibility. MONARCH BOOKS (Oxford, England), 2017, pg. 58-59 (emphasis authors)

[iv] Kolodny, Niko and Brunero, John, “Instrumental Rationality”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2018 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), forthcoming URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2018/entries/rationality-instrumental/&gt;

[v] <https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/rationality&gt;

[vi]  Darwin, Charles, Letter to William Graham,  3 July 1881, <https://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/letter/DCP-LETT-13230.xml&gt;

[vii] Glanzberg, Michael, “Truth”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2018 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2018/entries/truth/&gt;

[viii] Stratton, Tim, ‘Does True Love Require Libertarian Free Will? A Response to Greg Koukl’, <http://freethinkingministries.com/does-true-love-require-libertarian-free-will-a-response-to-greg-koukl/&gt;

[ix] Lennox, Determined, pg. 137-138

Do you really believe sin is bad? Why restoring a fallen pastor is proof you do!

There are numerous stories, seemingly every day, of pastors/ministers/clergy committing some moral failure.  That a pastor (and for this article pastor will be substituted for elder, clergy, minister, etc.) has forfeited his position when he has committed certain sins, of this I am in full agreement.  As a pastor who had to step down, I am fully aware of the need for such actions.  This article will not be about the ‘need’ for this in the church, as I believe it is.  Neither is this article about the ‘process’ by which a pastor is restored, as I think that is the church/denomination’s decision to make.  No, this article is about whether ‘restoration’ is possible or not.

Some believe that a ‘fallen’ pastor cannot be restored.

“There are some sins that irreparably shatter a man’s reputation and disqualify him from a ministry of leadership forever. Even Paul, man of God that he was, said he feared such a possibility. In 1 Corinthians 9:27 he says, “I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.””[i]

Others would disagree.

“Ultimately, I think the answer is yes. A pastor who has sinned sexually can be a pastor again. And I say that just because of the grace of God and the fact that “above reproach” (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6–7) can be restored, probably.”[ii]

My proposal, and this idea came to me recently, is that if you believe a pastor cannot be restored, then you don’t believe what Jesus taught.  Now… before you think I am claiming Jesus taught ‘Restoration for fallen ministers 101’, I am talking about a powerful teaching that Jesus taught about sin, the heart, and how serious it all is!

 

SIN

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What is sin?  Is sin just giving into the temptation, an act. “But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desire. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death.”[iii]  Does this verse imply that the very ‘act’ is sin, and the desire to ‘sin’ is not sin?  I don’t think so.  I think that sin is a deeper issue than what many think.  There is a mentality that unless you act upon it, it is not a sin.  I think the Bible is very clear that this is not the case, “And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”[iv]

The Bible seems to teach that sin is more of a heart issue than an ‘act’ issue.  Our thoughts can be sinful.  I am not saying every thought that comes into the mind is sinful, or that if you think about some sinful thing it is automatically a sin.  No, but I am saying that the thoughts, feelings, and emotions one feels and dwells on can become sinful, long before one acts.  I think Jesus’ teaching we often call the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ describes and explains this.

 

MURDER

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Jesus turns to the crowd and utters these words, “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment.”[v]  Kill here is murder, and the listeners must have been shocked (even for a second) that Jesus was going to say that ‘killing’ was no longer a sin, or at least it seemed.  But as He continued, His teaching becomes very succinct, “But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.”[vi]

Two things are described by Jesus ‘as-bad-as’ murder: anger (unfounded) and name-calling (or holding someone as less valuable as one’s self).  Unfounded anger is the idea that one is angry without just cause.  WE can have an anger that is not sinful, “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath.”   No, Jesus is describing an anger borne in jealousy or envy.  The convicting thing here is it is a violation (in spirit)-according to Jesus- of the Law, “Thou shalt not kill.”[vii]   Not only unfounded anger, but calling your ‘brother’ stupid, worthless, or the like (which Raca seems to come from a Hebrew or Syriac word for worthless)[viii] is as bad as murder, as well.  This is astounding, as we think of the implications.

 

OATHS

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Next, we see Jesus teaching about ‘swearing’ (that is oaths), “Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths.”[ix]   It seems that the thought of the day (and often seems the thought even today) was that your oath was only as good as the thing you swore upon.  Jesus continues, “But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.”[x]

Jesus’ teaching is simple, it seems.  One must simply be honest and sincere.  If you are asked, answer truthfully.  I have noticed that liars are typically appealing to some other source, “if you don’t believe me, ask ‘so-n-so’.”  If we are to be people of our word, people should be able to believe what we say.  A person of integrity will have no reason to ‘swear’ if they practice honest and forthright answers.  Our mother’s grave doesn’t need to be invoked, if we are true to our word.

 

REVENGE

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Jesus then turned to the idea of revenge, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.”[xi] This mentality, and very rarely religiously motivated, persists today, “If you take my ‘toy’ I’ll take yours!”  The Jews of Jesus’ day had the Law to fall back to, which seem to express this type of ‘revenge’ economy;

“If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe. And if a man smite the eye of his servant, or the eye of his maid, that it perish; he shall let him go free for his eye’s sake.”[xii]

Jesus turns this ‘on-its-head’, “But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.”[xiii]  Jesus’ words are as radical a departure from the Old Testament as any part of the ‘Sermon’.  Of course, many believe, as I do, that Jesus was NOW describing the New Covenant, or at least how it should operate.[xiv]  The New Covenant will be built on grace, mercy, and forgiveness- not hate, revenge, and punishment.

 

LOVING EVEN YOUR ENEMY

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The next one Jesus would give a ‘new’ spin to is, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.”[xv]  This particular ‘idea’ was the inference from scripture, “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.”[xvi] ‘Naturally’, If you love your neighbor, you will hate your enemy, the teaching was.  Centuries of Jewish thought had drilled this idea in the heads of the audience of Jesus’ day, but He would ‘flip the script’ on this notion as well.  He tells them;

“But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”[xvii]

If there is one quality that I think stands out above all others is the idea of God’s love, “Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”[xviii]  Jesus describes as God is and how we are to respond.  God proved He loved His enemies, “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.”[xix]  God’s example to us teaches that loving His enemy is what God has ALWAYS done.

 

ADULTERY

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Now, if you have been following along in your Bible, or was paying attention to the verse we were observing, you noticed that verses 27-32 is absent in the above discussion.  I purposely waited till the end to discuss this as it directly relates to what this essay was intended to answer; can a pastor be restored?  Jesus words are, “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”[xx]  I think that too many people don’t see the seriousness of Jesus’ statement.  Sadly, many think that because others can’t see their heart then they can excuse their sinful action.  It is not I who claims that lusting after a woman is adultery, it is Jesus.  Jesus then goes directly into hyperbole, giving us pause (or should) on the seriousness of one’s thoughts, intents, and feelings.

“And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.”[xxi]

I’ve talked to too many men (many who were pastors) who struggle with lust.  If we are to believe Jesus’ words, lusting is as sinful as acting: each is as much adultery as the other!  Jesus concludes this passage with even harsher warnings, “It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.”[xxii]

 

CONCLUSION

Let me be very clear, I am not advocating a ‘thought-police’ type ministry.  Too many ‘discernment’ ministries now try to fix all the ills in the church, bringing division themselves.  Also, I am not saying a pastor that has been caught/confessed to an indiscretion of sin of some type is not now disqualified-even if only for some period.  My contention is simply that those that think pastors can’t be restored from certain sins have a low view of sin, in my opinion.  Sin is more serious than many have thought, and those in Jesus’ day did also.  Simply, many thought if one didn’t openly break a ‘Ten Commandment’ then one had not sinned, when in reality, Jesus explains that the heart is the issue, and the actions follow suit.  I think grace is the most powerful force in the universe, as it is actionable by the love of God.  Those who have fallen are extended grace by the Lord, we in turn must do as well.

 

 

 

 

[i] MacArthur, John, ‘Should Fallen Pastors Be Restored’, <https://www.christianity.com/christian-life/political-and-social-issues/should-fallen-pastors-be-restored-11554827.html&gt;

[ii] Piper, John, ‘Is It Possible to Restore a Pastor Who Has Sinned Sexually?’, <https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/is-it-possible-to-restore-a-pastor-who-has-sinned-sexually&gt;

[iii] James 1:14-15 (CSB)

[iv] Genesis 6:5 (KJV)

[v] Matthew 5:21 (KJV)

[vi] Matthew 5:22 (KJV)

[vii] Exodus 20:13 (KJV)

[viii] Barnes, Albert, Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament, Database © 2014 WORDsearch (see note on Matthew 5:22)

[ix] Matthew 5:33 (KJV)

[x] Matthew 5:34-37 (KJV)

[xi] Matthew 5:38 (KJV)

[xii] Exodus 21:22-26 (KJV)

[xiii] Matthew 5:39-42 (KJV)

[xiv] See Jeremiah 31:31

[xv] Matthew 5:43 (KJV)

[xvi] Leviticus 19:18 (KJV)

[xvii] Matthew 5:44-48 (KJV)

[xviii] 1 John 4:7-8 (CSB)

[xix] Romans 5:10 (KJV)

[xx] Matthew 5:27-28 (KJV)

[xxi] Matthew 5:29-30 (KJV)

[xxii] Matthew 5:31-32 (KJV)

Free at last or not…that is the question

As hotly contested as any subject, is the idea of free will.  What it is, how it operates, is it ‘free’, and various other nuances are debated.  Many atheist/naturalists deny the existence of free will.

“The sciences have grown steadily bolder in their claim that all human behavior can be explained through the clockwork laws of cause and effect. This shift in perception is the continuation of an intellectual revolution that began about 150 years ago, when Charles Darwin first published On the Origin of Species. Shortly after Darwin put forth his theory of evolution, his cousin Sir Francis Galton began to draw out the implications: If we have evolved, then mental faculties like intelligence must be hereditary. But we use those faculties—which some people have to a greater degree than others—to make decisions. So our ability to choose our fate is not free, but depends on our biological inheritance.”[i]

Even some theist deny free will (such as theistic fatalist).  Yet, on the whole, few-especially theist and Christians in general-deny the existence of free will.  What one means by ‘free will’ has a powerful effect on one’s belief about a lot of other things in the scriptures.  Soteriology (the doctrine of salvation) is greatly affected by how one views the ‘will’ and how it is (or isn’t) ‘free’.  The denomination I grew up in (a general Baptist) was Arminian in its doctrines, mostly.  I was taught a concept of ‘free will’ that seemed to emphasize the ‘will’ was ‘free’(!).  As the years have progressed, I have encountered theologians and philosophers that seem to have a much-convoluted idea of what the ‘will’ is and even what ‘free’ is.  Bill had nothing on this, he just wanted to know what is, is…

 

THE WILL

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What exactly does one mean by ‘will’?  If it is free, what is it free to do?  A good place to start is, “It includes the ability to make meaningful moral choices.”[ii]  It is the part of us that chooses.  It actually may never be a ‘physical’ action, but just the idea that one will ‘want’ to do one thing or another.  This, of course, is dependent upon what exactly we mean by ‘free’ (if it is free at all).  We also find this, “that faculty of the mind which selects, at the moment of decision, the strongest desire from among the various desires present. Will does not refer to any particular desire, but rather to the mechanism for choosing from among one’s desires.”[iii]   A great early American theologian advanced a good definition of the will.

“And  therefore  I observe, that the Will (without  any  metaphysical  refining) is, That by which the mind chooses any thing. The faculty of the will, is that power, or principle of mind, by which it is capable of choosing:  an act of the will is the same as an act of choosing or choice.

If any think it is a more perfect definition of the will, to say, that it is that by which the soul either chooses or refuse, I am content with it; though I think it enough to say, it is that  by  which  the  soul  chooses:  for  in  every  act  of  will  whatsoever,  the  mind  chooses one  thing  rather  than  another;  it  chooses  something  rather  than  the  contrary  or  rather than  the  want  or  non-existence  of  that  thing.”[iv]

I think Edward’s idea of what the will is, is an acceptable one.  This idea of “strongest desire” will be dealt with in the idea of what ‘free’ means.  I think everyone acts as if they have a will (we are not robots), and that ‘will’ is acted upon in some particular way-which we describe as free.  In this article, I am not at all concerned with those who deny free will of any type.  So, let’s look at what may be described as ‘types’ of free will.

 

COMPATIBILIST

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A compatibilist is one that believes determinism (whether theistic or natural) is compatible with free will.

“Compatibilism offers a solution to the free will problem, which concerns a disputed incompatibility between free will and determinism. Compatibilism is the thesis that free will is compatible with determinism.”[v]

In other words, free will is simply the idea that one is free to act according to what has been determined.  There is a distinction between ‘hard-determinism’ and ‘soft-determinism’ among theist, “A hard determinist believes all acts are caused by God, that God is the only efficient Cause. A soft determinist holds that God as the Primary Cause is compatible with human free choice as the secondary Cause.”[vi]  So for the sake of this article, we are focusing on the soft determinist, as they generally believe in a compatibilist free will.  You will hear some Calvinist say, “there is no free will!”  They fall in the hard determinist camp.  Many Calvinist (and Reformed) hold to the idea of free will, in at least a compatibilist sense.

The argument then would be that how can one be ‘free’ and determined?

“According to one strand within classical compatibilism, freedom of the sort pertinent to moral evaluation is nothing more than an agent’s ability to do what she wishes in the absence of impediments that would otherwise stand in her way.”[vii]

In the simplest of terms, compatibilist contend both determinism and ‘free’ will are present.  The will is governed by the ‘strongest desires’ that are not under an agent’s control.  This is classical Calvinism and an Edwardian version.

“Edwards believed that indeterminism is incompatible with our dependence on God and hence with his sovereignty. If our responses to God’s grace are contra-causally free, then our salvation depends partly on us and God’s sovereignty isn’t “absolute and universal.” Freedom of the Will defends theological determinism.”[viii]

Edwards paints a very deterministic (and some say not compatible) theology.

“For, as the being of the world is from God, so the circumstances in which it had its being at first, both negative and positive, must be ordered by him, in one of these ways; and all the necessary consequences of these circumstances, must be ordered by him.  And God’s active and positive interpositions, after the world was created, and the consequences of these interpositions; also every instance of his  forbearing  to  interpose,  and  the  sure  consequences  of  this  forbearance, must  all  be  determined  according  to  his  pleasure.”[ix]

 

INCOMPATIBILIST

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“Moreover, many contend that the ability to make moral choices requires libertarian free will. While good arguments can be made supporting these propositions, the authors believe there is one reason to affirm free will that supersedes the rest. That reason is the ability to reason. That is to say, beliefs can be rationally affirmed only if humans possess libertarian free will.”[x]

In a very simple definition, one states that free will and determinism (theistically or otherwise) are not possible, this is incompatibilism.

“Incompatibilists who are indeterminists (denying determinism) generally accept the view that random events (most likely quantum mechanical events) occur in the world. Whether in the physical world, in the biological world (where they are a key driver of genetic mutations), or in the mind, randomness and uncaused events are real. They introduce the possibility of accidents, novelty, and human creativity.

Although random quantum mechanical events break the strictly deterministic causal chain, which has just one possible future, they nevertheless are causes for successive events. They start new unpredictable causal chains. They generate unpredictable futures. They are said to be causa sui.

Soft causalists are event-causalists who accept causality but admit some unpredictable events that are causa sui and which start new causal chains.”[xi]

Incompatibilists, that believe in free will, are generally also called libertarians (in a metaphysical sense).

“Libertarianism is the view that free will is incompatible with determinism (the view that past events necessarily entail subsequent events) and that some of our actions are free (note that libertarianism does not require all of one’s actions to be free).”[xii]

Libertarians generally believe free will is one of three ways.  Those three ways are non-causal, self-causal, or event-causal.  Few, if any, libertarian holds to non-causal indeterminism, the idea that there are *no* reasons for why any action is taken.  Most libertarians hold to either self-causal or event-causal libertarianism.  First, let’s look at what is event-causal.

“Event-causal libertarians, of course, contend that self-determination requires more than nondeviant causation by agents’ reasons: for it is possible that agents’ actions in deterministic worlds are nondeviantly caused by apt mental states and events.”[xiii]

Also, there is self-causal. “Self-determination requires nondeterministic causation, in a nondeviant way, by an agent’s reasons.”[xiv] It is often described as agent-causal, as well.  Both ideas (event or self/agent causal) are simply describing the idea that any given choice is not determined, thus incompatible with determinism.   The libertarian is not denying there are influences and reasons for the choices, but the choices are not determined, one could have done otherwise.

 

BIBLICAL FREE WILL

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It seems our discussion must take us to the scriptures, as it matters not what philosophical notion we assert, it must hold up Biblically.  Is there any discussion in scripture on free will, determinism, or compatibilist/incompatibilist? No!  Any of the ideas we’ve already discussed (and argued for centuries by philosophers and theologians) are read into the text, and I doubt the Holy Spirit cares little of what ‘we’ think is the ‘right’ version of free will (or if it actually exists at all).  There is plenty for us to discuss and infer/assert on!

I think our discussion must start at the beginning.  The first thing I notice is the story of Adam and Eve.  The non-determinist can point to it and note that they were given *choices* (be it simply to eat or refrain from eating the fruit).  Of course, the determinist could counter, they could have NOT done otherwise than what they had done, as it was predestined to be.

We notice that God commanded them, “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”[xv]  The idea of “freely” eating seems to be a strong argument for some type of libertarian freedom.  Though it should be noted that even some hard-determinist believe that Adam had ‘free will’ but it was lost. “Connected with the argument from strong determinism is that, while Adam had free choice (Rom. 5:12), fallen human beings are in bondage to sin and not free to respond to God.”[xvi]

Something changed after the encounter in the Garden.  We are told Adam was now burdened with a sin-nature, and all mankind that followed, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.”[xvii]  This then begs the question, is man so ‘damaged’ that his free will no longer exist?  Can we now make choices, that is not influenced or dictated by our sin nature?

Does the Bible support the idea that man is ‘unable’ to respond to God?  Consider this passage, “And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”[xviii]  Granted, the speaker here is Joshua, not God, but the inference appears to support the idea of choosing, among options available.

For a stronger argument, one could turn here, “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.”[xix]  The idea of ‘choosing’ seems even more option-laden.  Moses’ words here are generally agreed to be God’s words, in a prophetic sense.  The whole chapter seems to point to free will ideas (and again these could be understood as compatibilistic, as well);

“See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil; In that I command thee this day to love the LORD thy God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments and his statutes and his judgments, that thou mayest live and multiply: and the LORD thy God shall bless thee in the land whither thou goest to possess it. But if thine heart turn away, so that thou wilt not hear, but shalt be drawn away, and worship other gods, and serve them; I denounce unto you this day, that ye shall surely perish, and that ye shall not prolong your days upon the land, whither thou passest over Jordan to go to possess it.”[xx]

Many point to the conversion of Saul/Paul as an example of determinism/compatibilist free will, that he had no ‘choice’ in the matter.  We find the event described in Acts chapter 9 and Saul/Paul seems overcome with the presence (or vision) of Jesus and is *forced* to follow Him.  Paul recounted this event more than once, and we see one example here, “Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision.”[xxi]  Paul’s answer to Agrippa seems to indicate that he could have ‘chosen’ not to obey Jesus.

I think the strongest argument for ‘some’ type of free will (either a strong or weak version of libertarianism is most convincing to the author) is found here, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”[xxii]  At least for believers, there is some idea that choices are/were available to them, as this passage seems to indicate.  I would even argue that unbelievers (unregenerate) have the ability to choose between options, even if those options are the lesser or greater of evils.

 

CONCLUSION

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I am sure that this article has answered every question that anyone can have about free will and has settled EVERY argument ever made(!).  With all seriousness, there is much that can be said about this subject and much has been.  I am unashamed of being a libertarian and believe free will is a real thing. With that said, I respect those that find a compatibilist sense of free will fit the evidence better.  Philosophy and theology are tools that helps one discover where the evidence leads. Please understand that very honest, smart, and sincere people will disagree about what free will *is*.  I will leave you with this quote:

“According to most philosophers, God in making the world enslaved it. According to Christianity, in making it, He set it free. God had written, not so much a poem, but rather a play; a play he had planned as perfect, but which had necessarily been left to human actors and stage-managers, who had since made a great mess of it.”[xxiii]

 

 

[i] Cave, Stephen, “There’s No Such Thing As Free Will”, The Atlantic, < https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/06/theres-no-such-thing-as-free-will/480750/&gt;

[ii] <https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/will/&gt;

[iii] <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Will_(philosophy)&gt;

[iv] Edwards, Jonathan, The Freedom of the Will, <http://fourcornerministries.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Edwards-J-14.pdf&gt;, pg. 3

[v] McKenna, Michael and Coates, D. Justin, “Compatibilism”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2018 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), forthcoming URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2018/entries/compatibilism/&gt;

[vi] Geisler, Norman L., Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, © 1999 by Norman L. Geisler. Database © 2008 WORDsearch Corp.

[vii] McKenna, Michael and Coates, D. Justin, “Compatibilism”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

[viii] Wainwright, William, “Jonathan Edwards”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2016/entries/edwards/&gt;

[ix] Edwards, The Freedom of the Will, pg. 178

[x] Stratton, T., & Erasmus, J. (2018). ‘Mere Molinism: A Defense of Two Essential Pillars’, Perichoresis, 16(2), pg. 21. doi: <https://doi.org/10.2478/perc-2018-0008&gt;

[xi] ‘Incompatibilism’, Information Philosopher, <http://www.informationphilosopher.com/freedom/incompatibilism.html&gt;

[xii] Stratton, ‘Mere Molinism: A Defense of Two Essential Pillars’, pg. 19

[xiii] O’Connor, Timothy and Franklin, Christopher, “Free Will”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2018 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2018/entries/freewill/&gt;

[xiv] ibid

[xv] Genesis 2:16-17 (KJV)

[xvi] Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics

[xvii] Romans 5:12 (KJV)

[xviii] Joshua 24:15 (KJV)

[xix] Deuteronomy 30:19 (KJV)

[xx] Deuteronomy 30:15-18 (KJV)

[xxi] Acts 26:19 (KJV)

[xxii] 1 Corinthians 10:13 (KJV)

[xxiii] Chesterton, Gilbert Keith, Orthodoxy (Moody Classics), Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition, pg. 118

The Bible and the first appearance of the Walking Dead?

One of the most controversial passages relating to the resurrection story, and of all the scriptures, is, “And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.”[i]  This passage has been referred to by many skeptics/agnostics/atheists as an example of why the scriptures are unreliable, as well as a strike against the resurrection narrative.  One reason proposed is that Matthew’s insertion of this into his narrative has no other attestation, independent or even any other Biblical author.  The argument can be summed up like this; if this happened then it would have been mentioned by others, secular or sacred.  Surely a ‘Walking Dead’ scenario in 1st Century Israel would have caused a great stir.

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I think there are at least three common interpretations of this passage, and one additional- I have proposed before.  Before I get to the common ones, and my idea, let’s look at what the passage said, and more importantly, what it didn’t.  Some have argued that the passage claims others arose before Christ, which it doesn’t say.  Our text states the graves were opened at Jesus’ death, then they arose at His resurrection.  Another common thought is that the “saints” were Old Testament ones.  There is nothing in the text that explicitly points to that, but it seems an inference with some merit.  Another point that needs mentioning before I get to the explanations, the word “many” which is πολύς (polys) in the Greek is simply a reference to plural, which could have been two or more.  Let’s look at the three (four) possible meanings of the passage, commonly believed.

 

IT DIDN’T HAPPEN

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This is the most problematic and favorite one of skeptics.  For proponents of inspiration/inerrant/reliability of scripture, this would be the most problematic.  If we believe Matthew was inspired, then what he recorded was actually what happened, or at least a version of it.  Skeptics will often use this passage as a blow against the resurrection story.  Their argument goes something like, “if all these saints were walking around don’t you think someone else would have written about it.”  As I mentioned above, the number of resurrected saints is not mentioned in Matthew’s passage, nor how many witnessed it, as the word “many” used could be as few as two or three.  Who these saints are and who they appeared to are a mystery (though a good reason to believe that Matthew was one!), and it is a hard passage to use in apologetics.

 

IT HAPPENED

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Matthew recorded many things we take for granted (Bible-believers, that is), and as a historical document, Matthew’s gospel is held in high regard by skeptics.  The ‘Sermon on the Mount’ recorded earlier in Matthew’s account is regarded as a moral standard by Christian and non-Christian alike.  It seems as if Matthew throws this passage in as a side item, a parenthetical addition to the story.  In context it is interesting.  We have a few things mentioned before our text in Matthew’s account; Jesus crying aloud (vs. 50), the temple veil torn (vs. 52), and darkness (vs. 45), mentioned by other Gospel writers.  Jesus crying aloud, before His death, is found also in Mark 15:37 and Luke 23:46.  The temple veil torn, is mentioned in Mark 15:38 and Luke 23:45.  Finally, the darkness is mentioned in Mark 15:33 and Luke 23:44.  There are other things mentioned by the three synoptic gospels that are mentioned in one or two that are not mentioned in all three.  This is not unusual in and of itself.  The issue, of course, is this a LITERAL resurrection of other saints, no matter who or how many there were?  This leads us to our third interpretation.

 

IT IS A METAPHOR/APOCALYPTIC IMAGERY

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There are some very highly respected apologists (e.g. Dr. William Lane Craig and Dr. Mike Licona) that think this passage is not speaking of a literal resurrection of saints (whether they be Old Testament or not) but is a classic example of Jewish apocalyptic writing that the books of Revelations and Daniel are examples of.  We know that there are various things in Revelations (as well as Daniel) not intended to be literal (multi-headed beasts and dragons, for example), but were intended to be understood as symbolic.  Of course, this assumes that the readers would know (and the First Century readers may have) this was meant as symbolism.  This seems the easiest interpretation to defend.  Yet, it may be the hardest to prove, as to it being symbolic.  It seems as if in context as it is placed within the narrative, it is speaking of something that happened, right there in Jerusalem.  This leads me to my most controversial or at least the least supported(!) position.

 

IT HAPPENED (OR WILL), JUST NOT HERE (OR NOW)

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The term “holy city” is used by Matthew only two times, here in our text, and in Matthew 4:5, when satan took Jesus to the pinnacle in His temptations.  It seems reasonable to believe that Matthew did mean Jerusalem in Matthew 4, so we assume it is also the case here in chapter 27.  There is no reason to think that it refers to anything else but Jerusalem, except maybe not the earthly/old one.  In checking how often, the phrase “holy city” is used, it occurs only 5 times in all of the New Testament (KJV).  Clearly two, Matthew 4:5 and Revelations 11:2, seem to refer to the earthly Jerusalem while two other, Revelation 21:2 and 22:19, clearly refer to the ‘New’ Jerusalem that will be of eternal existence.  I posit that Matthew may have been, under inspiration, referring to the ‘New’ Jerusalem in our text.  A simple search of other English translations (besides the KJV) shows one other reference to a “holy city” in Revelations 21:10, which the KJV refers to as the “holy Jerusalem” clearly pointing to the celestial, not earthly one.  My only ‘strong’ scriptural support comes from a much-debated passage.  There is a very strange passage, which states very cryptically, “By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison.”[ii]

The context in which the passage in 1 Peter is clearly during the crucifixion (the time frame) and Jesus seemed to be speaking to Old Testament Saints, “Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.”[iii]  Obviously, many will point to the belief that Peter was not speaking of Christ in limbo (between the crucifixion and resurrection) preaching ‘literally’ to OT saints.  No, they will say that Christ ‘preached’ thru Noah to those Peter is referring to, but that seems to not fit “the spirits in prison.”  Many scholars believe prior to Christ’s resurrection there was a holding place, ‘Paradise’ or even ‘Abraham’s bosom’ (some even believe a section of ‘Hell’), in which OT saints were kept until the time Christ triumphed over death.  Jesus referenced some kind of authority over death and even Hell, “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.”[iv]  What if Matthew is actually referring to OT Saints, raised from their spirit prison; a chamber of Hell, paradise, or Abraham’s bosom, entering the ‘New’ Jerusalem.  Now I know one objection would be the New Jerusalem has not yet been created.  First, I’m not sure that is true, and second, if it is a still future Jerusalem, maybe Matthew is speaking prophetically of that event, too.

 

CONCLUSION

I think this passage causes many people difficulty.  Christians find themselves trying to defend the idea that multiple resurrections were not attested to but here in Matthew.  First, because it isn’t spoken of in any other writing doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.  Second, this is not a passage that makes the case of Christ’s resurrection valid or invalid.   Finally, this passage becomes a straw man, a red herring of sorts, to deflect the truth of the resurrection.  Apologists, and other Christians struggle with this passage, as it is a very perplexing one, hard to discern the exact meaning (but I’ve tried to give at least 4).  Just to be clear, and to be fully disclosed as to my position, I believe in the literal “It Happened” interpretation.  I could defend the other positions, except the “Didn’t Happen.”  I think the passage, given to us by the Holy Spirit, has purpose and value.  Don’t let it be a stumbling block to your faith, nor allow it to be an issue that brings difficulty.   We defend the resurrection of Christ and have many pieces of evidence to back up our belief. For reliability of scripture, this is a non-sequitur.  This Matthew passage in chapter 27 shouldn’t be a problem to our belief in Christ’s resurrection. Hopefully, this article gives you some thoughts as to how this passage could be understood.  Take time to think thru these verses, as well as the whole of scripture.  There are always ways to look at passages that you may not have considered before.

[i] Matthew 27:52-53 (KJV)

[ii] 1 Peter 3:19 (KJV)

[iii] 1 Peter 3:20 (KJV)

[iv] Revelation 1:18 (KJV)

Is God the ‘GREEN-EYED MONSTER’?

You’ve heard the phrase ‘green-eyed monster’ in describing jealousy.  Maybe you’ve heard a TV, Radio, or read a newspaper report with a headline like; ‘Jealous spouse commits a horrible crime’.  Jealousy is one of the qualities that no one wants to admit to possessing.  So, if the Bible describes God as ‘jealous’ is this something we should expect of a ‘morally-perfect’ Being?  I think there is a powerful truth about God and jealousy that we can look at in this article.monster illustration

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A famous TV personality once commented that one reason she quit following the God of the Bible was that He was described as ‘jealous’.  Jealousy, in this person’s estimation, was an immoral quality and no ‘Jealous-God’ deserved worship and praise.  Does the Bible describe God as jealous?  It seems as so, “Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;”[i] and “Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? are we stronger than he?”[ii]   Of course, it would be prudent to define what WE mean by jealousy, but more importantly what the Bible means in its use of the word.

Let’s look at a common definition, “1. hostile toward a rival or one believed to enjoy an advantage : envious, 2 a : intolerant of rivalry or unfaithfulness b : disposed to suspect rivalry or unfaithfulness, 3 : vigilant in guarding a possession.”[iii]  I would venture to say that few would argue with these definitions.  There is a definite ‘negative’ connotation to these, it appears at first.  The third application is one I will center on for the moment, “vigilant in guarding a possession.”   The idea of a “possession” conjures ideas of ‘things’ we own.  It could also be what we HAVE.  We have a relationship or connection with others, and it is this idea I think jealousy can be seen in.  In other words, guarding our relationship with another, like marriage, is a form of jealousy.

I think we can argue jealousy is manifested in 2 ways, negative and positive.  The negative is ‘self-centered’ jealousy.  This is when one is inward looking at how it affects THEM, and not necessarily others.  The other, in the positive sense, is what we could call ‘other-centered’ jealousy.  This is when we are ‘jealous’ because of how one’s action(s) will affect them.  In other words, when we have the best interest at heart of another we ‘jealousy’ try to guard them against the ill effects of their actions.

This is one of the ‘vices’ charged against God, especially the Old Testament ‘version’ of Him.  I want to clarify that I firmly believe that the God of the Old Testament is the same as the New.  We admit that it SEEMS that the Old Testament version gives the impression of being a little…well…rough(!)…if you will.  I also want to clearly state that Jesus is the clearest revelation of WHO God is and HOW He is, “For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.”[iv]  With that said, we need not ignore the revelation of God in the Old Testament and just gloss over the passages that relate to God’s nature-especially related to our topic.

The first mention of jealousy and God is found in Moses’ encounter with God after leaving Egypt and receiving the covenant that the Children of Israel were to live under.  I listed the quote in the first paragraph of the article in which God said, “for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God.”  God admits He is jealous, and even seems to glory in it, “For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.”[v]  This is one of the areas skeptics will use to claim God is actually a moral monster, of sorts.

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”[vi]

I don’t have time to challenge all the Dawkins’ assertions, but others agree with him.

“The God of the Old Testament is utterly unlike the God believed in by most practicing Christians … His justice is, by modern standards, outrageous…. He is biased, querulous, vindictive, and jealous of his prerogatives.”[vii]

We must stop here and make a clear affirmation; YES, God is a jealous God!  Is that an immoral quality for a ‘Perfect-Being’ to possess?  Is a ‘Maximally Great Being’ worthy to be worshipped, if He is jealous?  Jealousy, as I stated above, can be positive, as well as negative.

“Jealousy can be a bad thing or a good thing. It’s bad to protect the petty; it’s good to fiercely guard the precious. If jealousy is rooted in self-centeredness, it is clearly the wrong kind of jealousy. A jealousy that springs from concern for another’s well-being, however, is appropriate.”[viii]

Are there examples in scripture of ‘jealousy’ being used in the positive sense?  I think there is a good example here: “For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.”[ix]  Here Paul is using the analogy of a husband and wife to describe our (the church in Corinth, in context, but for us by extension) relationship to God.  This is “vigilant in guarding a possession” that our definition included.

Notice here, “For they provoked him to anger with their high places, and moved him to jealousy with their graven images.”[x]  If our highest calling and duty is to worship our Creator, following other ‘gods’ would have negative consequences…for us!  God is jealous because they had begun to worship idols.  Idol worship in ancient times included sexual deviance, other very immoral acts, and even the sacrifice of children.

“When can jealousy be a good thing? In God’s case, it’s when we’re rummaging around in the garbage piles of life and avoiding the ultimate source of satisfaction. It reminds me of a comic strip I once saw of a dog who had been drinking out of a toilet bowl. With water dripping from his snout, Fido looks up to tell us, “It doesn’t get any better than this!””[xi]

How poignant this illustration is?  Following after other ‘gods’ brings us nothing but dissatisfaction.  “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.”[xii]   Of course, this is based on the idea that God created us, and if we were created by Him, He knows what is best for us.  God lamented Israel’s heart turning to another (Egypt), when they should have turned to Him, “Woe to the rebellious children, saith the LORD, that take counsel, but not of me; and that cover with a covering, but not of my spirit, that they may add sin to sin: That walk to go down into Egypt, and have not asked at my mouth; to strengthen themselves in the strength of Pharaoh, and to trust in the shadow of Egypt!”[xiii]

God’s jealousy is not petty, envious, or ‘me-centered’.  Rather, it is gracious, loving, and ‘other-centered’ wanting what is best for His children, His bride.

“The Lord Jesus Christ, of whom I now speak, is very jealous of your love, O believer. Did he not choose you? He cannot bear that you should choose another. Did he not buy you with his own blood? He cannot endure that you should think you are your own, or that you belong to this world. He loved you with such a love that he could not stop in heaven without you; he would sooner die than that you should perish; he stripped himself to nakedness that he might clothe you with beauty; he bowed his face to shame and spitting that he might lift you up to honour and glory, and he cannot endure that you should love the world, and the things of the world. His love is strong as death towards you, and therefore will be cruel as the grave. He will be as a cruel one towards you if you do not love him with a perfect heart. He will take away that husband; he will smite that child; he will bring you from riches to poverty, from health to sickness, even to the gates of the grave, because he loves you so much that he cannot endure that anything should stand between your heart’s love and him. Be careful, Christians, you that are married to Christ; remember, you are married to a jealous husband.”[xiv]

[i] Exodus 20:5 (KJV)

[ii] 1 Corinthians 10:22 (KJV)

[iii] <https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/jealous&gt;

[iv] Colossians 2:9 (KJV)

[v] Exodus 34:14 (KJV)

[vi] Dawkins, Richard, The God Delusion, Great Britain: Bantam Press, 2006, pg. 31.

[vii] Templeton, Charles, Farewell to God, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1999, pg. 71.

[viii] Copan, Paul. Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God, Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition, pg. 34.

[ix] 2 Corinthians 11:2 (KJV)

[x] Psalm 78:58 (KJV)

[xi] Copan, Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God, p. 35.

[xii] Ecclesiastes 12:13 (KJV)

[xiii] Isaiah 30:1-2 (KJV)

[xiv] Allen, Kerry James, editor, Exploring the Mind and Heart of the Prince of Preachers

Five-thousand illustrations selected from the works of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, © 2005 by Fox River Press. Database © 2009 WORDsearch Corp.