Book Plunge: God’s Problem

Is God’s Problem a problem? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

God’s Problem is the work of Bart Ehrman on the problem of evil and why he thinks the Bible does not address the problem. This is not his usual type of work. For one thing, I was surprised to read a book of Ehrman’s where he did not talk about the paper he wrote on Mark 2 in college. Yet on the other hand, Ehrman is stepping outside of his territory.

A usual criticism I have of Ehrman’s books is that you get the sound of one-hand clapping. Ehrman only presents his version of the story. He does not interact with those who disagree. Of course, I do not expect him to argue for what someone like myself would say, but I expect him to argue with it. I expect him to bring up writers like Plantinga and Ganssle and Copan and Zacharias and others and say why it is that they are wrong. He doesn’t.

What do we find? On page 18 he says “There are, of course, numerous books about suffering already. In my opinion, though, many of these books are either intellectually unsatisfying, morally bankrupt, or practically useless.”

Why are they they? Who knows? Which ones are they? We don’t know. We’re just told to simply visit any Christian bookstore. Personally, as one who goes to Christian bookstores frequently, one would be hard-pressed to find these kinds of books that Christians should be reading there. If Ehrman’s dislike is based on what is read in Christian bookstores, then I really do feel his pain.

Yet is it really a convincing way to make a case? Can he really just hope a section like that would deal with Plantinga and others? Would it be a convincing argument if I said “I choose to believe in Christianity because books like Ehrman’s are either intellectually unsatisfying, morally bankrupt, or practically useless.”? Of course not. I need to give a reason.

Now if Ehrman wants to say a lot of these books are not written to help those who are suffering. I agree. So what? A lot of philosophers are not professional counselors. Why should they be? In fact, what is Ehrman’s book doing to help people who suffer? If anything, it would hurt them because one could say he’s taking a great source of comfort that they have and calling it into question. Of course, he has all right to do that, but to do such an action and complain about what others are doing is highly problematic.

In fact, I have no doubt that if Alvin Plantinga, a leading Christian thinker on the problem of evil for those who don’t know, had a mother come to his office whose son died in a car accident, he would not give her a copy of one of his books on the problem of evil. He would listen to her. He would comfort her. He would pray with her. He would read Scripture with her. If he was not qualified in his opinion to do any of those things, he would find someone who was. In fact, aside from praying and reading Scripture, I think Ehrman would do the same thing. We all should.

Throughout the book Ehrman does present challenges to people’s faith. (Once again, how is it supposed to help those struggling with evil to go after their faith in a time of suffering, and yet Ehrman complains about others) These are the usual canards. The gospels are anonymous. Moses did not write the Pentateuch. The gospels contradict. Daniel was written late. Jesus and Paul are failed apocalyptic prophets. Anyone who’s read any of Ehrman’s other works will recognize the recycled arguments. It is not my purpose to deal with those here. It is only to point out again, is this the kind of message that Ehrman wants to give to suffering Christians? Is this the bet time to attack their faith? Of course, he could say he has not written this book to give emotional solace but to address an issue. That’s fine, but then why go after other books for the exact same reason. If anything, at least these books are trying to strengthen someone’s faith when they think they need it most.

Many of Ehrman’s objections also seem simplistic. For instance, on pages 12-13, he asks why there can be free-will in Heaven and everyone does the good, but there can’t be on Earth. My answer I’ve had for that for years is that Heaven is the end result of a lifetime of choices. Earth is the place where you choose who you will serve. When you are in the presence of God, you are locked into whatever choice you made. You can still act freely, but not against that basic lock. Now my answer for the sake of argument could be wrong, but it is an answer.

Ehrman also is not inconsistent with his approach often. For instance, he will say that the prophets knew that not all suffering was the result of sin and God judging the people, yet this is the view he still constantly repeats as theirs. The prophets are usually not speaking about evil as a whole, but about a particular evil and saying that yes, the covenant people are not being faithful to the covenant.

An interesting quote for readers is on page 127 where he says “What if I was right then but wrong now? Will I burn in hell forever? The fear of death gripped me for years, and there are still moments when I wake up at night in a cold sweat.” One can’t help but wonder why in a book on evil Ehrman would want to risk having more people do the same thing.

Ehrman does point out that we could all do more to help deal with evil, and I agree. Yet is that all he wants to say? I see nothing beyond that. He’s of the view that we should still enjoy our lives, and I agree with that. If anyone wants to know why I think evil is the way it is in the world today, look at the church. Evil will prosper where the church fails to be the body of Christ. Interestingly in all these disasters Ehrman talks about, he seems to not notice it’s Christians who are responding. When he talks about how he helped someone who had escaped Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge with his family, he mentions it the was a Lutheran ministry that got them here, but Ehrman doesn’t make the connection. Could it be the Lutherans did what they did because of Christ? Could it be God is operating through the church?

If this is the way God is dealing with the problem of evil, then by going against Christianity, could it be Ehrman is himself contributing to the problem he rails against?

I’d also like to point out that evil is not a defeater for Christian belief. It cannot be the case that the first way of Aquinas is true and that the problem of evil shows that God does not exist. The theistic arguments must still be dealt with. It cannot be that the historical case for the resurrection cannot be established because of evil. The case must be dealt with on its own.

I conclude that Ehrman has not dealt with the problem of evil, but the book I suspect is just another way of going after Christianity. Of course, Ehrman is free to do this, but I do not see why one would want to knock down a system to help deal with evil without putting up any system of one’s own in its place. Ehrman is doing what he says the Christians works he condemns are, except worse. At least those are usually trying to strengthen someone in a view for comfort. Ehrman is instead knocking them down.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Is God a SadoMasochist?

Is the cross just a sick and depraved act? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Recently, this video was brought to my attention. Be warned that it does contain strong profanity for all interested as well as some disturbing images. I put it up here just so that readers can make sure I have given an accurate representation of the video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YXXgUpv7APE

Now lately, I’ve spent much time blogging about how we have the gospel wrong. We have taken a part of it, forgiveness, which is an important part, and made it the whole deal.

When John the Baptist and Jesus showed up teaching the gospel, most people were not thinking about forgiveness. The Jewish system already had a way set up where you could receive forgiveness and there was no major need to replace it. Of course, some did come for forgiveness as Jesus was showing how forgiveness would work in the Kingdom, but Jesus did not preach an unheard of concept. All the Jews knew about forgiveness.

Jesus taught something greater. He taught that the plan of Israel was coming to a fruition. God was about to act to rectify the problem. What problem is that? It is the problem of sin and evil and death. Our teaching today tends to ask about the cross “What does it do for me?” It is foreign for us to think about the rest of the world.

So in replying to the producer of the vid, who based on his name I will just call BD for short, we will need to keep this in mind. Nowhere is there any material about the kingdom of God in the video, or about the problem of evil, or anything about the story of Israel.

Note also something else important that never shows up in the video. Never do we see an argument against the existence of God. We do not see an argument that shows that the resurrection did not happen. It is as if BD just wants to hit us with an emotional attack and make us not think about the real claim. If God exists and if Jesus did rise, then Christianity is true and that must be dealt with.

So let’s deal with some errant concepts that show up.

BD has a terrible rendition of the Trinity where the Son is the reincarnation (How can there be a reincarnation without a first incarnation) of the Father. However, he also uses the classic Bill Maher type of argumentation where God sends Himself to sacrifice to Himself, Himself to solve the problem that He Himself created.

If BD does not want to be a Christian. Fine. If he wants to think the Trinity is nonsense. Fine. Yet in all of this, at least get the concept right. If someone wants to be an atheist, at least seek to be an informed atheist. When I see a misrepresentation of the Trinity in this way I automatically know this is someone who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. A good library would have volumes that would help give BD some understanding of the Trinity even if he doesn’t believe in it.

BD also wishes to point out that some people have suffered worse than Jesus. This is not being denied. But so what? BD assumes the worst part of the crucifixion was the pain of the cross. Of course the cross was physically painful, but it was more designed to be socially painful. It was designed to shame the criminal before others and thus give the notion to anyone else watching that “Maybe you don’t want to do what this guy did.”

Furthermore, Jesus being shamed was said thus to be a traitor to Rome and to be under the curse of YHWH. This is what makes the resurrection so important. The resurrection is the vindication of the claim of Jesus to be the King of Israel. It is God raising Him up so He can rule, since a dead king cannot rule the Kingdom of God. It is a reversal of the shame and God giving Jesus the place of highest honor.

So what about that sacrifice? How could it be a sacrifice if Jesus knew He was coming back? When something was offered to God, God could do with it what He wanted. Jesus had to face shame and death as it was entirely to take on the full curse for us. (If you remember, Genesis 3 has a little something about a curse) In facing death and shame head on, Jesus is able to overcome them for us. He is able to rectify the problems of evil, death, and sin.

This is why the story of Israel is so important. Genesis 3 is not an accidental test. It sets the whole tone of the Bible from then on. It’s not the case that the story of Abraham has nothing to do with that. The story has everything to do with it. Abraham’s role is to help restore that which was lost. Over and over, man fails at the attempt to rule as God desires, until finally Jesus comes who is able to do that.

Well couldn’t God just forgive? Not exactly. God is the greatest good and thus has the greatest honor. If God decides He won’t punish sin, then He is not treating Himself as the greatest good. He is being inconsistent. If He does this just for us, then it is akin to idolatry.

God must be just. That must mean there must be some punishment given for sin. BD wishes to make it be that God delights in punishing us. If that was the case, then one wonders why forgiveness would be offered at all. If God just wanted to punish us, He could have been eternally just and never sent Jesus and no one could say “You’ve done wrong.” God is under no obligation to forgive anyone or even provide a way of forgiveness.

Of course, BD has the idea of Hell as a torture chamber. Is he truly unaware that there are many different views of Hell, including ones that see it as eternal conscious torment, that are not torture chamber motifs? This includes my own view that sees Heaven and Hell as not physical locations, but as relational realities. The same sun that melts wax hardens clay. The love of God that melts the hearts of the repentant hardens the hearts of those opposed.

In conclusion, we note that BD has not given any arguments against the central truths of Christianity but has chosen to speak (Quite ignorantly) of the parts he does not understand. Once again, if someone wants to be an atheist, be one, but at least be informed in your atheism.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Should Newtown Celebrate Christmas?

Is there a place for “ho ho ho” this year? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I have stated before that a tragedy such as what happened in Newtown, Connecticut, around the time of the holidays adds an extra layer to it. The holiday becomes associated sadly with the grief of what happened. I know people who have lost loved ones around Christmas. Indeed, my own grandmother died in November a couple of years ago. It was expected, but still a tragedy.

I have been told that some in Newtown are thinking of taking down their Christmas decorations, if they have not already. I can certainly understand why it is that they want to do so. At the outset, I wish to state clearly that there is a place for mourning. It is not non-Christian to mourn. If you lose someone who you love, you should be sad and hurt. When my own grandmother died, I had been expecting it and thought I would be able to handle it, until I went into the funeral home when I got back to TN.

It was at that point that I broke down. I don’t know how I would have handled it without Allie being there. It was so sad seeing so many people come in and offer their condolences. Of course, there was a joy in it thinking about how many people my grandmother touched with her life, but there was much sorrow. In fact, I was one of three ministers who was speaking at her funeral, which was my first one (And to this day my only one), and I was the last one meaning I had to be an M.C. of sorts so people could tell all their memories. It was one of the first times I thought I’d have to back down from a speaking engagement. Somehow, I did it. I’m thankful now that I did it.

It was a sad event, but when we started sharing what my grandmother’s life meant, our joy really returned. It was worth it. I think most people left the funeral actually in a good mood, which I think is what my grandmother would have wanted. She was a fun-loving and humorous person who would have loved to have seen people laughing.

Of course, the circumstances of Newtown are much more tragic. The life of these children was cut short simply because of some pain in the heart of someone else. This someone else, of course, is not worth mentioning. If anything, we need to be mentioning the names of those who died and the names of the heroes, some who died as well, who fought to protect the children. These are the people we need to remember.

In light of this tragedy, it’s easy to see why some would not want to celebrate Christmas this year. It’s easy to see that presents that were under the tree that were meant to go to happy boys and girls will not go to those boys and girls. There will be an empty spot at the table for Christmas dinner. Every year it will be a reminder. What is to be done?

To begin with, such pain is never recovered from entirely. In fact, it shouldn’t be. Today, my wife and I live in my grandmother’s old house. I’m typing this blog in it right now. We have our Christmas tree exactly where she had hers. Every now and then I can walk through here with the realization that I am living in my grandmother’s old house and there is sorrow with that. Recently, Allie found an old ornament of my grandmother’s on the attic and hung it on the tree. When I saw, she saw me getting sad and asked if she should have done that. I told her I was glad she was. It was a healthy sorrow that I needed to experience, for there was also joy remembering her life.

If we ever lose the pain, it is as if we are saying that we are completely over the loss of the person. That should not be. Scripturally, we must remember that death is an enemy. It is an evil. It is an intruder in this world and we dare not treat it as if it was something we should just get along with entirely. We should look forward to the day spoken of in 1 Cor. 15 where death is spoken of as an enemy to be defeated.

The only time the pain will be ended, is when we are reunited with our loved ones in eternity or understand better through God what has happened. I do not believe that the powers of Hell have veto power to override the joy of Heaven. (My view of the after-death in fact would mean one does see their loved ones still regardless, but their loved ones who are not Christian are not in a mutual loving relationship with YHWH. It’s complicated and for another blog.)

So what of the pain today?

My wife grew up experiencing bullying. Today, we know that this is a major problem. Bullies need to be stopped. Period. Today, she still believes things that the bullies said about her and can have a hard time enjoying many aspects of her life because of those memories. I always tell her the same thing.

When she fails to enjoy her life because of the past, the bullies win.

I would apply the same here. Don’t let the evil of one creep ruin the good for several. Yes. It will be hard, but still say we are determined to have what joy we can in the face of evil. We will not let evil hold us down. We will stand up and fight it and we will celebrate in the midst of our enemies. There will be plenty of time for mourning, but the promise of Scripture often is to turn our mourning to joy.

This does not necessarily mean an emotional event, but an awareness that this is what is going on. God will work it for good if you love the Lord. That is in no way saying that what has happened is good. It is not. It is evil. That’s it. We must look in the face of evil and call it evil.

At the same time, let’s not treat it as the dominant force. If we are Christians, let us say that the joy of God sending His Son into the world is far greater than the evil of a mad lunatic not worth mentioning. Let us celebrate that for the one who came into the world came into the world to overcome death and save us all. Let us celebrate that because He came into the world and died and rose again, we know that the story will end differently. We know that God is at work. We know His kingdom is spreading. We know that those who do evil will be judged. We are to be people of joy.

My encouragement then? Celebrate Christmas. The joy you have is greater than any sorrow that you can experience in the world. Our prayers are with you this year. May you find joy in the midst of sorrow.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

On The Connecticut Shooting

What can be said in the face of tragedy? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Let’s start with the obvious in a tragedy like this. There are no easy answers. There are no pat solutions. It is not going to be the case that we enact a new law on gun control and the problem goes away. It is not going to be the case that we ban violent video games and the problem goes away. It is not the case that we do X, Y, and Z and the problem goes away. This kind of thing takes time. I think we can do something about the problem, but there is not a magic bullet.

We want those now, but they don’t exist. They also don’t help the families involved at this time. I was horrified when I heard the news yesterday and thought about how close it is to Christmas for something like this to happen. Tragedies are bad any time, but they seem to hit extra hard around the holidays. The holidays are a time for family to be together and when this happens, families are not together, ever again in this lifetime. There is always an empty seat at the dinner table and there will be presents under the tree that little boys and girls won’t open this year.

This is just evil. Let’s be clear on something. If someone today wants to try to defend moral relativism and tell me that this is not evil, your position is just entirely unworthy of being held and you are a sick human being who needs to seek professional counseling immediately. What this should all remind us at this point is that evil is real.

What do we do with this evil? The reality is that it has happened. In the face of it, some will say there is no God, but this conclusion does not follow and is quite damaging in fact. For purely practical reasons, if there is God, there is some hope in this tragedy. There is hope that children and parents will be reunited. There is hope that there will be some justice in this mad universe. There is hope that there is healing for the hearts of those who have had theirs ripped apart. There is a way forward.

In fact, in commenting on my father-in-law’s facebook page this morning, I stated my personal reason why this has happened. It is not because of violent video games, though some are saying that. It is not because of the Goth culture, though some are saying that. It is not because of a mental illness, though some are saying that, and more on that later. It is because of sin. It is because of what Alexander Solzhenitsyn said about Russia. What happened to them is because as he said “We have forgotten God.”

We live in a culture that does not want to confront evil. We do not want disagreement. We want everyone to be tolerant. We just want everyone to get along, but that doesn’t work. There are real problems. Some people apparently just reach a breaking point someday and we wonder what happened. We speak about the meaninglessness of life and wonder why some treat it so callously. We speak about how each person should choose their own way and wonder about the choice some make. We say there is no right or wrong but just values and then wonder why things like this happen.

This morning my wife informed me that some people are saying the person who did this (And let us not dignify him by naming him) had Asperger’s. I stated that it wouldn’t be too long before everyone in the Aspie community was labeled. Indeed, it wasn’t. Again, on my father-in-law’s Facebook, I saw it happening right there, just before I had said it even. I say this seeing as my wife and I are both Aspies.

Yet that kind of reaction could be what led to this event in some ways. This student felt excluded, just like many on the spectrum can. It can be difficult to be different from everyone else. Despite what was said on the Facebook page, it is incorrect to say Aspies have no empathy. They can have more difficulty with empathy and when they have it, they can have a harder time expressing it, but they do have empathy. In fact, my wife has been told she has too much empathy.

As Aspies, my wife and I send out our condolences to the families of those involved. We ask people to not repeat the mistake also that could have led to this by excluding people who are different. I have stated we cannot just hope everyone gets along. We have to work. If someone is hard to get to know, well you might just have to work a little bit harder to do it, but if you really want to, you will do it.

For those of us who are Christians, let’s remember that this is what Jesus did. Who was it that He went to? He went to the prostitutes and tax collectors. He spoke to the people that society had decided were not worth speaking to. He spoke to the outcast. If he was in India today, he would be amongst the lepers. My wife has told me numerous times that if Jesus was here in our city right now, he would be on the worst streets of the city ministering to the people there. I do not think he would be visiting our big and successful churches.

We who are people of Christ need to be making our presence known and being salt and light. Part of the problem is the church has ran into itself. We have isolated ourselves from the world creating our own separate Christian culture. We have Christian bookstores, movies, TV stations, music, etc. I realize we have to use the term sometime, but really, Christian best only applies to people. People are called to be like Christ especially.

If we do not shine our light onto the world, why should we be surprised if the world walks in darkness? If we are not sharing the love of Christ, why should we not be surprised to see hatred of our fellow man? If we are not showing the truth of who Jesus is and what He did, why should we be surprised when so many people believe lies about God and themselves?

And if we are not living what it is that we say that we believe, why should we expect the rest of the world to take our claim seriously.

Our salvation will not lie in new laws that will be made to limit guns. Our salvation will not lie in new programs in the school to teach values clarification. our salvation will not lie in new government programs to provide more funding to schools. Our salvation only lies in the work of Christ on the cross and the empty tomb. We can talk about other methods as an aid to that all we want and these debates will and should happen, but the problem is not the externals. It is the internals. It is our hearts. We are sinful.

Let us all take a look at that. As a Christian, in some ways it’s hard to not think about Hell and think about people getting that for acts like this, but it’s always followed with the corrective that if it were not for the grace of God at work, anyone of us could have been the gunman just as much, because we all have evil in our hearts. Let us take this time to examine our own hearts.

How are we doing with treating our fellow man? How are we doing with treating our families? How are we doing with our friends? Do we really take the time to appreciate them? As I write this, I have a slew of images going through my head of people I know and how much they mean to me. I think about people in the past who have decided to walk away from me and wish that things could have turned out differently. I think of all the things I enjoy in this life and how special each of them is.

We can take each other for granted so much. I go to sleep next to my wife every night and I thank God that I have someone to share my life with and someone I sleep with every night and can wake up and know they’re there. She knows I don’t want to get up in the morning until we’ve got to kiss and I don’t go to sleep at night until we have. We have no guarantee that either of us will live another day. Let’s make the most of the time we have now.

Just a couple of weeks ago, the best man in my wedding came to town and we got to spend a day together. I saw him off saying we’d see each other again, but the reality is we don’t know that. Something could have happened to him as he traveled back to his place of residence. He’s still alive and well right now, but I don’t know how long that will last.

I have a friend who I met in Charlotte who has gone to Edinburgh for his studies. I have no guarantee of his safety either, and he’s a tried and true friend of mine as well. I have friends who are twins who I haven’t seen since I left Charlotte. I have my parents next door and my in-laws in Atlanta and an elderly aunt and uncle next door as well.

After all, several parents sent their children off to school expecting to see them in the evening, and they didn’t. Their children were taken from them that day. Before too long, I’ll be going to the grocery store to get groceries. My wife has no guarantee something won’t happen on the way. Neither do I. I am not saying this to be paranoid, but I am saying don’t take it for granted. I try to make sure always I tell her I love her before I leave even if I might be upset as happens at times. I would hate to think that something had happened and she would say “I never even got to tell him I love him one more time.”

Each of one us is so precious. Let us not just think about the loss of others, but what the loss of us would mean to others. You might not think much of yourself, but what would it mean to the people in your life if they lost you? I say this because I know many out there struggle with suicide and depression. The temptation is always to retreat within, but don’t lose sight of how much you could mean to the people who do love you, and they do exist.

Life is a gift, and this is a reminder of it, because it is a robbery when it is taken from us early by evil in the world. Events like this are an ever-present reminder of the reality of sin in the world. We dare not dismiss them. Let us live each day more and more now celebrating life. Husbands. Buy an extra flower for your wife. Wives. Give your husband an extra kiss. Parents. Give your child an extra hug. Children. Do a little bit more to help your parents around the house.

For each of us, do something more to show love to your fellow man. For we Christians, be Christ to them. You believe in the miracle of the resurrection? Live it. In fact, I would encourage you to study it so you can know why you believe it and present that hope.

The world needs hope, but they do not need pie in the sky. They don’t need wishful thinking. We who believe in the resurrection need to know that this really happened. The second person of the Trinity, who is fully God in nature, did come down and dwell among us as a man. He walked the Earth that we walked. He allowed Himself to die on a cross. He then rose again to show that evil will not have its hold on us forever, including the greatest evil of death.

If you are a Christian, you believe that really happened. If it really happened, then learn how you can defend it. Learn how you can show it. Part of our retreat into ourselves has been our retreat from the life of the mind. The mind is an important part. If we are to experience true healing, it is not just our hearts that need to heal, but our minds as well. If something is to touch our hearts, it must be a reality in our minds.

We are the people of hope if we are Christians, and let us go forward and give that to the world. Let us be Christ in the midst of a culture that has by and large forgotten Him. It has been the case that we have forgotten God. Let us remind ourselves of Him again and remind the rest of the world of Him.

And of course, let us pray for those involved and help how we can. We here at Deeper Waters send our prayers out to those who are hurt by this tragedy. We cannot begin to grasp what you are going through, but we pray the peace of Christ will be with you in this time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters