Tag Archive | God

Religion and Obligation – But I don’t want to obey?…

Religion and Obligation - What if we don't want to obey?

People often don’t like religion because they don’t want to obey

A lot of people react to religion and want nothing to do with it. Not because they’ve considered its truth claims but because they feel it is constricting. Interestingly, we got our modern English word “religion” from the Latin word religio meaning “obligation” or “bond.”

So, it has been recognized for a long time that religion is binding. The question is, why? Why should anyone obey a religion?

If the religion’s truth claims are accurate then there would be a good reason to obey. Otherwise, I’m not going to be bound by a religion just because that’s what my grandma believed… No. If you’re going to tell me what I can do and not do, you better offer some good reasons why I should listen. 

God demands obedience

1 Kings 8:60-61 says, “The LORD is God; there is no other. Let your heart therefore be wholly true to the LORD.” It is admittedly a big claim that “the LORD is God,” and He alone. But if that claim is true it seems to make sense that the LORD could demand obedience. 

So, the question it seems we need to answer is not: “Should I obey?” But: “Is it true?” A lot of times it seems we’re tempted to go at it a different way. We’re tempted to think: “I don’t want to obey, therefore I won’t consider if it’s true.” 

We can see the ridiculousness of that thinking when we apply it to a different context… 

Imagine you’re driving on the highway with me. I’m going 95 when the speed limit is 70. You’re concerned because you know there are often speed traps in the area. Also, you don’t want to die. So, you say, “Perhaps you should slow down. There could be a speed trap.” 

I, however, am rather content with the speed I am going. But you see a police car ahead. You very kindly warn me: “Um, that’s a police car… See it?! He’s right there! Slow down!”

But I don’t listen. I want to drive fast so I ignore the possibility of a cop car. 

Religion and obligation

Ignoring information that might be pertinent because we want to do what we want to do might be problematic. Just because we don’t want there to be a cop to enforce the rules does not at all mean there is no cop. 

I understand people not wanting to be obligated by a religion. We all naturally want to be in charge; we want to do what we want to do. We want to be God. But we can’t be God if God is God.

If God is, then God is in charge. He is God. If the religion is real, it necessarily leads to obligation. 

That brings up the very important question: “Is God?

Can an outside hand reach into the fishbowl of our universe?

Can an outside hand reach into the fishbowl of our universe?

Can an outside hand reach into the fishbowl of our universe?

Newton, a scientist that also happened to be a fish, was a keen observer of the ecology of the fishbowl. He was surprised to observe regular patterns in his fish universe. But he did. 

For example, Newton observes that food daily falls upon the surface of the water at the same time each day. It is a law of nature. It’s just the way the world is. 

Newton observes other natural phenomena like the temperature of the water. He further notes that each death of a goldfish results in a distant flushing noise and then in reincarnation of that goldfish. Newton, awestruck by his discoveries, publishes his findings in his magnum opus entitled Fishtonian Laws

Many read his groundbreaking work and are convinced that the laws of the fishbowl are unassailable. After all, the patterns observed have always been that way and so always will be that way. No outside source can act within the fishbowl. The reality is food appears every day and as a goldfish dies, a new one appears. That is the unbroken chain of events we observe. That is the way it’s always been. How could it be different? Who or what could act on these laws of nature? 

We are in a closed system; the aether of the universe—in which we live, move, and have our being—is constrained by an invisible force. There is an unknown unobservable wall that keeps us from knowing what is outside nature, what is outside the physical universe. There is no way for us to know the metafishbowl

In the post-Fishtonian world, there were still whispers of the metafishbowl—of the supernatural hand of God—but most of those stories were dismissed as baseless dreams. After all, even if there were a God that set up the fishbowl, he no longer acts in the fishbowl. Such a being is wholly other and transcendent and would not care about lowly fish. 

Everything just goes on swimmingly by itself. We shouldn’t expect an outside hand, right?… There is no reason to think an outside being or force could act within our world. 

Or, does something smell fishy about this story?

If God created the universe, what created God?

If God created the world, who created God?

We, as sentient and at least somewhat intelligent humans, exist. That’s not debated by most people. How, however, did we get here? Where or who did we come from? And if God created us, who or what created God? 

Panspermia 

Some have speculated that we got here through panspermia or even directed panspermia.[1] Panspermia is the hypothesis that microorganisms were seeded to our planet through meteoroids, comets, asteroids, or even from alien life forms. That just moves the question back. Where then did life come from (to say nothing of matter)?

Interestingly, some have speculated what it would take for us to seed life to another planet by blasting off a rocket with microorganisms onboard. Some believe we could carry out a “Genesis” mission to an uninhabited planet within 50 to 100 years.

Of course, the mission would require a lot of really smart people working in coordination with a lot of really smart people. And it would cost a lot of money and use things like ion thrusters and really advanced robots. So, starting with life and intelligence, it may be possible to seed life to other planets (assuming they are fine-tuned to support life). But again, this just pushes the question back and proves the need for intelligent design.

Multiverse or many worlds hypothesis

Another hypothesis to explain the origin of life on earth (specifically intelligent life on earth) is the multiverse theory.[2] Yes, this should remind you of all the crazy stuff that happens in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. This theory is interesting and problematic for a number of reasons. It’s more science fiction than fact.

  1. It is, by far, not the simplest explanation. This is problematic (see: Occam’s razor).
  2. It’s nonsensical. One could then postulate that there is a near-infinite number of you, or of Loki. Loki was a cool show but the questions multiply as the “Lokis” multiply.
  3. There’s nothing that we have observed that would lead us to logically conclude that there is or is likely a multiverse (it seems, rather, that those arguing for this position are just frantically trying to get away from the reality of the existence of God[3]). 

If God created the universe, what created God?

Here are the options:

  1. The universe somehow sprang from absolute nothingness completely on its own.
  2. The universe inanimate has existed eternally and that something somehow exploded and eventually led to the life forms we have now.
  3. The universe was created by a powerful and eternal Entity.

Each of those options is honestly hard to fathom. Which makes the most sense?

The universe somehow sprang from absolute nothingness completely on its own.

This is not something we really observe. In our experience and observation, something does not come from nothing. If even a simple pool ball is rolling on a pool table we assume it was set in motion by something. We don’t assume it moved although no force whatsoever acted upon it (What about quantum particles?[4]).

There’s a story about a scientist making a bet with God. The scientist bets God that he can create life. The scientist grabs some dirt and sets off to work. When a voice from heaven said, “Get your own dirt!”

“It is a vain hope to try to give a physical account of the absolute beginning of the universe. Not only must the creation event transcend physical law, it must also,… transcend logic and mathematics and therefore all the scientific tools at our disposal. It must be, quite literally, supernatural.”[5]

The universe has eternally existed.

If the expansion of the universe were an old VHS video that you could reverse, you’d see the contraction of the universe into an infinitesimally small singularity—back into the nothingness from which the universe sprang.[6] Thus, the Big Bang actually matches with what Scripture says. That is, the universe—all the matter that is—came into being at a finite time, ex nihilo, out of nothing.

The universe has not existed eternally.

The universe was created by a powerful and eternal Entity.

It makes sense to say, doesn’t it, that anything that begins to exist must have a cause of its existence?[7] I think that makes a lot of sense. I mean a pool ball on a pool table isn’t going to move unless someone or something causes it to move.

This is especially the case when we consider the extreme fine-tuning necessary to allow for life, especially intelligent life. “On whatever volume scale researchers make their observations—the universe, galaxy cluster, galaxy, planetary system, planet, planetary surface, cell, atom, fundamental particle, or string—the evidence for extreme fine-tuning for life’s sake, and in particular for humanity’s benefit, persists.”[8]

God is the Uncaused Cause, the Unmoved Mover. God is. He is the Creator.

But then, who or what created God?

Anything that begins to exist must have a cause of its existence. The thing with God is, He did not begin to exist. He has always existed. Therefore, He needs no cause or creator. He is the Creator.

“The Cause responsible for bringing the universe into existence is not constrained by cosmic time. In creating our time dimension, that agent demonstrated an existence above, or independent of, cosmic time… In the context of cosmic time, the causal Agent would have no beginning and no ending and would not be created.”[9]

This is, in fact, what the Bible says about the LORD God. It says, “the LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth” (Is. 40:28) and it says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1 cf. Ps. 136:5; Is. 45:18; Col. 1:16).

The universe has not always existed. Instead, “the universe was brought into existence by a causal agent with the capacity to operate before, beyond, unlimited buy, transcendent to all cosmic matter, energy, space, and time.”[10]

God revealed Himself to Moses as: “I Am who I Am” (Ex. 3:14). God is the One who Is. He is the Existing One. He is the One who is beyond and before time and matter. And as such, He is able to create time and matter.

If God’s existence doesn’t need an explanation then why should the universe’s existence need an explanation? 

“This popular objection is based on a misconception of the nature of explanation. It is widely recognized that in order for an explanation to be the best, one need not have an explanation of the explanation (indeed, such a requirement would generate an infinite regress, so that everything becomes inexplicable). If astronauts should find traces of intelligent life on some other planet, for example, we need not be able to explain such extraterrestrials in order to recognize that they are the best explanation of the artifacts. In the same way, the design hypothesis’s being the best explanation of the fine-tuning does not depend on our being able to explain the Designer.”[11]

How should we respond to the One who created the universe?

That’s a big question. But, I’ll take it further, how should we respond if the Christian understanding of God is correct? What if the Programmer coded Himself into the program like the Bible talks about?

If what Scripture says of the Creator entering His creation is true, as I believe it is, then I think it clearly follows that we should be amazed and submit to the One who has shown Himself to be the Lord.

We must all, however, make that choice on our own. I can’t make it for you. But I, for one, am awed and astounded that the Creator would enter His creation to rescue His creation.

Not only that but the Creator was crucified (see Col. 1:15-20). As Jesus was making purification and propitiation for sin by bearing our sin on the cross, He was simultaneously upholding the universe by the word of His power (Heb. 1:2).

How should we respond to the One who created the universe and yet loves us?! I believe we should respond in reverent worship:

“Worthy are You, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for You created all things,
and by Your will they existed and were created” (Rev. 4:11).
“Worthy are You…
for You were slain, and by Your blood You ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9).

Notes

[1] E.g. Francis Crick, Life Itself: Its Nature and Origin (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1981).

[2] See: https://reasons.org/explore/publications/questions-from-social-media/is-the-existence-of-a-multiverse-a-problem-for-christianity

[3] “The many worlds hypothesis is essentially an effort on the part of partisans of the chance hypothesis to multiply their probabilistic resources in order to reduce the improbability of the occurrence of fine-tuning” (J.P. Moreland & William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview [Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2003], 487). Ironically, “the many worlds hypothesis is no less metaphysical than the hypothesis of a comic designer” (Moreland & Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, 487).

[4] “There is no basis for the claim that quantum physics proves that things can begin to exist without a cause, much less that [the] universe could have sprung into being uncaused from literally nothing” (Moreland & Craig, Philosophical Foundations, 469). Even if one follows the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics, “particles do not come into being out of nothing. They arise as spontaneous fluctuations of the energy contained in the subatomic vacuum, which constitutes an indeterministic cause of their origination” (Ibid.). This very brief explanation is helpful: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/quantum-field-theory-what-virtual-particles-laymans-terms-javadi/ and also see: http://atlas.physics.arizona.edu/~shupe/Indep_Studies_2015/Homeworks/VirtualParticles_Strassler.pdf

[5] David A. J. Seargent, Copernicus, God, and Goldilocks: Our Place and Purpose in the Universe, 114.

[6] A better illustration would actually be a balloon losing its air. When considering the expansion of the universe it’s amazing to consider that eventually the universe will grow dark because the speed of the expansion of the universe will eventually be too great for us to observe our cosmic surroundings.

[7] “Everything restricted to the cosmic timeline must be traceable back to a cause and a beginning” (Hugh Ross, Why The Universe Is The Way It Is, 132).

[8] Ross, Why The Universe Is The Way It Is, 124. See e.g. Hugh Ross, “Fundamental Forces Show Greater Fine-Tuning” https://reasons.org/explore/publications/connections/fundamental-forces-show-greater-fine-tuning, Fazale Rana, “Fine-Tuning For Life On Earth (Updated June 2004)” https://reasons.org/explore/publications/articles/fine-tuning-for-life-on-earth-updated-june-2004, and Seargent, Copernicus, God, and Goldilocks, 121-127.

[9] Ross, Why The Universe Is The Way It Is, 132.

[10] Ibid., 131. 

[11] Moreland & Craig, Philosophical Foundations, 487.

*Photo by Tyler van der Hoeven

In the shelter of the Most High

Sunday morning in church we were looking at Luke chapter one and my attention was drawn to verse 35.  The angel said to Mary, “the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”1

This phrase brings us to Psalm 91 verse 1: “Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. “

If we go on and read the entire Psalm.  We have some serious food for thought regarding the present situation we are in regarding COVID.

“For he will rescue you from every trap and protect you from deadly disease” (v. 3).

“Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness” (v. 6).

“No plague will come near your home” (v. 10).

“The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me” (v. 14).

There are many other promises in this powerful Psalm but the one regarding disease and plague stands out. These promises are contingent on sheltering in the shadow of the Almighty.

So does this mean no true believers in the Almighty will get COVID?  We know this is not true.  Many believers have contracted COVID and been healed—100% recovery rate.  Some recovered on this planet in this time and space and others are now experiencing the ultimate recovery and healing—instant healing—in eternity.  In thinking of a friend with COVID, he will be healed; it is a confirmed fact, one way or the other he will be healed. The Almighty has said so—Psalm 91 ends with the final and ultimate shelter: “and give them my salvation”.

So what does it mean to shelter in the shadow of the Almighty? To me sheltering in the shadow of the Almighty means being always conscious of God’s presence and “shadow” around me.  He is always there and by faith, I see His shadow.  He has said, “I will never live you nor forsake you.”

Isaiah put it this way, “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in You, all whose thoughts are fixed on You! Trust in the Lord always, for the Lord God in the eternal Rock” (Is. 26:3-4).

To abide in the shadow of the Almighty means to have our heart, minds, and faith fixed, fastened securely to the promises of the Almighty.  Not fixed ultimately on medical science, our insurance policy, the government, our diet and health regiment, a vaccine,  but fixed on the Almighty.

My prayer for all of us this season will be that we are sheltering under the Almighty—not mainly sheltering in place but under the shadow of the Almighty.

1 Using the New Living Translation for all of this.

 

God is Not A Socially Distant God

All His Benefits

“Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits—who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (Psalm 103:2-5).

If we are to rightly praise the LORD then we must know the LORD. We must know things about Him. We must know things about what He has done. We must know and not forget all His benefits.

“All His benefits.” I like that phrase.

When someone is thinking about taking a job they consider what the benefits of the job are. “Will I get enough vacation? Is the health insurance good enough?”

Yet the Lord gives “all His benefits” for free! Not as payment for work. The LORD heaps benefits on all those “who fear Him” (v. 11) because God is a God of “steadfast love and mercy” (v. 4).

God does not pay us for our sins as we deserve (v. 10). If He did that would be bad news and we certainly wouldn’t get all the benefits we enjoy. Just like a good Father, however, God shows great compassion and care to all who fear Him (v. 13).

The LORD forgives, heals, redeems, crowns, satisfies, and strengthens (v. 3-5). The LORD is merciful and gracious and slow to anger (v. 6). The LORD’s love is vast beyond comprehension. It is high—higher than the heavens, it is vast—further than the east is from the west, and it is long—from everlasting to everlasting (v. 11, 12, 17).

So, praise the LORD! Praise the LORD because He shows mercy and withholds the punishment we deserve. Praise the LORD because He shows grace and heaps on all sorts of blessings we don’t deserve. Praise the LORD because of who He is and all He has done.

He is the Faithful God

“Know that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps His gracious covenant loyalty for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commands” (Deuteronomy 7:9).

How surprising and sad that we need to be reminded so often of God’s truth. And yet we do. I’m thankful that God accommodates to our forgetful ways. 

We are told to know something. Our knowledge is not to be merely intellectual. Though it is intellectual. We need to know actual things about God. In this verse, we are to grasp with our minds that the LORD God is actually God. 

It is not only that the LORD is really God but that the LORD your God is really God. There is a relational aspect to our knowledge of God. The LORD your God is the supreme being and Creator of the universe. The LORD is not distant and uncaring, He is not god, but our God. 

Wow. That’s a game-changer. 

It doesn’t stop there, though.

The supreme being and Creator of the universe that is our God is also faithful. Amazingly faithful. 

Deuteronomy 7:9 heaps good news upon good news. If you have the LORD as your God then that means that God—The supreme being and Creator of the universe—is your God. It means the Faithful One is your God. 

Our intellectual knowledge of God has a huge practical impact on our lives. It means we do not need to be afraid because the LORD our God is powerful (Deut. 7:18). 

So, fight forgetfulness. Work to remember and intimately know your faithful God. And don’t be terrified because the LORD your God, a great and awesome God, is among you (Deut. 7:21).

Moral Order

The world has a moral order. Many are unwilling to concede that truth, however. But the world functions as if that is the case. Let’s take my kid’s classroom as an example.

In my kid’s classroom there is a telos, or goal for which the students gather. There are also specific means that are employed to reach that end.

The whole education system is predicated upon the goals of teaching things that are deemed important for the betterment and healthy functioning of the individual student and society. Various means are employed to best meet those goals. There are subtle disagreements of course. For example, people have disagreements over the best forms of discipline. But there is overarching agreement across America.

Think of the quintessential school. Perhaps for you it’s John Adams High from Boy Meets World or maybe Bayside High School from Saved by the Bell. Regardless, there is a quintessential school. There is something that is aimed for, something that is ideal. Read More…

How should Christian art be informed by the Christian worldview? (part 1)

Introduction: How should we think about art? Why has art had such a varied history? What explains why we can relate to both “sad reflective art” as well as “joyous exuberant art”? How does art in its various forms sometimes make us yearn for something that seems out of reach?

I believe as we look to God’s Word as our guide we will be able to make some significant observations that will better position us to answer some of those questions.[1] In the coming posts, we’ll consider seven ways the Christian worldview informs how we think about art…

First, Consider the Creator

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…” (Gen. 1:1). He made atoms and oceans, sunsets and frogs, butterflies and hogs. He made matter and motion, the stars in space and every trace of sand. He made my hands and yours too. God made flowers and bees. God thought up nectar and the neurons that make emotion.

Read More…

Is Love God’s Main Attribute?

“Unequal weights are an abomination to the Lord,” Proverbs tells us (20:10, 23). And this is no less true when it comes to theology. When we give more weight to God’s love then to His other attributes we are not correctly representing who He is. We are being deceiving. Deceit when it comes to earthly treasure is an abomination. How much greater an abomination when He that is infinitely worthy is falsely treated?!

God’s attributes must not be incorrectly understood. The Bible does clearly teach that God is a God of love (e.g. 1 Jn. 4:8) and continued faithfulness or covenant loyalty (Ex. 34:7; Num. 14:18; Deut. 7:9; Ps. 86:15; 119:90; Lam. 3:22-23; Nahum 1:3; 1 Cor. 1:9; 2 Thess. 3:3; Heb. 10:23). However, the Bible also clearly and repeatedly teaches that God is a God of righteous jealousy (Ex. 20:4-6; 34:14; Num. 25:11; Deut. 4:24; 5:8-10; 6:15; 29:20; 32:16, 21; Josh. 24:19-20; 1 Kings 14:22; Is. 42:8; 48:11; Ezek. 8:3-5; 16:38, 42; 23:25; 36:5-7; 38:19; 39:25; Joel 2:18; Nahum 1:2; Zeph. 1:18; 3:8; Zech. 1:14: 8:2; Ps. 78:58; 79:5; 1 Cor. 10:22; James 4:5) and unrestrained wrath (cf. e.g. Is. 13:6-11; Jer. 7:20; Nahum 1:2-8; Matt. 3:12; Rom. 2:5). The Bible clearly shows that God will not clear the guilty that spurn His grace and patience (cf. e.g. Ex. 34:7; Num. 14:18; Deut. 7:9-11; Lam. 3:22-23, 64-66; Nahum 1:3). Further, the Bible never says that love is God’s main attribute or that God has a main attribute. Rather, God is; and He is perfect in all ways. “Attributes,” such as love, wisdom, etc. are anthropological, they are given so that we can understand God. Thus, these attributes should not and cannot be understood when striped from their connection to the whole of who God is.

Also, though God’s attribute of love is clearly and very much on display through the whole of Scripture other attributes, such as God’s holiness (cf. the emphatic “holy, holy, holy” Is. 6:3; Rev. 4:8), could be agued to be God’s central attribute. We also see in different places in Scripture that God pours out judgment on people, clearly not to show His love, but to be glorified (cf. e.g. Ex. 9:13-16, 34-10:2;14:4; 8:13-18; 2 Sam. 24:1, 10-11; 1 Chron. 21:1, 7-8; Is. 6:9-13; Ps. 92:7 [NASB]; Rom. 9:22-24). Actually, we see various times in Scripture that God’s motivation for salvation is His glory (cf. e.g. Ps. 23:3; 25:11; 31:3; Ezek. 36:16-32 [esp. v. 21, 22, 32]; Rom. 9:22-24). James M. Hamilton Jr. persuasively argues that the story of redemption history and the Bible is not about God loving all people without exception but about “God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment” (the title of his book).[1]

The Universalist extrapolation that since God is love He will not finally allow people to be damned eternally in hell is unfounded. Some Universalists have extrapolated that God’s glory is seen in that He has mercy and compassion and thus will display His glory more when He repeals His judgment on sinners in hell (some wrongly cite Ex. 33:19). However, these Universalists incorrectly understand the Exodus passage. Instead, through a closer look at the text we see that “God’s glory and his name consist fundamentally in his propensity to show mercy and his sovereign freedom in its distribution. Or to put it more precisely, it is the glory of God and his essential nature mainly to dispense mercy (but also wrath, Ex 34:7) on whomever he pleases apart from any constraint originating outside his own will. This is the essence of what it means to be God. This is his name”[2] (cf. Rom. 9:6-24).

God does not bow to any of His “attributes” but He is continually perfect in a unison of perfection. Wrath does not hold a place over love or love over wrath, the Son does not fight with the Father nor the Spirit with the Son, God’s Name and ways are always and forever perfect. His Name, who He is, His character, is holy (cf. Lk. 1:49). He is I AM. We do not determine who He is or what He should do. He is. And He is perfect in all His ways.

So, no. I don’t think love is God’s main attribute. 

____________________

[1] See Hamilton’s book length treatment God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology where he goes from Genesis to Revelation to argue his case or see his much smaller article “The Glory of God in Salvation through Judgment: The Centre of Biblical Theology?” in Tyndale Bulletin 57.1 (2006), 57-84. Also Jonathan Edwards argues the same point in The End for Which God Created the World (see John Piper, God’s Passion for His Glory).

[2] John Piper, The Justification of God: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Romans 9:1-23 (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1993), 88-89. Italics his.

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