Christianity and Atheism’s Common Ground: The Problem of Evil Part 1

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Atheistic scholars have labeled the problem of evil as the “Achilles’ heel” of Christian theism. They claim that, like Achilles’ heel, the problem of evil inevitably brings Christianity to ruin. In fact, many God-professing individuals have converted to atheism due to this unresolved question. But Christian theists are not left without an answer to the problem of evil.

The problem of evil is logically structured into three statements:

  1. God is omnipotent.
  2. God is all-benevolent.
  3. Evil exists.

Atheists argue the incompatibility of these statements. They say that if an all-powerful God created a world in which evil exists, then he must not be all-good, or else he would have used his power to eliminate such evil. Transversely, if God is all-benevolent, then he desires to eliminate evil. But since evil exists, he must not possess the power to do so. They conclude, then, that God does not exist.

Before proceeding, one point must be made clear. While the source of evil is a perplexity for a Christian, the source of good is not. God is the origin of all goodness, for “He is good” (Psalm 107:1). And, “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father” (James 1:17). With God as the ultimate authority over what is good, a Christian can evaluate what is right and wrong based on His righteous standards. Consequently, when God no longer exists, neither does ethics.

In an atheistic worldview, there is no such thing as a moral, law-giving God. Instead, morality is merely the result of chemical reactions in the brain of an evolved animal. Without any objective standards, good and evil become relative to the animal, or determined by mutual agreements within a society. Therefore, morality is reduced to the mental whims of an evolutionary process.

In fact, moral standards can fluctuate at any given time. Homosexuality, for example, was widely accepted in ancient Greek and Roman culture, as men would often participate in sexual activity with other men. Not only was it tolerated, but homosexuality was even celebrated in the arts, theater, and culture, according to some scholars. Skipping to the thirteenth century, homosexuality was strictly condemned in European society. Stringent laws called for the severe punishment of homosexual acts. Some reports indicate that people were even burned to death or beheaded for unlawful sexual behavior. The moral pendulum swung back, as homosexuality is currently accepted in most Western cultures.

With a worldview in which morality is constantly shifting – as with the issue of homosexuality – on what grounds can the atheist brand certain actions as good or bad? Human thought should be just as valued as the random process in which it was evolved.

But only the most committed of atheists live as though moral principles do not exist. For an atheist, even testifying to the problem of evil is, at its core, admitting to objective morals.

The problem of evil for the Christian theist then becomes the problem of good and evil for the atheist.

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What Should Christians Do About Halloween?

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Halloween can fill us with warm fuzzies and fond memories.  Countless hours and millions of dollars are spent to persuade children and adults to disguise themselves, march around neighborhoods and beg for treats. Costumes, decorations, and candy consume the months of September and October each year.  But, if we stopped to look at this holiday with fresh eyes and a Biblical perspective, those warm fuzzies might be replaced with horror and shock at what we have been mindlessly participating in, all in the name of fun. Here are some points to consider as you contemplate what to do with this holiday.

First, let’s consider how this holiday began. Many years ago, Scottish, Irish and English priests taught that their god, Saman, would tell the spirits of dead people to communicate and visit with men on earth on October 31. Why October 31? They said that autumn, when leaves fall, is a symbol of death, and winter is the season of death. To keep these evil spirits away, these priests told people to burn animals, saying that the light of the fire would scare spirits away. Then they turned the animals inside-out to proclaim the future and to make peace with evil spirits. If these evil spirits did no harm to a family, the family would celebrate. Parents would dress their children up as ghosts and ghouls to scare away the real spirits, sending them to collect food and treats from neighbors. As the children paraded around the blocks, they would call out, “Trick or treat!” and if they received no treat, they would vandalize houses. People from these countries believed in witchcraft. Witches (women) and warlocks (men) wore dark clothes and were messengers and priests of the devil, Satan. They used his power to make people afraid of them. These innocent people were taught to believe that witches could fly on brooms and together with warlocks could transform themselves into bats, spiders and black cats. Witches’ special day is still October 31 because they believe all the spells they cast in the previous year would come true on that night. They celebrate with noisy partying and cut scary faces into pumpkins.

Why should we celebrate this day? It is filled with evil, the devil, and things with which we should not associate.

Walking through our neighborhood, lawns that just a few weeks ago contributed to a sense of peace and well-being with their verdant lawns now boast skeletons, tombstones and half-decomposed bodies protruding out of the ground. Ghosts, witches and spiders hang from trees. Black cats and ghoulish faces carved in pumpkins grace walkways and front porches.

Why? The overarching purpose seems to be to prey upon people’s fears. Why do we want to celebrate fear? We read in the Bible that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love, and of a sound mind,” (2 Timothy 1:7). And, “We did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear” (Romans 8:15). Rather, “Perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment” (I John 4:18). If God has set us free from fear, why would we willingly participate in a holiday that seeks to produce fear?

Not only does Halloween celebrate fear, but it also focuses on ghoulish, hellish death. We all will face death someday, but believers look forward to death that leads to life. Halloween focuses on the death that leads to eternal death. Everywhere we on Halloween we see signs of death. The Bible says, “He who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life” (John 5:24). So, why should we celebrate the very thing we’ve escaped?

Now you might be saying, “Look, the adults like decorating, the children like the dressing up and the candy so what could be wrong? Many people just celebrate Halloween because it’s fun. They think it is harmless. Fun is what everyone looks forward to.” But we have to face the facts. What does the Lord reveal in His word?

  • Abhor what is evil, cling to what is good (Romans 12:9).
  • Abstain from every form of evil (I Thessalonians 5:22).
  • Do not be conformed to this world (Romans 12:2).
  • Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God (James 4:4).
  • Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him (I John 2:15).

I’m not opposed to having fun, but we need to be careful how we implement our convictions about things like Halloween. Fun isn’t more important than showing our loyalty and allegiance to the God who has reached down to save us from the very powers of fear, death and darkness.

With that in mind,  now that we’ve examined the origins of Halloween and its focus on fear, death, and darkness, what are we as Christians to do? The holiday is not going away.

The truth is, while we don’t need to participate in the holiday, there are some advantages to the believer. For example, some of us go door-to-door trying to get an audience for the gospel with the hopes that someone will meet the Savior. But once a year, people come to our door and are a captive audience for the gospel. Why not take advantage of the opportunity? Jesus himself said, “If your neighbor asks something of you give it, and more besides.” If they come asking for candy, have it ready and also a tract and a short presentation of the gospel.

We have an opportunity to counteract the fear with hope, the darkness with light, and death with life. So let’s not participate in what the world has to offer, but instead respond with the gospel the Lord freely offers. We are more than conquerors through Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

Sources

All scripture quotations are from the New King James Version of the Bible

Perry, Bill. A Look inside America:  Exploring America’s Cultural Values and Holidays. Pennsylvania: Mulit Language Media, 2000.

Miller, Toby. What Does Halloween Celebrate? Crockett, KY. Rod and Staff Publishers.

 

Why and Who Christians Should Judge

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The word “judge” has become synonymous with a pretty nasty image. The last thing Christians wants these days is to play into the stereotype of the judgmental religious fanatic who shoves a Bible in people’s faces and gives them a list of reasons why they’re wrong. And why would we? We’re constantly told that no one should ever judge anyone else for any reason. Even the Bible tells us not to judge:

“Judge not, that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1-2)

So, while we’re studiously avoiding the flecks in everyone’s eyes, with some biblical justification, we’ve made judgment as a concept in Christian circles so abhorrent that it couldn’t ever be good. Far be it from us to ever tell anyone that the way they live their lives is wrong. After all, we’re all sinners saved by grace, and no one is better or worse than anyone else. So no judgement. It’s just wrong, right?

Except God is our judge and he is righteous, so there is nothing inherently evil about judgment. We often forget because we think of Jesus as soft and gentle, which he is, but Jesus judged pharisees in a way that many of us today might consider unchristian. He called them hypocrites, broods of vipers, greedy, self-indulgent, lawless, murderers, and hell-bound in Matthew 23. Peter also condemned false teachers in 2 Peter 2, calling them slaves of corruption and saying that the gloom of utter darkness is reserved for them.

We don’t possess the same insight into the human soul as Jesus does, or perhaps even Peter, but we are also commanded to judge, specifically those inside the church who are living in error. In Matthew 18, Jesus commands us to rebuke in private a brother who sins against us.

Paul in 1 Corinthians 5 gives the most clear expectations of judgement for believers. He writes the church that it is alright to associate with the sexually immoral, greedy, swindlers and idolators of the world. Clearly, because Jesus also associated with them. But Paul writes that Christians should not even eat with another Christian who is “guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard or swindler” (verse 11). Paul ends with this charge:

“For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. ‘Purge the evil person from among you.’” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13)

There are right and wrong ways to judge, and right and wrong people to judge. As Christians, we bear a responsibility to judge each other’s actions for the purpose of sanctification. Letting a spiritual brother or sister live a life of sin in the church without consequences isn’t loving. We shouldn’t reprove others for the sins we ourselves struggle with but neither should we allow a sinning Christian to continue in fellowship unrepentant.

When judgement is needed, judgement without love is wrong and so is love without judgement. They aren’t mutually mutually exclusive concepts.

Let’s Be More Open About Our Sexuality

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Sex has always seemed nebulous and far off to me. I never got the infamous talk from my parents. Most of what I learned as a blossoming teen came from the cheap jokes of my classmates and awkward presentations in health courses. The media hasn’t helped much either. Throw in some squeamishness from Christians who are walking a hard line to stay pure, and you’ve got a big, boiling pot of confusion.

As believers, we like to challenge ourselves to gain all the biblical knowledge we can. We decipher the original Hebrew meaning of key words to clarify alleged inconsistencies. We fiercely debate predestination versus free will.

Yet, we put sex in the vaguest terms possible and expect people to have a deep and profound understanding of it. When the topic does come up, we act like we just stepped on something slimy in the ocean. As if, by merely talking about it, we’ll be consumed with unholy desires. Song of Solomon is practically a banned book. God intended it for marriage. Keep yourself pure. Wait for the right person. All these phrases do is sweep the topic under the rug.

In my personal experience, this has left me feeling strangely guilty about the idea of having sex. After being told it’s taboo for so long, how can I be expected to shed years of confusion, fear, and restraint when the time comes? Will some primal instinct take over and I’ll suddenly be endowed with wisdom from beyond? I don’t know! No one ever talks about it! It also makes me rather embarrassed that I don’t have a clearer, more godly perspective on such an important part of life. So often, it’s exploited and misconstrued, and I don’t know how to talk about it, let alone defend it. I’d like for that to change.

So let’s be a little more open about our sexuality, shall we? Hiding from it doesn’t develop reverence for it. It leaves us in the dark, making us scared to understand it – and we shouldn’t be scared of something God created for us.

Stop Celebrating Apathy

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People who care too much about movies, television, and video games, we call fans, nerds, and geeks. If someone works too hard in one area of their life for our liking, we assume that they’re insecure about that area. If people are too religious, we call them fanatics, zealots, or extremists. Caring a lot about working out makes you a meathead, caring a lot about musicals makes you gay, caring a lot about work makes you a workaholic, and caring a lot about following rules makes you a goody-two-shoes (not that anyone uses that label anymore).

Chances are, you have passions you don’t share with other people because you’re afraid they won’t think you’re cool. Cool people don’t get excited about things. They don’t try too hard at anything. They don’t care what other people think of them.

Cool people are apathetic people. How messed up is that?

Understand that there is a place for balance. There is a point of unhealthy obsession. We, however, are not always qualified to judge where that point is for someone else. We shouldn’t feel better than someone else because we care less about doing well in school or impressing guys than they do.

We are commanded to love one another (John 13:14), which will require us to care about one another. We are commanded to work hard (Colossians 3:23, 2 Thessalonians 3:10), which will mean trying hard at something. We are commanded to live in peace with one another (Hebrews 12:14), which will mean caring to some extent about what other people think of us.

Let’s not make someone feel stupid for caring about something or someone else, no matter how stupid we think it is. Though we often are passionate about things that aren’t good for us, God has given us things that we care about for a reason. Passion, directed towards things that glorify God, brings about his purposes. And that’s what’s really cool.

Stressing to Impress

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Trying to impress someone else isn’t a bad thing. It drives us to do more and to be more than we ever would have if we weren’t doing it with another person in mind. The more it’s possible that we might lose that person, the more we are usually willing to do for them. The people we try to impress most are usually strangers to us.

It’s terrible, isn’t it? But I would rather go out of my way for a guy I think is cute than for one of my brothers. I would rather go out of my way for a girl I think is cool than for one of my own sisters. I would rather go out of my way for a professor or a boss than my own mother. I think I do this because I know my family has to love me no matter what I do. Strangers are free to choose whether to love me or not.

Even worse, we do even less to impress God, who loves us eternally and unconditionally. The Bible tells us to do everything to God’s glory, but so much of what we do is to advance our own interests.

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Colossians 3:23-24)

Wanting to impress strangers isn’t bad, as long as we’re not trying to impress them in sinful ways, but it shouldn’t be our priority. Impressing God should be our priority. If we focus on impressing God first, we’ll find ourselves loving family and strangers alike more deeply and more completely than we can currently imagine.

 

Forgiveness Isn’t What You Think It Is

When someone hurts you, you’re supposed to forgive them. If you don’t the only person you’re hurting is yourself, right?
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Wrong.
It’s a nice concept, I suppose. But it’s simply not biblical. Forgiveness has become a very fuzzy term. It’s now a general attitude of warmth and forgetfulness toward an offender, regardless of the offender’s feelings or actions toward us. However, in the Bible, forgiveness is not unconditional. 
Forgiveness is the action of absolving a person of blame, not a feeling of general goodwill towards that person. We are commanded to forgive as God has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32) (Matthew 6:12) (Colossians 3:13). We are to forgive in the same manner, in a similar way. When does God forgive us? When we confess our sins. Why then, would God hold us to a higher standard of forgiveness than He himself does? The answer is that he doesn’t. Forgiveness is not unconditional, even though love is.

Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (Speaking of brother in the neighbor sense, not as a brother in Christ) Luke 17:3-4

The verse above indicates that we rebuke a person who sins, not forgive them. If he repents, we are to forgive him. Forgiveness is transactional. It’s a covenant of sorts: an agreement between two people. The pattern of church discipline in Matthew 18 is similar. We are not to receive a believer who has sinned grievously back into fellowship until he has repented of his sin.

There is no example in the Bible where a sinner is clearly unrepentant and is forgiven anyway, where he is absolved of all the punishment of sin. Forgiveness is meaningless unless it has an effect, and its effect is the mutual reconciliation of two parties, which can only take place if both parties are willing. If I invite guests into my home, and they steal from me and don’t regret stealing from me, why would I invite them back into my home? My forgiveness means nothing to them, because they don’t believe they’ve done anything wrong.

I think that we often confuse forgiveness with love. We are not commanded to forgive our enemies, but we are commanded to love everyone (Matthew 5:44). Forgiveness is a contract. Love, on the other hand, is not.

Thank God.