Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Was Jesus Poor?

            Was Jesus poor or wealthy when HE lived on earth? The common notion is that HE was poor. But the prosperity gospel preachers preach that Christ was wealthy.

            Before we seek an answer to the question about Jesus’ financial status, let us ask another question: Why is the question – Was Jesus poor or rich – even relevant? In other words, is this a subject worthy of our time and effort?

            At the very least, the preachers of ‘prosperity gospel’ or ‘health & wealth gospel’ allude to the notion that Christ was rich. Hence they convince their audience that they should be rich and not poor. Therefore, knowledge of this subject would enable us to determine whether there is any truth to the claims of the prosperity gospel preachers.   

The Case For Jesus’ Affluence

            A paper published in the journal African Research Review, entitled Jesus: Born Poor or Rich? and authored by Professor Ozomogo Jason Osai, presents arguments in favor of Jesus being born rich:

1. Carpentry, as a profession then, is equivalent to the modern day professions of an architect or a construction engineer. Hence Joseph was not a poor carpenter; rather he was a wealthy man.  
2. Apparently, Mary’s parents were wealthy, “Virgin Mary “was born in the city of Nazareth and educated at Jerusalem.” Implicit in this account is that she was sent from Nazareth, the city of her birth, to Jerusalem for education; even by the standards of Judaea of that epoch, the education of the boy child belonged amongst the rich; now, for a family to send its girl child to school not in the home city but in faraway Jerusalem, which was the regional center of learning and a comparatively expensive city, is a clear indication of not only wealth but consciousness of the invaluable essence of education.”
3. Jesus’ birth in a manger is another instance of his parents being wealthy. The Bible says that Jesus was born in a manger because there was no room in the inn, “And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7, RSV). This implies that Joseph had enough money to pay for a room in the inn. Therefore, Joseph was not a poor man.
4. Jesus’ escape to Egypt is a case for his parents’ affluence. Joseph and Mary would not have been able to afford an unplanned escape to Egypt had they not owned sufficient financial resources.

            Proponents of the case for Jesus’ affluence cite these reasons as well:1

1. Jesus was born into a family that owned a home.
2. Jesus’ step-father worked as a skilled carpenter and was required to pay taxes in Bethlehem even trying to rent a room at the inn there.
3. Jesus was born into the world and as a child was given gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
4. Jesus was not hungry and was criticized for eating with sinners and publicans.
5. Jesus wore fine expensive clothes of the day that were gambled over when He was crucified proving their extreme value.
6. When challenged by Jesus to feed the 5000, His disciples asked “do you want us to spend a year’s wages to buy bread for this crowd?” proving they had that much money in their pockets to do this.
7. The disciple Judas was the appointed treasurer of the entire ministry and this is only necessary if you have enough money to manage.
8. If Judas could steal money and it goes unnoticed, then there was a lot of money in his possession.

The Case For Jesus’ Poverty

            For years, preachers have preached about a poor Jesus and they may not be absolutely incorrect. The Bible seems to suggest that Jesus was poor. Consider these verses:

            Jesus did not have a house to live in: Matthew 8:20: “Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”” (NIV).

            Jesus was buried in a borrowed tomb: Matthew 27: 57-61: “Now when evening had come, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who himself had also become a disciple of Jesus. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be given to him. When Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb, and departed. And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the tomb.” (NIV, Emphasis Mine).

            Jesus taught that earthly treasures are not important: Matthew 6: 19-20: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (NIV).

            Matthew 10:9-11: “Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts — no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep. Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave.” (NIV).

            Joseph and Mary were too poor to sacrifice a lamb: “…in Luke 2:24, it is written that the Holy Family offered a sacrifice of “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” Leviticus 12:8 reads: “If, however, she cannot afford a lamb, she may take two turtledoves or two pigeons.” This shows that the Holy Family was too poor to be able to afford the prescribed sacrifice and instead had to present the alternative the Law allowed for the poor…” (NIV), says an article in the uCatholic.2

            Christian apologist, Bill Muehlenberg emphasizes that Jesus was like most people in the first century Palestine: basically poor but able to get by. He contends that if Jesus and HIS disciples were affluent, they would not have required support from wealthy women (Luke 8:2-3; Mark 15: 40-41).3

            On a side note, the Bible states that Jesus had a home, “And when he returned to Caper′na-um after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room for them, not even about the door; and he was preaching the word to them.” (Mark 2:1-2, RSV; cf. Matthew 4:13). So those who claim that Christ had no home to live in are not accurately portraying the Biblical data.

If Jesus Was Rich, Should Christians Seek To Be Rich?

            Preachers of the prosperity gospel emphasize that every believer in Christ should be wealthy. Bill Muehlenberg discredits this notion:4

The issue is this: during his life on earth, was Jesus “extremely wealthy” as folks claim, or was he very much like most people back in first century Palestine: basically poor, but able to get by.
All the biblical evidence we have would suggest the latter. And given how often Jesus warned about the dangers of wealth, it is highly unlikely that he chose an opulent and extravagant lifestyle. In fact, everything we know about Jesus suggests the exact opposite.
Those preachers who want to convince believers that they should always be rich and rolling in the dough by appealing to Jesus and the disciples are simply on very shaky ground when it comes to the biblical record. The truth is this: God may not want us wealthy, but he most certainly wants us holy. And if financial hardship is part of the means to bring about such holiness, then God is more than happy to use it.
And if he can trust us with wealth and riches, that is also fine. Of course the point of having such wealth is to finance the work of the Kingdom, not to be lavishing it all on ourselves. Wealth is a gift of God and is to be used for his work. But a lack of wealth is also a way in which God can and does work.
The issue is not ultimately about money, but our attitude toward it. The prosperity gospel teachers are simply appealing to carnal, materialistic and greedy desires when they promise every Christian great wealth. The Scriptures make no such promise, and Jesus and the disciples did not live it. We are promised however that if we put his Kingdom first, everything else will be added unto us (not for our greed, but for our need).

            Finally, Jesus’ financial status is irrelevant. Even if HE were rich, there is no reasonable biblical support to the claims of the prosperity gospel preachers.

Endnotes:

1https://agapegeek.com/2011/08/07/did-jesus-have-no-money-and-set-an-example-of-poverty-for-us-to-follow/

2https://www.ucatholic.com/blog/jesus-really-born-poor-one-biblical-hint-offers-clue/

3https://billmuehlenberg.com/2013/08/14/were-jesus-and-the-disciples-wealthy-part-one/

4https://billmuehlenberg.com/2013/08/14/were-jesus-and-the-disciples-wealthy-part-two/


Websites last accessed on 13th June 2018.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Are You A Member Of The Universal Church? (Conservative vs. Liberal Churches)

            THE PROBLEM: As we continue to live our lives as Christians, the spiritual deterioration of the church is distressing. On the one hand, there is a church that is conservative in nature, which professes to the Lordship of Christ by worshipping HIM as the God who came to save the lost. This church, for instance, believes that:

            1. The Bible is God’s Word and it’s infallible/trustworthy.

            2. Christ was born of a virgin.

            3. Christ rose again from the grave in bodily form.

            4. Belief in Christ is essential for salvation.

            On the other hand, there is another church that is liberal in nature, which also professes to the Lordship of Christ. The liberal church considers the Lord Jesus as the one who came to help the poor and the oppressed. Salvation [of people] is not the mission of this church. This church believes that:

            1. The Bible is not “God-breathed” and it contains errors.

            2. Christ was not born of a virgin.

            3. Christ did not rise from the grave in bodily form.

            4. Belief in Christ is not essential for salvation - everyone will be saved, even a practicing Sikh, Jain, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Christian or an Atheist, Agnostic or a Skeptic.

            Both these churches exist – the conservative and the liberal. Both these churches label themselves as Christian. They profess to the Lordship of Christ.

            But the Jesus whom they worship is not the same. (Either Christ was born of a virgin or HE did not. Either HE rose again from the grave in bodily form or HE did not.)

            Therefore, from a strictly spiritual sense, it is either one of these churches – the conservative or the liberal – that can be Christian. So from the perspective of truth and eternity, the bearer of the truth is either the conservative or the liberal church; not both the conservative and the liberal church.

            The Bible accentuates this problem. The presence of conservative and liberal churches emphasizes the existence of true and false believers in Christianity. The Bible speaks of this fact, which Norman Geisler highlights, “The Bible exhorts us to “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1) so that we can know “the spirit of truth” (v. 6). Paul warned against “deceitful spirits” (1 Tim. 4:1), and Jesus exhorted us to beware of “false prophets” (Mat. 24:11) who are really “wolves” that come “in sheep’s clothing” (Mat. 7:15).”1

            THE VISIBLE & THE INVISIBLE CHURCH: While discussing the theme of the church, the terms “visible church” and “invisible church” vis-à-vis the terms “local church” and “universal church” should be understood.

            The Greek word “Ekklesia” is commonly translated as church. Etymologically, the word ekklesia means “to call out.” This is used to support the biblical doctrine of the church as a people called out, and separated from the world by God. The New Testament uses ekklesia in the sense of the ‘local church’ and the ‘universal church.’ It is certainly not used for a church building or a particular denomination.

            The Local Church is the local or the visible assembly of all those who profess faith and allegiance to Christ. It could refer to a specific church (1 Thessalonians 1:1) or churches or any nonspecified individual assembly (“every church,” 1 Corinthians 4:17) or a nonspecified number of churches or for all the churches together (“all churches.” 1 Corinthians 7:17).

            The Universal Church is the invisible and the universal fellowship of the believers who meet visibly in local churches. The Universal Church refers to the spiritual unity of all believers in Christ. Ekklesia, in this sense, is not the assembly, but rather those constituting it; they are the church whether assembled or not. Gotquestions.org states, “Sometimes the universal church is called the “invisible church”—invisible in the sense of having no street address, GPS coordinates, or physical building and in the sense that only God can see who is truly saved.”2

            Two important points are to be assimilated:

            (1) The local church consists of the true believers and the false/fake Christians, who think/say that they are Christians, but in reality, they are not.

            (2) The universal church consists of the true believers in Christ. The universal church cannot contain the false/fake Christians.

            A Christian could be a member of a local church, but if his Christianity is fake or untenable, then he/she would not be a part of the universal church. In other words, if you are a member of a liberal church, then you should genuinely be concerned about your eternal destiny.

            HOW TO IDENTIFY A LIBERAL CHURCH? Knowledge of the truth is essential to identify a lie, says Norman Geisler, “Unfortunately, the truth is that one cannot discern what is false unless he is trained in what is true. Government agents who deal in counterfeits spend much of their time in studying genuine currency. The reason is simple:  we cannot recognize a counterfeit unless we know the genuine. Since Barna surveys show that less than ten-percent of evangelical Christians even have a Christian world view, it is no surprise that even the masses of Christians can be fooled by a good counterfeit theology…”3

            The liberal churches preach and proliferate a counterfeit theology. Christian apologetics website, Carm.org has a very helpful note to identify the liberal churches:4

Following is a list of basic principles and examples that reveal some aspects of liberalism.  Of course, not all liberals hold to all the points; but as you read through them, you should see that it comes down to one thing--not believing the Bible for what it says.
1. Denial of inspiration, inerrancy, and/or authority of the Bible
     1. Saying that the Bible has errors, is "written by man," is only a guide, or is not absolutely true.
2. Denying historic accuracy of the Bible
1. Denying that Adam, Eve, Moses, Jesus, etc., were real people.
2. Denying that the Exodus happened.
3. Denying that there was an actual Garden of Eden, etc.
3. Denial of particular parts of the Bible as being authentic
1. Denying that Moses wrote Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.
2. Denying Paul's letter's as authentic.
3. Denying that the Gospels are accurate, etc.
4. Denial (sic) a basic Christian doctrine
1. Trinity, deity of Christ, resurrection, etc.
2. Salvation by grace.
3. Denying that Jesus is the only way to salvation, the doctrine of hell, etc.
5. Denial of historic understanding of Scripture and substituting new ones
1. Redefining salvation as self-deliverance from oppression.
2. Saying that Jesus' didn't literally rise from the dead and that it is a metaphor for success over trials.
3. "Husband of one wife" is not taken literally.  It is a phrase applied to wives, too.
4. Homosexuality is not a sin; it is an alternative lifestyle.
6. Affirming experience over Scripture
1. A person's feelings supersede biblical revelation.
2. "Feeling" that Jesus isn't the only way to God.
3. As long as you are sincere, God will let you go to heaven.
7. Using outside sources to interpret scripture
1. Use of psychology manuals, self-help books, science books, etc. and subjecting the Bible to their teaching.
8. Saying the Bible is outdated, patriarchal
1. This is an attempt to invalidate scripture by dismissing it as ancient and, therefore, not true.
2. It also negates the inspiration of Scripture because it implies the patriarchal structure is due to cultural influence and not scriptural revelation.
9. Imposing secular ideals upon Scripture
1. Women ordination.
2. Pro homosexuality.
3. Denying moral absolutes.
4. Upholding evolution as how mankind arrived on earth.
5. Defending "abortion rights" from scripture.
10. Gender Neutral wording in reference to God, people, mankind, etc.
1. Referring to God as Mother God or Father-Mother God.
2. Referring to various references of male leaders as people.
        3. Christians who are a part of liberal churches should reject that church. 

            So to conclude, every Christian should be duly concerned about his/her membership in the universal church while maintaining and growing in his/her membership in a local church that preaches conservative Christianity.

Endnotes:

1http://normangeisler.com/category/postmodernism/ (The Shack: Helpful or Heretical? by Norman L. Geisler and Bill Roach)

2https://www.gotquestions.org/universal-local-church.html

3http://normangeisler.com/category/postmodernism/ (The Shack: Helpful or Heretical? by Norman L. Geisler and Bill Roach)

4https://carm.org/elements-liberalism


Websites last accessed on 9th June 2018.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Does God Make People Gay? (Pope Francis At It Again?)

            Pope Francis seems to have stirred up the hornet’s nest again when he supposedly assured a gay man that God made him a gay. We are not sure whether Pope Francis made this theologically controversial statement. There has been no affirmation or negation from the Vatican with regard to this story.

            The reason for the controversy is a gay Catholic’s recollection of Pope’s assurance to him, “On Friday, Juan Carlos Cruz, a Chilean victim of sexual abuser Fr. Fernando Karadima, told the Spanish newspaper El Pais that Pope Francis told him that it did not matter that he was gay. He said the pope told him, “God made you like that and he loves you like that and I do not care.””1

            The problem with Pope Francis’ statement is this. The Bible states that God does not make anyone gay. So if Pope Francis said that God makes people gay, then his statement has deep ramifications.

            Interestingly, the Catechism of the Catholic Church opposes Pope’s statement. The Catechism clearly states that homosexuals are called to chastity (not engaging in sexual relations or being celibate).2 Hence, the Catechism, undoubtedly, affirms that God does not make people gay.

            Therefore, if Pope Francis did make that statement about God making people gay, then, first of all, it is his personal opinion. Secondly, his opinion unmistakably contradicts the Bible.

            But the bigger question is, “What if God made people gay?” In other words, how could we defend the fact that God does not make people gay? Author and speaker, Matt Walsh’s answer to this question is incredible:3

God does not give people homosexual inclinations. To suggest otherwise is to claim one of two things:
1) Homosexual activity is not, in fact, sinful. It is just as good and natural as the embrace of a man and a woman. But this view is simply not accessible to a Christian who is even halfway serious about his faith. The Bible explicitly condemns homosexual activity (Romans 1:26, 1 Corinthians 6:9, Leviticus 18:22), defines marriage as a union between man and woman (Matthew 19:4), and singles out sodomy as one of the four sins that cries out to Heaven for vengeance (Genesis 17:20).
If we are trying to refashion a version of the faith that permits homosexuality, we will have to erase not only the teachings of St. Paul but also the words of the Father and the Son. In other words, we will have to call into question the wisdom and integrity of God Himself, which is to call into question His very existence.
2) The only other option for the "God made you gay" proponent is that the desire for homosexual sex is disordered, the act is a sin, but it is God who gives people this temptation. That would also mean that God destroyed the people of Sodom for being what He made them. Or, at least, he destroyed them for acting on the desires he gave them. Either way, God is turned into the source of man's sinful nature. God is made into the tempter. God is the devil on our shoulder, whispering in our ear. God is the snake in the garden, giving Eve ideas. God tells man to act a certain way and then gives him the desire not to act in that way. God is a manipulative tyrant who sets us up for failure, and then damns us to Hell for acting according to the inclinations He gave us.
This view of God is not just wrong. It is blasphemous. It is also, of course, in direct contradiction to Scripture, which says, "When tempted, no one should say, 'God is tempting me' For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone" (James 1:13). It is also illogical. If a certain act is disordered then the desire to commit the act must be disordered as well. But if the desire comes from God, it cannot be disordered. Indeed, in a moral context, "disordered" may be defined as "that which does not come from God." So, it seems that "God makes people gay" must bring us back to option 1: the homosexual act is not sinful. But that invalidates Scripture, thus challenging the existence of the Biblical God. In an effort to be tolerant, we risk becoming atheists. Or, at best, deists.
We must therefore reject both of these claims and settle on the truth: God does not tempt. God does not give us disordered inclinations. God is not the one who causes us to desire sin. This is why the Catholic Church not only identifies the homosexual act as "grave depravity" but even the inclination as "objectively disordered." That teaching of the Church, like all of its teachings, remains fully intact regardless of whatever opinion this Pope might personally hold.
So, what should we, as Christians, say to homosexuals? If we are not taking the Pope's purported position, how then can we reach out to a gay person in love but without forfeiting truth? I think something like this would be a better approach:
"God made you. God loves you. He wants you to be united with Him for all eternity. Do not give in to your temptations or let them define you. You are not a gay man. You are a man. Your desire is not your identity. Keep fighting. Reach out to God for help in your struggle and He will come to your aid. You are not alone. Don't give up. The pain will be worth it in the end, because your soul is worth it. You are a sinner, just as we are all sinners, and your job is the same job we have all been given: to love God, to serve Him, and to strive always for holiness."
What is wrong with saying something like that? It is not alienating. It is not "judgmental." It is not hateful or bigoted. It merely holds the person with same-sex attraction to the same standard to which we are all held. And it gives them the same hope of salvation that we are all given. It is a unifying and compassionate message. And best of all, it is true.      

Endnotes:

1https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2018/05/22/does-god-make-people-gay-a-theologian-responds/

2Catechism of the Catholic Church: Chastity and Homosexuality
2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,141 tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered."142 They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection. 
(Source: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s2c2a6.htm)

3https://www.dailywire.com/news/30994/walsh-no-god-does-not-make-people-gay-matt-walsh    


Websites last accessed on 31st May 2018. 

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Should Christians Judge Or Not?

            How many times have we been shot down by someone saying, “Don’t judge…”? An article in Answers in Genesis elaborates on this point, “The claim that Christians are not to judge is often made when dealing with issues such as abortion, adultery, homosexual behavior, and same-sex marriage. When a Christian says, for example, that homosexual behavior is a sin and that same-sex marriage is wrong, he or she is often met with objections like the following:

· “Who are you to judge two people who love each other?”
· “Who do you think you are, telling someone who they can and cannot love? You’re a sinner, too!”
· “Someone’s private life is none of your business. Don’t judge them.”

            Some people will even quote Matthew 7:1, where Christ said during the Sermon on the Mount, “Judge not, that you be not judged.””1 These days, the phrase, “don’t judge,” is so popular that it is used in many informal arguments [by the guilty party] as a means to shut down the accuser.

            So should we judge [our neighbor] or not?

            There are a few components to the process of judging:

                      (1) Being aware of the right and wrong.

                      (2) Declaring the verdict to the accuser &/or the accused or the prosecutor and the defense etc.

                      (3) Convicting the offender/sinner, and at times – in formal situations, declaring due punishment.

            Problems with judging often arise if the first step is awry. If we do not know what is right and wrong, we may accuse the innocent and acquit the guilty.  

            So a righteous judgment is always predicated on the judge’s impeccable knowledge of the right and the wrong. (A righteous judgment will either forgive the accused - depending on situations - or award the righteous punishment to the guilty.)

            All of us deliver judgments. Passing judgments is a part and parcel of our life. There is no life without judgments.

            Passing judgments is not limited to the judiciary or the religion. It happens in friendships, in business; in formal and informal situations. It happens between teachers and students, parents and children, doctors and patients; it happens in almost every situation involving two or more people.

            Those who say, “Don’t judge me” are, in fact, judging their accuser, for they think that they know more than the other and that the other person is wrong, whereas they are right. Saying “do not judge me” is practically the same as saying, “You do not have the knowledge/authority/jurisdiction/competence to judge me.”     

            Tolerance is also a form of judgment. Tolerance is always predicated on judgment. To tolerate something is to acquit (release) the disputed behavior or person from any form of guilt.

            Does Christianity prohibit judgment? Those who strive to cease a Christian from judging will invoke Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (NIV) or Romans 14:10, “You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.” (NIV).  

            Are Matthew 7:1 and Romans 14:10 absolute commands? They would be absolute if the context says so, and if the same Bible, in its other parts, does not mandate Christians to judge. However, if the same Bible advises Christians to judge, then Matthew 7:1 cannot be termed as an absolute mandate to prohibit Christians from judging.

            Consider these verses that mandate Christians to judge:

            “…but instead judge correctly” (John 7:24, NIV).

            “…The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not   subject to merely human judgments…” (1 Corinthians 2:15, NIV).

            So it’s sufficiently evident that the Bible does not prohibit Christians from judging. In fact, neither Matthew 7:1 nor Romans 14:10 or any other verse in the Bible is absolute in commanding Christians to not judge, “There are significant logical problems with the claim that believers should not make judgments. The first becomes evident when we read the context of Matthew 7:1…

            Here, Christ is warning believers against making judgments in a hypocritical or condemning manner. That type of judging is a characteristic often associated with the Pharisees during the ministry of Jesus. Many people who quote “judge not” from Matthew 7:1 fail to notice the command to judge in Matthew 7:5, when it says, “Then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” The point Jesus emphasizes here is to judge yourself first before you make judgments about others. (Also, notice the discernment and judgment required in Matthew 7:15–16, 20.) In the broader context, Jesus is telling believers to be discerning when it comes to false teaching and false prophets because they “look” Christian, but their goal is to lead the flock astray (Matthew 7:15–20; Luke 6:43–45).”2

            These are the words of the late Christian theologian, Lewis Smedes, from an article in Christianity Today entitled Who Are We to Judge?:3

In three words, blunt and absolute, Jesus commanded us, "Do not judge" (Matt. 7:1). But did he really mean that we should never judge others? He goes on to suggest that it's not the act of judging but the attitude with which we do it that God is most concerned about—"For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged" (7:2).
There are other Scriptures that either cloud or shed light on the issue. Paul told the Christians in Rome not to judge one another (Rom. 14:13) but taught the Corinthians that they were to judge sinful believers and leave people outside the church to God (1 Cor. 5:12-13). James said he who judges his brother speaks against the law (4:11) but also implied that our judgments of others must be done with mercy (2:12-13).
Common sense suggests that if no one ever judged other people, there would be no real human community. In a sinful world, no community can exist for long where nobody is ever held accountable: no teacher would grade a student's performance; no citizen would sit on a jury or call a failed leader to account. And, when you come to think of it, nobody would ever forgive anyone for wrongs he had done; we only forgive people for what we blame them, and we blame them only after we have judged them.
I would suggest that, in our day and age, we need more—not less—judgment…

            So how should Christians judge?

            Judge righteously and in humility, love, grace, and kindness, “The key is making righteous judgments so that we can point people to the gospel. God’s Word gives us a clear standard to abide by, and the Holy Spirit guides us in what is right, wrong, true, and false. In order to make judgments righteously, we should be striving to live righteously and allowing the Word of God to be our foundation in every area of our thinking…

            Those people who call for tolerance and quote “judge not” out of context are not using sound thinking. Their call for tolerance is impossible because as Christians, we are called to judge righteously, and judging between right and wrong is something we do every day—and it should be a part of biblical discernment in every believer’s thinking. But it is God’s Word that makes the judgment on morality and truth, not our own opinions or theories.

            What’s the purpose of judging error in a biblical manner? The church is to be built on the foundation of Christ and the authority of His Word (Ephesians 2:20)—and that means believers should examine their own lives regularly and also lovingly challenge Christian brothers and sisters who are in error or commit sin. To do this, believers must be bold for Christ, but they also have to be humble, loving, and kind.”4

            Also, as Lewis Smedes says, let us judge, knowing well that we will, one day, be judged with the same severity of our judgments and being aware that we, as sinners, are not morally superior to anyone else:5

…making judgments is the hard work of responsible and compassionate people… Jesus may have been moved to speak as he did by the haughty way the Pharisees had of judging people. In Matthew 5:20 through 7:6, Jesus warns his disciples against following the traditions and practices of the Pharisees, who judged others as if they themselves were beyond judgment. What's more, they judged people by the letter, not the spirit, of the law.
So, most likely, Jesus meant, "Do not judge at all if you judge others the way the Pharisees do. If you do judge people this way, you will be judged with the same severity." Jesus' intent comes out in his metaphor of motes and beams (Matt. 7:3-5). We all have beams in our eyes, so to speak; to judge people for the little motes stuck in their eyes while we have big beams in our own is devilish arrogance as well as folly.
Nobody with a beam in his eye can see things clearly. He is dangerously low on discernment. And, since we all have this distorted perspective, we need either to be very humble or else leave judging to God alone. We have a moral responsibility to judge the moral behavior of others—but only if we are humbly aware that we will sometimes be dead wrong and never totally right. We must remember that our ability to judge is limited and especially that we are sinful people who will ourselves, one day, come under judgment.         

Endnotes:

1https://answersingenesis.org/bible-questions/does-the-bible-tell-christians-to-judge-not/

2Ibid.

3https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2001/october1/29.70.html

4https://answersingenesis.org/bible-questions/does-the-bible-tell-christians-to-judge-not/

5https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2001/october1/29.70.html


Websites last accessed on 27th May 2018.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Human Suffering - Should God Be Punished?

            God created this world where evil is an existential reality. Evil is not an illusion. When evil attacks us with all its force, we do feel the pain and, at times, we succumb.

            Speak to anyone who lost their job for no fault of theirs or speak to those whose baby was raped and murdered. Try listening to people who lost their loved one because a shooter lost his mind and randomly shot everyone in his eyesight.

            We may be able to find some reasonable answers for God allowing evil in this world. Those answers may be predicated on the love of God and the freewill of man:

            1. The love of God necessitates mankind’s freewill i.e. man should not be compelled to love God, but the man should have the freedom to love God.  

            2. Man’s freewill allows for the possibility of evil. Man can freely reject God. When man freely rejects God, evil is a certain possibility.

            3. Evil would not rule forever. The Bible teaches that God would defeat evil once and for all. And in the life to come, in heaven with God, there would be no evil. So those who believe in Christ would be spending the eternity in heaven without any pain or suffering.

            So God may have very good reasons to allow evil. Hence the existence of God and evil need not be incompatible.

            However, an agnostic/skeptic/honest seeker could wonder about God and evil through the following thought process:

            A. God exists (or assume that God exists).

            B. Evil is an existential reality.

            C. When evil hurts God’s people; God should be punished, because HE fails to protect     HIS people.

            D. But God is not punished.

            E. Hence, there is no God or there is an evil God.

Why Should God Be Punished?

            Justice demands punishment for evil and any type of wrongdoing. Since God is just, evil should be punished. Since justice demands that the perpetrators of evil should be punished in this world or in the world to come, God has assured that Satan and his cohorts (angels and evil mankind) would be punished unto eternity. 

            God is our ultimate source of love, care, comfort, and protection. We expect and desire that God protect us from evil. Hence we pray, “…lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one…” (Matthew 6:13, NIV).

            But it is quite evident that God’s protection is lacking in many lives that trust in God fully. There is untold suffering in many Christian homes.

            So there seems to be a degree of validity to the thought process that God should be punished!

            Consider this problem from another vantage point.

            Governments and governing authorities are to care for and protect their people. If they fail in their duty, they may not be reelected. This is their punishment. 

            Similarly, God is the supreme governing authority. So HE should protect HIS people. If HIS people suffer for illegitimate reasons, then God should assume responsibility. In other words, God should be punished.

            Assume an instance where an old lady was robbed by a young man. Also, assume that a perfectly able police officer was in the vicinity and he watched this event unfold. But he did nothing to prevent the theft. At the very least, that police officer could be deemed inefficient. An inefficient police officer is to be punished.

            The very duty of a police officer is to prevent crime from happening. If a police officer remains passive and allows crime to happen, then the police officer fails in his duty. Thus he is to be punished. 

            If you disagree with the above conclusion to posit that this police officer should not be punished, it is plausible that this police officer was tolerant of the crime. A logical corollary, then, is that anyone who is tolerant of evil is evil. Since justice demands that evil should be punished, the police officer who does not prevent a crime should be punished.

            This analogy could be extended to God.

            God has created a world where evil exists. And in many instances, evil triumphs over good. If evil triumphs over good, there is something wrong with the world that God has created (at least in the here-and-now).

            God alone is present everywhere (omnipresent).  Hence, HE is the only one who is present in every evil situation where good people suffer.

            God is the only all-powerful (omnipotent) being. Hence, HE alone can prevent any and every evil that occurs in this world.

            Since God is the only all-powerful and the only omnipresent being, HE is perfectly capable of preventing every evil that occurs in the world. If God fails to prevent evil, then HE may be either evil or inefficient. Hence, God should be punished!

Has God Been Punished?

            The Bible teaches us that God, in the form of the Lord Jesus Christ, suffered punishment for the sins of the whole world, “For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.” (Romans 3: 25-26, NLT).  

            But some could argue that this punishment is not sufficient, considering the fact that, not one, but millions and billions of people are being slaughtered by evil. So a onetime punishment that God took upon HIMSELF, even if it were gory, is insufficient.

Would Our Afterlife Reward Suffice?

            The Bible teaches that although evil remains triumphant in this world (in many instances), there is an afterlife without evil and that afterlife is the reward for those who suffer evil now.

            But the pain experienced by those suffering should be healed in this world. A prospect of healing and restoration in the afterlife remains an intangible prospect in this life, whereas the pain we suffer is tangible in this life.

            Consider two people who are suffering. There is always a prospect that, in this life, one is healed and the other is not. This is what we observe now.

            The one who has been healed will enjoy peace and joy in this life, whereas the one who suffers without healing, does not experience peace and joy in this life. But the reward these people would receive in their afterlife could be similar. In fact, they would enjoy a similar quality of peace and joy in the afterlife, whereas in their life on earth, one enjoyed more peace and joy than the other. So the afterlife reward does not seem to offer justice in this instance.     

Why Should God NOT Be Punished?

            Punishment should only be invoked upon injustice. If God has done nothing wrong, then HE need not be punished.

            Positing any arguments to assert that God cannot be punished without any legitimate reasons would be to ascribe evil upon God – as if God is an untouchable evil dictator. Justifiable reasons should be provided to establish that God has done no wrong.

            God cannot do any wrong. God is the ‘greatest conceivable being’ or the ‘maximally great being.’ Hence, HE can only be perfect and good.

            Imperfection cannot be a part of God. Evil is an imperfection, hence evil, too, cannot be God’s character.

            Therefore, if God, in HIS perfect knowledge, has allowed HIS people to suffer for a particular period of time in this world without receiving justice in this world, then HE would have good reasons to do so.

            Should the good and perfect God necessarily broadcast the good reasons for the suffering of HIS people? No, a good and a perfect God is not required to publicize the reasons for the suffering of HIS people. Since God is perfect and good, HIS reasons would also be perfect and good. People should have faith in God.

            Thankfully, the Bible is not silent about this theme. The Bible does address this situation.

            The Bible affirms that God’s people (not everyone, but some) will continually suffer in this world, especially when they are striving to live for God. In fact, Paul spoke about his suffering with an emphasis that God’s servants will indeed suffer for the sake of God, “Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses;  in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” (2 Corinthians 6: 4-10, NIV, Emphasis Mine).

            The very fact that the Bible addresses this theme is an affirmation to God’s goodness and perfection. So it is evident that God allows evil to attack HIS people. It is also obvious in the Bible that God heals or delivers some and not the others (for reasons that are only known to HIM or better known to HIM).

            Christians should not be surprised if and when they suffer, instead, they should trust God while they suffer, “Friends, when life gets really difficult, don’t jump to the conclusion that God isn’t on the job. Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner. If you’re abused because of Christ, count yourself fortunate. It’s the Spirit of God and his glory in you that brought you to the notice of others. If they’re on you because you broke the law or disturbed the peace, that’s a different matter. But if it’s because you’re a Christian, don’t give it a second thought. Be proud of the distinguished status reflected in that name! It’s judgment time for God’s own family. We’re first in line. If it starts with us, think what it’s going to be like for those who refuse God’s Message! If good people barely make it, What’s in store for the bad? So if you find life difficult because you’re doing what God said, take it in stride. Trust him. He knows what he’s doing, and he’ll keep on doing it.” (1 Peter 4: 12-19, MSG).

            God pours HIS abundant grace upon those who are suffering. God is with HIS people during their suffering. Those who are suffering can always seek and gain help from God.

            God sustains HIS people during their times of trials and tribulation. God would fail if HE neither delivers nor sustains those who are suffering. Those who suffer need a great help. The Bible is replete with instances of God helping those who are in pain.

            Apostle Paul’s life is a classic case in point, “Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12: 7-10, NASB).  

            In fact, as these verses teach us, those who earnestly seek God during their suffering would be filled with God’s power to endure their suffering.

Conclusion

            God has done nothing wrong to warrant any punishment. The Bible is also unequivocally clear that God’s people would be called to suffer. But God does not abandon us while we suffer. Instead, HE offers us HIS abundant grace and power to endure suffering.


            “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 5: 10-11, NIV).