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Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Introducing natural theology and teleological arguments for God's existence

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Psalm 8:3-4 "When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained; 4 What is man that You take thought of him, and the son of man that You care for him?"
Introduction: We live in a huge universe

The universe is defined as all physically connected, space-time reality. Current estimates give the size of the visible universe to be 92 billion light years in diameter. When I speak of the "visible" universe, I refer to the farthest point we can see in comparison to the region of space lying beyond such points that are expanding faster than the speed of light. Since nothing travels faster the the speed of light in space (670 million m.p.h or 186,000 miles per second), observations since 1998 confirm that the expansion of the universe is accelerating relative to our position. If one can picture a circle as representing our visual horizon of what we can see as "the visible universe", then to capture the whole universe, one only needs to draw a much larger circle around the first circle to get the idea of what were talking about. 

Image result for circle within a circle

In 2016, astronomers published a new estimate of the number of galaxies to be roughly 2 trillion, with each containing an average of 100 billion stars (giving us a rough number of stars as 2 followed by 23 zeros ). As we mentioned earlier, our universe is expanding at an ever faster rate. Astronomers from Cornell University calculate that the rate at which the universe is expanding, given its age, coupled with the maximum distance we can see (a 46 billion light-year radius in all directions, with one-light year equaling nearly six-trillion miles), yields a universe that is in upwards of 250 times larger than what we can view (see link here: https://arxiv.org/abs/1101.5476)! In other words, what astronomers are able to observe through even the most powerful telescopes represents a potential of less than .5% of the whole universe! 

What David was reflecting upon in Psalm 8 introduces us to what is called the "teleological argument" for God's existence

Whenever David was reflecting on his view of the heavens in Psalm 8, how many stars would he had observed? According to the July 2015 issue of "Sky & Telescope", we get the following answer:

"If you tabulate all stars visible down to magnitude 6.5, thought to be the faintest stars still visible to the unaided eye, the entire sky contains some 9,000 stars. Since you can only see half the sky at any time, that means there are as many as 4,500 stars visible in your sky tonight."

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As David scanned the skies, he began to write under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit the unparalleled words of Psalm 8. David inferred a certain order and purpose to all that was above him and around him. In another Psalm, Psalm 139, David utilizes a similar tactic by reflecting on the design and purpose he saw within himself. David is an early example of demonstrating the reality of God's creative power from observations in creation. 

Such an argument that attempts to infer God's existence from the apparent design and order of nature is what is called a "teleological" argument (from two words, "telos" meaning "order" and "ology" meaning "study of"). 

The Biblical precedent for natural theology and teleological arguments for God's existence

Whenever one infers anything about God's existence from nature or human nature independent of appeals to Divine written revelation, such an exercise is called "natural theology". Such arguments for God's existence, also termed "theistic arguments", attempt to demonstrate that, belief in God is not only a matter of faith, but also counts as grounds for rational thought. As already mentioned, one type of argument in natural theology looks at repeated patterns in nature and features pointing to design (such as specified complexity, or, a pattern that is unlikely to have been formed by chance). 

Such patterns and features are the stuff of teleological arguments for God's existence (again, so-called because the Greek word "telos" refers to "purpose"). The Old Testament prophet Isaiah records a Divine challenge by God to the idol-worshipers of his day by crafting a teleological method of detecting Divine activity in history and prophecy in Isaiah 41:21-23 - 


“Present your case,” the Lord says. Bring forward your strong arguments,” The King of Jacob says. 22 Let them bring forth and declare to us what is going to take place; as for the former events, declare what they were, that we may consider them and know their  outcome. Or announce to us what is coming; 23 Declare the things that are going to come afterward, that we may know that you are gods; Indeed, do good or evil, that we may anxiously look about us and fear together."


Isaiah's "test" shows how arguments rooted in pattern and purpose (i.e. teleological arguments) can provide discernment when testing truth claims from other religions and validating the claims of Biblical faith. 

The Apostle Paul indicates the plausibility of the project of natural theology by what he writes in Romans 1:18-20 


"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse."
The "orderliness" and "design" features of the universe supply the contents for a typical "teleological" argument for God's existence. The Apostle Paul articulated another version of this sort of argument to a group of Greek philosophers in Acts 17:26 - 

"and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation." 

Closing thoughts

The Biblical authors David, Isaiah and Paul give precedents for the appropriateness of using natural theology and teleological arguments in pointing the way to the God of the Bible. Authors outside the Bible confirm this notion of God's general revelation, and humanity's ability to know about His existence, by how various pagan authors worked out their own versions of the teleological argument (such as the Greek philosopher Plato in his work called "Laws"). The teleological argument has had a rich and, at times, contentious history with those who opposed it. In the next post, we will explore some of the history of this very important argument for God's existence.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Reflecting on Divine omniscience and prayer from Psalm 139

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Psalm 139:1-6 "O Lord, You have searched me and known me. 2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. 3 You scrutinize my path and my lying down, And are intimately acquainted with all my ways. 4 Even before there is a word on my tongue,
Behold, O Lord, You know it all. 5 You have enclosed me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is too high, I cannot attain to it."

Introduction:

Today's post wants to explore the life-applicable realities of a precious attribute of God revealed in the Bible - Divine omniscience. What is entailed in the Biblical concept of God's knowledge? In Psalm 139, David introduces us to God by first noting this particular property of God's essence. God's knowledge, as seen in these verses, covers at least four areas that we find mentioned in the Bible. The areas I'll mention below summarize the essentials of this vital truth about God. Along the course of today's post, I'll mention how the particulars of omniscience give confidence in prayer.

1. The first has to do with God's direct knowledge of all things. 

For God, there is no such thing as "knowledge by comparison". God knows all things directly. David writes in Psalm 139:1 "O Lord, You have searched me and known me." We as human beings perceive things by way of our senses. Our minds take in the information of our senses and translates them into sounds, pictures and memories. Psalm 147:4 says for instance of God's knowledge of the stars: "He counts the number of the stars; He gives names to all of them." Astronomers estimate that there are roughly 2 trillion galaxies in our observable universe. Each galaxy, in turn, contains an average of 100 billion stars. God knows the location, chemical composition and destination of each star in one thought. 

Undoubtedly, God possess direct knowledge of Himself. James Pettigrew Boice writes in his Abstract of Systematic Theology: 

"The knowledge of God, therefore, not being acquired, cannot be increased. Time does not add to it. Succession of events does not bring it before God. All the objects of his knowledge are to him eternally present and known."

On a most practical level, God's omniscience includes the prayers of His people. God doesn't need prayer to achieve His purposes. Instead, God has designed His purposes to include prayer. Prayer is often short-circuited by a limited view of God. We often times think God has very limited knowledge or no knowledge at all. If only we would consider that God has already known, how greatly our prayer-lives could soar above those troubles of life.

2. Secondly, God not only knows all things directly, God also possesses knowledge of all things with respect to their location in time. 

The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 notes: 

"God is all powerful and all knowing; and His perfect knowledge extends to all things, past, present, and future, including the future decisions of His free creatures." 

God knew when the fall would occur, knew when Christ would be crucified and where everyone would be at that moment (Acts 2:23-24). God's relationship to time is as a Being that perceives every point of space along the line of time - from beginning to end. To illustrate, whenever we watch a parade, our perspective of the parade on the ground-level is limited. However,  people watching the parade in the upper-stories of a building can see the parade from beginning to end. Two vantage points of the parade are valid, however, the ground-level view of the parade is contained within the upper-level view. Such an analogy may help grasp what we've said and will say regarding God's omniscience and humanity's ability to choose.

Biblical terms such as "foreordination", "predestination", "election" and "decree" are all used in scripture to describe God's omniscience at work with respect to time (Job 42:2; Ecclesiastes 3:14; Daniel 4:35; Romans 8:29; Ephesians 1:11). Such Biblical teachings ought not to scare us into thinking that God operates our world by fatalism or that we're all a bunch of puppets operated by invisible strings. 

Divine omniscience, in ways we cannot comprehend, makes possible the ability people have to make genuine decisions. God knows what decisions I would make tomorrow without my natural ability to choose being violated. The Psalmist speaks of God knowing when he rises and sits, as well as God knowing what would arise on his tongue before He spoke it. Bible prophecy proceeds on this notion of God's omniscience. 

Amazingly, God's omniscience does not violate human decisions. No person can explain "how" divine omniscience and human responsibility co-exist. Instead, scripture only reveals "that" God's all-knowing governance (omniscience) and daily decisions function together with no contradiction. 

Think of the Lord Jesus Christ in how He possesses, without contradiction, both a truly Divine will and truly human will. The Biblical teaching describes God's relationship to time as His ultimate will and the human will operating without conflict (see Acts 2:23-24; Acts 4:27-28). Prayer is an island of the believer's dependence on God surrounded by the ocean of His omniscient ability to know and answer such prayers.  

3. In addition to God knowing all things directly and all points in past, present and future, God thirdly knows the essence of all things. 

To illustrate what we've said thus far, God knows, say, an object like a baseball. God knows the trajectory that baseball will take once it is hit. In this third point, God also knows the behaviors of every atom making up the baseball. God also knows what direction the baseball would take if placed in different circumstances (called middle-knowledge). God knows the essence of what makes up all things. Boice again notes on this point: 

"His knowledge is not limited to the manifestations and operations of spiritual beings, but extends to their essences, and includes not only what they are, but also those tendencies which indicate what they may be." 

Charles Hodge in his Systematic Theology echoes this idea of God knowing the essence of all things by including scriptural citations: 

"God, therefore, does and can know in the ordinary and proper sense of that word. He is an ever present eye, to which all things are perfectly revealed. “All things,” says the Apostle, “are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” (Heb. 4:13.) “The darkness and the light are both alike” to Him. (Ps. 139:12.) “He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? He that formed the eye, shall he not see?” (Ps. 94:9.)"

To once more apply these ideas to prayer, when Christians pray, they're asking for God to affect circumstances that are not yet a reality or bring about situations that are different than those of the current moment. The essence of circumstances and the people praying to Him about those situations are known clearly and comprehensively by God.

4. God knows the best means to accomplish His best ends. 

So we see that God's omniscience includes the fact He has direct knowledge of all things in space, second, He possess knowledge of all things in all times and then thirdly, God possesses knowledge of the essence of all things. Now lets consider a fourth area in our reflection on God's omniscience from Psalm 139:1-6, namely: that God knows the best means to which to accomplish His greatest ends (i.e wisdom). In Psalm 139:5, David indicates God has enclosed him in from behind and that His hand is upon Him. 

The preservation of the saint of God in their salvation is a feature of that aspect of God's omniscience we call His "wisdom". God knows how to preserve His people, and has promised as much (John 10:27-28; 1 Peter 1:3-5). The eternal columns of Christian salvation, sunk deep into the cross and God's omniscience, is a marvel to say the least. These features of God's knowledge cause the Psalmist to exclaim in Psalm 139:6  "Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;It is too high, I cannot attain to it."

Closing thoughts

May we praise God for these wonderful aspects of His omniscience. In today's post we noted four qualities of God's ability to know all things. We also looked at how Divine omniscience can grant greater confidence in prayer. 

1. God possesses direct knowledge of all things. 

2. God possesses knowledge of all things with respect to their location in time. 

3. God knows the essence of all things. 

4. God knows the best means to accomplish His best ends. 





Monday, March 11, 2019

How Christians understand the Divine being of God

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Acts 17:24-26 "The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; 25 nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; 26 and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation."

Introduction:

Today's post will expound a Christian understanding of God's Divine essence or being. The thoughts below represent a portion of a talk I'll be presenting at a local community college that features a panel composed of other participants from other religions. Although the talk is far from comprehensive, it is hoped that what is described below brings glory to God and expounds clearly what Biblical Christianity has to say about God. As a final note: in the course of the post, I'll mention areas of difference that Christianity's concept of God has with other major religions (i.e. Judaism, Islam and Hinduism).

How do Christians understand the Divine being of God? He is P.U.R.E

God is the focus of the 66 books of the Bible (which contains 39 Old Testament books and 27 New Testament books). A person can know God but never hope to comprehend Him. As a Christian, I am committed to the view of God called "Christian theism", which contends that God is the greatest conceivable being, of which no greater can be conceived, and that this God is decisively revealed by Jesus. 

I'll explain the Christian understanding of God's divine being with the acrostic P.U.R.E. to aid in clarity on this subject. 

1. First, God is Personal. 

When I talk about God's divine being, the letter "p" designates that God is personal. The most frequently mentioned title or name of God in the Old Testament (5766 times) is that of Jehovah (also pronounced "Yahweh"), which translated means: "I am Who I am". A name tells us about the character of the one who bears it. God's most intimate name, "Jehovah", was revealed to people (like Moses) to express how the Biblical God is non-dependent on anything for His existence and personally invested in the affairs of His people who trust in Him by faith. 

The Hebrew Old Testament also used another designation to clue us in on God as personal, namely "Father", found nearly ten times with reference to His covenant with the Jewish nation. 
When we come to the New Testament, the Old Testament designation "Father" is shown personal by Jesus and His followers over 100 times. 

The New Testament clues us in on further revelation of God as Personal by telling us something about Jesus Himself. The Old Testament hints at God having some-sort of plurality of personhood expressing His being (Psalm 2:7; Proverbs 30:4). Jesus, as a true man, was not just a man. The writers of the New Testament used the phrase: "Jesus is LORD". The implicit plurality of personhood as expressing Divine being in the Old Testament is made explicit by Jesus' life, death and resurrection. This second Person, the Son, came to reveal who God is to us by also becoming man for us. The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 8:6

"yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him."

As we study further how personal God is, we discover in the second verse of the Bible, Genesis 1:2, that God is also identified as yet another Divine Person, the Holy Spirit. Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit in John 14:17

"I will send you another comforter and he shall not only abide with you but be in you." 

The biblical revelation of Deity as One "what" (God), that is three "Whos" (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), is what Christians call "The Trinity". The revelation of God as "Trinity" is unique to Christianity, and thus denied by religions such as Judaism, Islam and Hinduism. 

2. Unity. 

So we have seen already that God is personal. Now let's note secondly that God is a unity. Christians confess that God is one in being (i.e. "monotheism"). For example, we confess together with Judaism its central text, the Great Shema, as found in Deuteronomy 6:4-5

“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might." 

Jesus identified this text in answer to a question about what constitutes the greatest command in Matthew 22:37. 

When Christians talk about Divine monotheism, they affirm oneness of being that is expressed in a three-fold personhood. Some may think that this is a contradictory idea.  However, for something to be a logical contradiction, we have to have two completely different ideas coexisting in the same relationship and in the same way (such as a "married bachelor" or "square circle"). We don't see that with the Christian understanding of God. God is one "what" (i.e. God) and three "whos" (Father, Son and Spirit). Thus, the Trinity escapes from the charge of being a logical contradiction. 

3. Redeemer. 

As we continue in the Christian explanation of God's being, we have considered how God is personal as Father, Son and Spirit and unified in being. We now turn to the letter "r" of our acrostic in identifying God as "Redeemer". The idea of redemption, when applied to God, speaks of how He went to great lengths to purchase salvation and have it applied to anyone who will respond to Him in faith. Isaiah 43:11 states: “I, even I, am the Lord, and there is no savior besides Me." The New Testament states in John 3:16 - "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes on him will not perish but have everlasting life". Islam and Hinduism may contain rituals and moral imperatives, however, with respect to their concepts of deity, there is no developed idea of deity being a redeemer. 

4. Eternity. 

We have so far considered that God is personal, unified in being, and the Redeemer. Our final letter "e" represents God as eternal. When we say that God is eternal, we are talking about how He is timeless with respect to the world and unlimited in His life and attributes. There was a point in which the world did not exist. In contrast, God has always existed without beginning. Some of the qualities or attributes that Christians employ in describing God's eternity are He being all-knowing, or omniscient; all-powerful or omnipotent; everywhere present or omnipresent and all-good or omni-benevolent. There are many other such traits that Christians use to highlight the Biblical teaching of God's eternity. 

Christians assert the need for God's eternity by seeing all of life and its responsibilities and relationships in light of Him. I echo the words of C.S. Lewis - "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else." 

Closing thoughts

In today's post we briefly considered how Christians understand the Divine being of God. God is p.u.r.e, that is:

1. Personal
2. Unity
3. Redeemer
4. Eternal

The above four points rely upon the Biblical revelation of God as a Trinity of Persons sharing in the same, undivided, Divine essence (i.e. deity). The doctrine of the Trinity leads us to the profound personal expression of God by way of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Christian asserts that God is one God - hence the second point of God being unified with respect to His deity. The third point of redeemer captures God's chief role in how He relates to His creation. As redeemer, the Second Person of the Trinity came into history as God with us (i.e. "Immanuel", see Matthew 1:23) to experience and partake in true humanity as man for us (i.e. what is called "incarnation", 1 Timothy 2:5). The incarnation of the Redeemer meant the Son could live, die rise and ascend has the historical Jesus who also is the Christ of Christian faith. All true Christians look forward to Jesus' second coming, at which He will resolve history's evils and usher in His Kingdom. Lastly, we spoke of God as "eternal", referencing those attributes which are proper to deity: omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence and so forth. Divine eternity speaks of that quality of life unique to God which is independent of creation and which makes Him worthy of worship. 

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Life applications from Revelation's teaching on the future tribulation period

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Revelation 6:1 "Then I saw when the Lamb broke one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying as with a voice of thunder, “Come.”
Introduction:

The Apocalypse of John (also known as "the Book of Revelation"), details the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ with respect to present realities and future events. We explored in the last post what we can expect to take place as we move forward in history. We noted in particular an event called "the rapture of the church" and distinguished it from its closely related larger event: "the second coming of Jesus". Readers may click on the following link to review the last post here:

http://www.growingchristianresources.com/2019/02/grasping-future-events-of-rapture-and.html 

In that last post, mention was made of another future time period that, per this author's understanding of eschatology or "doctrine of last things", occurs in between "the rapture of the church" and "the second coming of Jesus", namely, "the tribulation period". One could define the tribulation period as follows:

"The tribulation describes a time, yet future, in which God will pour out wrath to judge the nations, defeat Satan's kingdom and prepare Israel for the arrival the Lord Jesus Christ."

In past posts on this site, I have written more detailed posts on the subject of the tribulation period, which the reader can click on here:


also, readers may click on another post-link concerning Jesus and Paul's teaching on the tribulation here:


How can a Christian find any encouragement for godly living or any relevance from the doctrine of the tribulation period. As noted in the last post, those believers who hold to a "pre-tribulation" view of the relationship of the rapture to the tribulation, assert the church's absence during that future cataclysmic event. Revelation 6-19 contains the most detailed description of this future seven-year period, expressed in a series of cyclical descriptions that retell the sequence of predicted events. How can Christians apply such texts to their lives to bring about godliness and encouragement today? Below are some thoughts on how one may apply the teaching of the tribulation period as it is expressed in the Book of Revelation.

Drawing applications from Revelation's teaching on the Tribulation

1. God's plan for dealing with the problem of evil. 

Revelation 6-19 is undoubtedly the fullest treatment we know of regarding the Tribulation period. The whole period is future, representing God's prophetic clock for executing final judgment on this world and, as seen in Paul's writings, the destruction of evil forces as personified by Anti-Christ. Revelation 6-19 unfolds a repetition of this time period in four prophetic visions that function as transparency slides on top of one another to complete a very detailed picture of the tribulation period. With respect to how God will deal with the problem of evil, we can note the first three of these visionary sequences....

a. Vision #1 - Revelation 6-11. 

The tribulation will be Jesus Christ's theater through which He will conquer the evils of the world. This particular depiction of the tribulation period is important because God, in His Ultimate Will, has ordained that time to deal with the world in justice. Acts 17:30-31 states:

Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”

b. Visionary sequence #2 - Revelation 12-14

Revelation 12 is the introduction to John's next revelatory sequence of the events of the tribulation. The tribulation will be Christ's way of preparing Israel to meet Him. In Revelation 12-14, Satan and his man, Anti-Christ, will conspire against Israel by leading a rebellion of unbelieving nations during the tribulation period. Like a set of transparency slides, Revelation 12-14 fits on top of the same time frame portrayed in Revelation 6-11.

c. Visionary sequence #3 - Revelation 15-19  

The tribulation (especially the final 3 1/2 years or Great Tribulation) will be the time in which Jesus brings an end to Anti-Christ and the system of evil which will had gripped the future world.  This fully functioning future world system, described in Revelation as: "Babylon the Great", will function in the tribulation as the religious, economic and political web spun out by Satan, the Anti-Christ and the False Prophet of Revelation 12-14. After the half-way point of the tribulation period, the world system will begin to grow hostile toward the Anti-Christ and his regime. A final war, (known as "Armegeddon"), will feature all the forces of evil arrayed against Jesus during His second coming at the end of that period. Like a transparency slide once again, Revelation 15-19:10 fits over the previous visions of Revelation 6-11 & 12-14, completing for us the most detailed treatment of the tribulation period in the Bible.

2. God's promises are true

We have observed how God will deal resolutely with the problem of evil and suffering which plagues the greatest minds and hearts in this current age. So what guarantee do Christians have in the "nasty-now-and-now" that God will keep His promises? One only has to look at how He will bring to pass His promises to Israel. 

In an Old Testament prophecy about the tribulation period, Ezekiel 20:38, we find the following promise:

"and I will purge from you the rebels and those who transgress against Me; I will bring them out of the land where they sojourn, but they will not enter the land of Israel. Thus you will know that I am the Lord." 

During the tribulation period, judgment of the earth will occur while God prepares and purifies Israel to anticipate her Messiah - Jesus Christ - right before the end of the tribulation. The Apostle Paul in the New Testament affirms this promise of Israel's restoration as a proof for the assurance of God's promises to Christians in Romans 11:25-26 - 

"For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; 26 and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written,
“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.”
 
The Great Tribulation will be a time in which the evils of man and the Anti-Christ's regime is brought to a close, with Christ's return marking the end of the tribulation -i.e "the day of the Lord". The church will be with Jesus in the marriage supper of the Lamb, protected from wrath and return with her Lord who Himself will fight and defeat the armies of the world in the battle of Armegeddon. We can therefore trust God's plans and promises. Now let's consider one final application for understanding the doctrine of the tribulation as found in Revelation 6-19....

3. God's powerful motivation to do missions

Revelation chapters 7 and 14 feature a group of Jewish evangelists called "144,000" who will share the Gospel with all the nations. In Revelation 7, we find multitudes of people getting converted during the tribulation. The consequence of converting to Christ will lead to their deaths for Jesus. Both chapters have statements that tie present motivation for sharing the Gospel to what will be that innumerable throng of people getting converted out of the nations. Revelation 7:10b records: "Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb". Revelation 14:13 records an even more remarkable statement that has clear application to the church now and to the future tribulation martyrs: 

"And I heard a voice from heaven, saying, “Write, ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on!’” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “so that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them.”  

For those who evidence no concern about the pending tribulation period or spiritual matters in general, this truth can expose their false profession. The motivation to carry the Gospel to as many people as possible is reinforced by what the world can expect when it comes to the final moments of world history. We may wonder why God delays such events as He urges us to have an awareness about them. We know that God delays the return of Jesus to grant people everywhere the time and space to repent and turn to Him in faith (2 Peter 3:9). We also are told by Jesus Himself that the course of history is regulated by the amount of people that get to hear the Gospel in every nation (see Matthew 24:14).  

Closing thoughts

Today's post aimed to provide life-application of the Biblical doctrine of the tribulation period to current Christian living. We focused in particular on Revelation 6-19, since the Apostle John provides for us the most detailed treatment of the subject. We reached the following three applications:

1. The tribulation period reminds us that God has a plan for defeating evil and suffering.

2. The tribulation period reminds us that God's promises are true.

3. The tribulation period reminds us that God has provided a powerful motivator for sharing the Gospel.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Grasping the future events of the rapture and second coming of Jesus

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1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 "For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord."

Revelation 19:11 "And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war."

Introduction:

I recently began preaching a series of messages that involve describing how Jesus will return to take back history. I began by describing what Bible teachers refer to as the "rapture of the church". In the message, I defined the rapture as follows:


"A predicted event, of unknown date, in which Jesus appears in the clouds to resurrect dead Christians and transform the bodies of living Christians to catch them up to Himself." 

The doctrine of the rapture is often associated with another doctrine that figures more prominently in the Bible's presentation of prophecy (also called "eschatology" or "study of last things"), namely, Christ's second coming (also called "second advent" and "return"). In today's post, I want us to briefly consider these two doctrines. Although the rapture and Christ's return are related to one another (like a "part one" and "part two" of Christ's efforts in bringing the church and Israel respectively to Himself at the end of this age), there are distinctions. 

Defining what we mean by "pre", "mid" and "post" tribulation views with respect to the relationship of the rapture of the church and second coming


Over the passing of time, I have found that noting the differences and similarities between the rapture and Christ's second advent aids greatly in understanding what the Bible has to say on whether or not the rapture will occur before, mid-way through or after the tribulation period. For readers who may not have familiarity with the term "tribulation" and the prefixes describing viewpoints that attempt to explain the rapture's relationship to it, some definitions are in order. The tribulation describes a period of time, yet future, in which God will pour out wrath to judge the nations, defeat Satan's kingdom and prepare Israel for the arrival of her Messiah at the end of that period. The prefixes "pre", "mid" and "post" respectively argue for the rapture as occurring before, midway or near the end of the tribulation. 

Below are a series of charts one typically can find to illustrate each of these views:

Image result for tribulation views chart


As a general rule, post-tribulational Christians will focus only on the similarities and virtually equate the rapture and Christ's second coming. Mid-tribulational Christians and pre-tribulational believers (like myself) will note the similarities between the two events while also noting the clear differences between the two.   

Noting the similarities between the rapture and 2nd advent of Jesus Christ

Below I will simply list the similarities and verse references pertaining to the rapture and second coming of Christ.

Similarities between rapture & 2nd Advent 

1. Both have the Lord appearing in clouds (1 Thess 4:17 vs Matthew 24:30; Luke 21:27; Rev 11:19, 14:14). 

2. Both have righteous people being raised from the dead (1 Thess 4:16-17 vs Rev 20:4) 

3. Both are described in the language of Jesus “coming” (John 14:3, 1 Thess 4:13 vs Matt 24:42; Lk 21:27). 

4. Both have an uncertainty as to when they will begin (1 Cor 15:52, 2 Thess 2:1-3 vs Matthew 24:36; Mark 13:32). 

5. Both will affect the entire world (2 Thess 2:7 vs 2 Thess 2:8). 

6. Both mark the end of things, the rapture will conclude the church age and 2nd advent will mark the end of the tribulation.


Although both events do have similarities, we must recognize that "similarity" does not equate to "sameness". For instance, as a native-born Pennsylvanian, I can tell you first hand that though the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles might be "similar" in that they are football teams, which are in the NFL and which are stationed in PA, nonetheless, their similarities cease and the differences are far more contrasting (ask any of their respective fans). Similarity does not mean "sameness". To illustrate another way, apples and oranges might very well be fruit, however, they must be distinguished, since an apple is not an orange nor an orange an apple.

Differences between rapture & 2nd Advent

1. The rapture (per a pre-tribulation view) occurs before the tribulation (Thessalonians 4:13-16 & 5:1). The 2nd advent occurs at the end of the tribulation (Revelation 19:11-21).

2. The rapture is taught in roughly 1/2 dozen passages in the New Testament. The 2nd advent is taught in hundreds of passages, Old and New Testaments.

3. The rapture deals exclusively with the church (1 Thess 4:16-17). The 2nd advent or second coming impacts everyone else and entails Christ's restoring and raising Israel (Daniel 12:1; Matt 24:30; Luke 21:28).

4. The rapture is aimed at comforting the church (1 Thess 4:18), whereas the main theme of the 2nd advent is Christ returning in judgment (Revelation 19:11).

5. Christ appears in the clouds but does not come down to the earth in the rapture (1 Thess 4:13-16). In His second coming at the end of the tribulation, He descends all the way down to earth (Revelation 19:11-21).

6. There are no definitive signs to indicate the exact moment of the rapture. On the other hand, in the 2nd advent, the purpose will be for Christ to war against and defeat His enemies and will be preceded by definitive signs of increasing frequency.

Closing thoughts

In many ways, such an issue as the relationship of the rapture to the tribulation may not be as  weighty for the Christian faith as the Deity of Christ, the inerrancy of scripture and the virgin birth (this author knows many wonderful believers and respects many wonderful Bible teachers who differ on this point). Nonetheless, it is important for Christians to know where they stand on any doctrinal issue. If for anything else, the above comparisons and contrasts will serve to invite the reader to search the scriptures for themselves and to get better acquainted with what the Bible teaches on these subjects.
   

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Demonstrating: "if God does not exist, life is absurd"

Image result for hamster wheel

Ecclesiastes 12:1 "Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near when you will say, “I have no delight in them.”

Introduction

The opening passage for today's post derives from the pen of King Solomon - the wisest and wealthiest king who ever lived. He had it all - lineage (son of king David of Israel); wisdom (there was hardly any area of knowledge he had not mastered); fame (kings and queens traveled from all over the globe just to hear him speak); untold pleasures and wealth. Yet, despite having experienced (at least by human standards) near-heaven-on-earth, Solomon's life became morally and spiritually bankrupt. He was brought to the brink of despair. Solomon's counsel is a word to any young person dazzled by the temptation to live a life as if God didn't exist.

Review from last post

In our last post, we introduced what I called: "an argument for God's existence from the non-absurdity of life". Reader's can click here to read the last post: 

http://www.growingchristianresources.com/2019/02/if-god-does-not-exist-life-is-absurd.html 

We noted that in the history of human thought, a consensus has emerged that many non-believers and believers in Christianity assert as a truism: "If God does not exist, life is absurd." We crafted the following argument:

Premise #1: If God does not exist, meaning, value and purpose does not exist

Premise #2: Objective Meaning, value and purpose exist as part of our world

Therefore: God exists.

In today's post, we want to unpack this argument, premise-by-premise, to offer evidence that leads to the conclusion.



Demonstrating the "non-absurdity of life" argument for God's existence

As we develop this argument, we need to lay out some definitions: "objective", "meaning", "value" and "purpose". 

First, consider the term "objective". Its not too difficult to prove Premise #2 (objective Meaning, value and purpose exist as part of our world) when you think about it. When I say "objective", I mean that which is universally the case, whether you and I believe it or deny it, or whether we like it or despise it. 
When we refer to "meaning", the concern deals with what is considered "significant". Whenever someone mentions the idea of "value", this chiefly is concerned with the areas of morality (right, wrong) and duty (good, bad). The final element, "purpose", is that element of reality that points to an ultimate end to which everything else is moving. 

Whether someone believes the universe and life to have ultimate meaning (i.e significance) or not is to assign some sort of meaning. A couple of illustrations will serve to show how atheists cannot abandon an ultimate belief in meaning - despite the fact that they deny it. 

1. Atheist author and Zoologist, Richard Dawkins, may claim in his book - "The God-delusion" - that life is "pitiless indifference", yet, Dawkins' public foundation: "The Richard Dawkins Foundation", makes its mission to promote science and the secular worldview. Despite affirming the meaningless of life, Dawkins shows himself inconsistent in touting a worldview that places human flourishing as the centerpiece of life's meaning. 

2. Physicist Steven Wienberg in his classic book: "The First Three Minutes", draws out implications from his reflections on the initial moments following the beginning of the universe. In his estimation, since the universe is all that exists, assigning meaning is pointless. However, Weinberg obviously doesn't consistently hold to such a notion, since he spent countless hours co-developing a scientific theory that has become the Standard Model for describing the sub-atomic realm (thus netting him the Nobel Prize in physics in 1979). To say that the universe is without meaning is to assign a meaning to it!

As these two examples demonstrate, the atheistic worldview is inconsistent, resulting in it not having practical application.

When we speak of "value" in premise #2, we are referring to moral values and duties. Morality deals with right and wrong and duties deal with good or bad. To quickly illustrate, a doctor that saves a person's life is performing their moral obligation, since watching a person die, just for the fun of doing so, is morally wrong. It is the duty of my children, once reaching adulthood, to get a job and make a living. However, if they decide not to become a doctor, they're not committing an immoral act. In other words, it is good for people to have jobs. The question we must raise is: 
"are moral values and duties immaterial, universal and abstract or are they material, personally subjective and concrete?" 

Once again, the atheistic worldview cannot remain consistent. Sam Harris, a vocal author, philosopher, scientist and one of the so-called "New Atheists", affirms that there are objectively right and wrong values and right and wrong actions. Harris argues in his book: "The Moral Landscape", that moral values and duties arise from physical brain states and are measured by human well-being. The problem with this idea is when we raise the following question: "did moral values and duties exist prior to the existence of human beings?" If such values emerged at the advent of human beings, then Harris' definition of "good and evil" does not escape the trap he so desperately tries to avoid: namely, that morality is a matter of personal taste or what culture so defines it to be. Practically put, we only need to raise the follow-up question: "who is to say, such-and-such is right or wrong?" Contrary to Harris' claims, we find that meaning and values cannot be grounded in this material realm.

What about purpose? Does the universe, life and humanity have a purpose? Just like the previous two observations, purpose is connected to meaning and value. If meaning and value are derived from outside our material universe, then purpose is as well.  

Again, on atheism there is no purpose to the universe, life and humanity. Atheists like the late philosopher and mathematician, Bertand Russell, asserted that life had no purpose. Yet, he wrote volumes of philosophy that  despite life having no purpose, we have to "bravely hold onto the despair of it all". If Russell's philosophy is held to consistently, it all but begs the question: "why even bother to be brave?"

Closing thoughts:

Therefore in reflecting on philosophical (Camus, Russell) and scientific authorities (Dawkins, Harris, Wienberg), we can see that even among foremost atheistic thinkers, the reality of objective meaning, value and purpose is inescapable. Furthermore, any attempt to ground meaning, value and purpose in anything but God is fruitless. Thus, premise #2 holds in the following argument:

Premise #1: If God does not exist, meaning, value and purpose does not exist

Premise #2: Objective Meaning, value and purpose exist as part of our world

When we consider how both premises together are logically valid (the form of the argument follows the rules of logic) and sound (the premises say something true of our world), the conclusion thus follows:

Therefore, God exists.

Friday, February 8, 2019

If God does not exist, life is absurd

Image result for the screamer art

Edvard Munch - "The Scream" -  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Scream


Isaiah, prophet in ancient Israel,  Isaiah 22:12-13 

"Therefore in that day the Lord God of hosts called you to weeping, to wailing, To shaving the head and to wearing sackcloth. 13 Instead, there is gaiety and gladness, Killing of cattle and slaughtering of sheep, Eating of meat and drinking of wine: “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we may die.”

Paul, 1 Corinthians 15:32-33

"If from human motives I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, what does it profit me? If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die. 33 Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.”34 Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame."

Albert Camus, French atheist and existentialist, The Myth of Sisyphus



"Here is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is

not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy."

The absurdity of life without God

What happens when people adopt a view of life that excludes God? In the three opening passages above we see the attitude and the outcome. Though Isaiah and the Apostle Paul wrote over 700 years apart from one another, their observations concerning the absurdity of life without God are identical. They each saw in their day the consequences that follow when entire cultures opt for living as if God didn't exist. The point of these excerpts is to show that if God did not exist, then the only alternative would be to "eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die".

Albert Camus, a French atheist that was part of a movement in early 20th century existentialism called "The Absurdists", hits repeatedly upon the theme of "life's absurdity" in light of God's non-existence. The above quoted work of Camus - "The Myth of Sisyphus", develops how people try to function in a world they perceive as  without meaning. Camus defines "absurdity":



"What, then, is that incalculable feeling that deprives the mind of the sleep necessary to life? A world that can be explained even with bad reasons is a familiar world. But, on the other hand, in a universe suddenly divested of illusions and lights, man feels an alien, a stranger. His exile is without remedy since he is deprived of the memory of a lost home or the hope of a promised land. This divorce between man and his life, the actor and his setting, is properly the feeling of absurdity."



For Camus, the key project of all human thought is to discover how to navigate between the impulse to kill oneself in the perception of life's absurdity and the impulse to live in revolt against the first impulse.

Whether we are talking of the "prince of the writing prophets", Isaiah, or the author of two-thirds of the books in the New Testament, Paul, or the prominent figure among French atheists, Camus, all three see what follows if we take seriously the belief in atheism. In the history of Biblical and philosophical thought, the consensus of believer and non-believer is this: if God does not exist, life is absurd. Such a startling observation can supply a powerful argument for God's existence.

What we're not saying about life's absurdity and the question of God's existence

Now let's make something perfectly clear: I am not saying that lack of belief in God means that one cannot discover meaning, value and purpose in this life. Many atheists and people who claim to have no belief in God are good parents and fine citizens. The issue at hand is not whether belief in God or lack thereof determines objective moral values and duties. Rather, the point made by these quotes is that if God did not exist, there would be no meaning, value or purpose to discover in this life. 

What we are saying with respect to life's absurdity and the question of God's existence

On atheism, we should not expect to discover such things as meaning, value and purpose. Atheism is incapable of simultaneously maintaining consistency and happiness. Per the atheist worldview, there is no meaning, value purpose, causes worth fighting for and value to life. Yet, atheists will still champion causes for justice, tolerance and the value of human life. Someone like an Albert Camus illustrated the contradiction that is atheism: assert that life is meaningless and God doesn't exist, while clinging to life, since living in revolt to such meaningless is the point.

A "non-absurdity of life" argument for God's existence


Authors such as the late Francis Schaeffer and theologian and philosopher William Lane Craig have illustrated how value, meaning and purpose are likened unto an upper story in a house, with man living in the lower story:

God
Meaning, Value, Purpose

--------------------------

Human beings

What can explain the impulse to spend years at university, preparing for a career? Or, what can explain mankind's insatiable desire to find his place in our vast and expanding universe? Is physics, energy, matter and chemistry enough to justify or provide grounds for the meaning, value and purpose of life?To find such a grounding, one must look outside the universe to it's Creator. If we were to construct an argument as to why value, meaning and purpose are only possible with God, it would go something like this:

Premise #1: If God does not exist, meaning, value and purpose does not exist

Premise #2: Objective Meaning, value and purpose exist as part of our world

Therefore: God exists


In the next post, we will expound further on this argument to see how well it does under close scrutiny. 

More next time....