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God’s Chosen Exiles

1 Peter 1:1-2

God’s Chosen Exiles: The Calling of a Christian

Truth Taught– God, in His Trinitarian nature and Sovereignty, has chosen those who would become His exiles in a world not their own.

     In order to understand what the phrase “God’s chosen exiles” means for the Christian life, there must be a comprehension of to whom and for what reasons Peter wrote this letter. We can gather from the opening verse of chapter one that Peter introduces himself as an apostle of the Lord Jesus, establishing his authority to be writing, but then proceeds into saying something very unique and central to his overall reason for writing. Peter addresses the recipients of his letter as “elect exiles of the dispersion” (1 Peter 1:1). What could this mean?

     By calling his recipients “elect exiles”, Peter can only have one audience in mind. To put it simply, the church! While this letter may be addressed to the church, Peter has good reason for doing so. His aim is to teach the church about how to prosper in the faith, trust in God, remember the works and teachings of Christ, and all while enduring suffering in this world as God’s elect exiles. This letter is filled with reminders of encouragement of how to suffer for the glory of God, a timely teaching for the world then and the world now.

     It can be seen from the writing of Peter that the church was made up of a mixture of people, both Jew and Gentile. It has widely been accepted that Peter’s letter was writing primarily for a Jewish audience, but Scripture within the letter itself may not indicate that to be necessarily true. Consider 1 Peter 1:18, “Knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers”, and 1 Peter 2:10, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’ people”. Both verses would indicate something not normally attributed to Jewish Christians.

     However, this is not to say that there were not Jewish believers in the church congregations either. It is historical fact that many types of diverse people were mixed during this time. We get a picture of this from Acts 2:9. However, this does not mean that we cannot gather an even more beautiful picture of Christ from this mixture, because the mixture of Jew and Gentile in the churches goes to show that in Christ the wall between Jew and Gentile has been broken down making the two people one in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2: 11-22).

     With this information in mind, it leads us to our full discussion of the text itself. Within these opening two verses of 1 Peter, there are three major themes that jump out. 1.) God electing individuals to become the church which in turn are the “elect exiles” spoken of. 2.) There is a Trinitarian understanding of election in which the reader sees the origin, the experience, and the goal of election. 3.) There is also a reminder from Peter that though believers are still sinners and sin willingly sometimes, there is continual restoration in our relationship to God through the sprinkling of Jesus’ blood. It is a very humbling reminder indeed.

     Right from the start, Peter wants his readers to understand something of monumental importance. He wants them to grasp the fact that they, who are true believers in Christ, are in fact elect. The doctrine of election is such a controversial theme in today’s society that it can cause serious divisions in the church body. However devastating this may be, and it is very unfortunate, Peter is opening his letter with a greeting about the doctrine of election. If doctrine of election is so notorious for being held in low regards, why in the world would Peter open his letter talking about it? Peter understands what many of us today may not ever come to terms with, and that is the fact that God is completely sovereign and holy, even in the calling to salvation Christians.

     What is even more striking about these “elect” that Peter mentions is an understanding of their true identity as those who are elect. They are exiles; they are aliens; they are sojourners as some other translations put it. When you seriously think about what it means to be an alien, exile, or sojourner, the first thing that comes to mind is a sense of not belonging. When we hear about immigrants entering into the country illegally, we think of them as not belonging. They are refugees to our country and their home is of another place. A negative example would be to consider what a foreign bacterium is to the human body. When the human body senses a strange life form, it tries to do away with it; the body does not like the intruder. In much the same way, only in a positive sense, Christians are these aliens or exiles chosen by God to this way of life. Our home is not here in this world, but with Jesus in heaven.

     Consider these passages, John 16: 32-33,

“Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world”.

John 17: 14-19,

“I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth”.

     As is evident from these two passages, our place is not of this world, but our mission is to be here as those elect exiles of the faith and endure for the sake of Christ. Our true identity as believers in Jesus is to be those aliens. However, Peter does not stop there, but goes directly into a Trinitarian explanation of how it is and for what reasons God has chosen to elect His exiles.

1.) According to the foreknowledge of God the Father.

     Peter first gives his readers the origin of election, it is found in the foreknowledge of God the Father. It is not uncommon that the phrase “foreknowledge of God” can be taken in completely the wrong way. Most of the time, readers will interpret the foreknowledge of God as something like God just knowing a fact in advance. So the end result is that God chose those to be elect based on the fact that he saw that they would chose Him, but this is a false understanding of the text.

     To correctly understand the foreknowledge of God in this text, the reader must understand that this foreknowledge is a fore-knowing of a person in a personal context. Very much like a father knows his child, or Adam knew Eve. There is an intimate understanding to the word foreknowledge in this text. Very much like Ephesians 1:3-14, God chose us (believers) in Him (Christ) before the ages began to be as adopted sons. God intimately knew His exiles.

2.) In the sanctification of the Spirit.

     Next, Peter gives his readers the experience of election that is found in the sanctification of the Holy Spirit. The term sanctification literally means to be “set apart”. As believers, God has set us apart to become more like His son Jesus and to be holy as He Himself is holy. Consider these two verses,

Hebrews 12:7-11,

“It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of Spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it”.

James 1:2-4,

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing”.

     When Peter speaks of “sanctification of the Spirit” he means to portray the idea that we as believers in Christ are surrounded by the atmosphere of the Holy Spirit being sanctified through various trials as discipline. So as God’s chosen exiles of the dispersion, we are being trained and disciplined by God to produce a greater yield for His kingdom. Remember that we are chosen exiles in a foreign place that is hostile towards us because of our Lord Jesus Christ.

3.) For obedience to Jesus Christ.

     We have seen that due to God’s foreknowing of His elect, it is by the Holy Spirit that we are involved in daily sanctification to make us holy as He is holy. But what does it mean to be holy as He is holy? There is a greater purpose and that is for us to have complete obedience to Jesus our Lord. But what does this obedience look like? Consider these two passages of Scripture,

Ephesians 2:8-10,

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them”.

1 John 5:2,

“By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey His commandments”.

     As God’s chosen exiles, He has pre-ordained that we should walk in good works because of what Christ has done. It is when we as believers are active in these good works that we are showing our love for God because we are keeping His commandments. What should some of these good works look like? We are to love the lost and share the gospel just as Jesus says in Matthew 28 before He ascends into heaven, we are to abstain from any sinful actions against God or our brothers and sisters as is seen in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7. There are pages full of commands from God in Scripture and all are what would constitute obedience to Christ Jesus.

     Finally, we come to our last point in the passage. It is not only by the foreknowledge of God, the sanctification of the Holy Spirit, or for obedience to Christ, but also for the sprinkling of Christ’s blood as well. So far we have seen the origin, experience, and goal of election, but it is here that we see the how being put into action. We all know the Romans 3:23 passage about all being sinners and falling short of God’s glory, so how are we to keep moving toward obedience in Christ if we continue to sin?

     The question addresses the heart of the gospel message of Jesus Christ. It seems as if Peter has taken truth of the latter part of verse two and compared it with what we find in the book of Leviticus about those who suffered from leprosy. Not only was this physical disease deadly in a biological way, it was also unhealthy in a communal way. Consider this passage,

Leviticus 13:45-46,

“The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, unclean, unclean. He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp”.

     Peter too recognized that because of our sinful human condition, our spiritual status was also in the same kind of trouble. This time, we were not outside of a physical camp, but the spiritual camp of God. As a result, there needs to be reconciliation happening. A cure needs to be administered, because without one, all sinners are as good as dead! Again consider this passage of Scripture,

Leviticus 14:6-7,

“He shall take the live bird with the cedar-wood and the scarlet yarn and the hyssop, and dip them and the live bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the fresh water. And he shall sprinkle it seven times on him who is to be cleansed of the leprous disease. Then he shall pronounce him clean and shall let the living bird go into the open field”.

     It is from this passage that we see the connection with Jesus’ blood. Just as it took the sprinkling of blood from an animal to cleanse the leper, it takes the blood of an innocent lamb to cleanse the sinner. Now the unrighteous sinner can be seen as clean by a holy and wonderful God. It is through the sprinkling of Christ’s blood that we are able to have restoration with God even if we succumb to sin in this life. It is truly an amazing concept!

     Now we as Peter’s readers are able to step back and see the majestic work of our Trinitarian God in the opening verses of 1 Peter. We should now have a fuller understanding of what it means to be God’s chosen exiles. We know that we do not belong in this world, but God has us here to do good works, even if it costs everything. Thankfully however, we can have restoration in our relationship to God through the blood of our Lord Jesus. To Him be the glory forever!


Respond to top 10 Reasons why Jesus is not God…Reason #9

 #9 Reason why Jesus is not God

     According to those on the Deen Show, another reason why Jesus cannot be God is that there are no explicit claims to Jesus’ divinity, even in the Bible. The guest on the show quotes passages like Isaiah 46:9 which say, “Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me”. They would also have us believe that if Jesus did claim to be God that He would have done so and “not beat around the bush”. If Jesus thought He was God, He would have been clear. Jesus never stated, anywhere, that He was God.

Objection to Reason #9

     To start with, I am honestly not sure why anyone would argue this way. If you do not think that Jesus is God or ever claimed to be God, I personally would not use the Bible for grounds to make this argument, especially the New Testament. It is abundantly clear that the New Testament, and I would argue the Old Testament as well, teaches Jesus’ divinity with an overwhelming number of passages that would advocate such a belief.

 However, I do need to make a distinction on what I mean. Those who are on the Deen Show are quoting passages that come from the Christian Bible and my arguments are coming from a Christian perspective. I would handle this argument differently if I were responding to a Jehovah’s Witness or someone who has altered the text of the Bible claiming that their version is correct. I would like to remind everyone reading that I am not attacking persons, but a worldview that I believe is incorrect. Once again, I have a tremendous respect for those on the Deen Show who were very humble and careful not to offend anyone. I would like to show the same humility in my responses but be fierce in defending Jesus who is indeed God.

     Again, quoting a passage like Isaiah 46:9 is not going to defeat the Christian worldview. Simply because we would also affirm that God is one and there is no other gods but Him. However, once again, there has been a misunderstanding of the Christian doctrine of the trinity. Christianity teaches that God is one, but in three persons. There are not three gods, but only one in three persons. You can read the previous blog post for more on this issue.

     The guest on the Deen Show also stated that there are passages in the Bible that could be read and interpreted wrongly that suggests that Jesus is God. The gentleman gave John 1:1 as an example of this. “In the beginning was the word, the word was with God, and the word was God” (John 1:1). As we progress in the first chapter of the gospel of John, we find that the word talked about in verse 1 is none other than Jesus Himself. What is interesting however is that those on the Deen Show misquoted John 1:1 and substituted the phrase “was God” with “became God”.

     The problem with this substitution is that is falsely states what the Bible says. The passage in John 1:1 does not say that the word became God, but rather that the word was God. Whatever or whoever this word is, was already God and has always existed. In fact, if you read on for the next few verses you will see that everything in creation was made through Him. This absolutely corresponds with other passages found in the New Testament that say Jesus is in fact the creator (Colossians 1:15-20 and Hebrews 1:1-5).

     Where I think the confusion comes in is where John 1:1 does say that the word became flesh. This however does not provide a problem because all it states is that the word, who is Jesus, becomes man. Now we are back to reason #10 from before. Scripture advocates that Jesus, who is God, was born. I believe it is absolutely clear that Scripture affirms the divinity of Jesus.

     Now, I would like to state several other passages in the Bible that would affirm Jesus being God:

John 8:58-59: “Jesus said to them (the Jewish leaders who doubted His divinity) Truly, truly I say unto you, Before Abraham was born, I AM! They took up stones therefore to cast at Him: but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple”.

     This passage is huge because Jesus referred to Himself as “I AM”. This is the name that God gave Himself and told Moses to tell to pharaoh just before the Exodus. Jesus identified Himself as the God who appeared to Moses in Exodus 3:14. The Jewish leaders knew exactly what He was saying because they picked up stones to kill Jesus. They thought Jesus was blaspheming because He claimed to be God.

Mark 2:1-12. This is the story about the paralytic who was dropped in through the roof by his friends because there was such a large crowed that they could not get their friend in to see Jesus. However, when Jesus saw this, he decided to heal this paralytic, but the interesting thing to consider is that Jesus claimed to forgive this man’s sins. When Jesus did this, it made the Jewish leaders angry because once again they thought He was blaspheming, claiming to be God. “Who can forgive sins, but God along” they uttered? No one has the ability to forgive sins but God! This is the point. So in order to show the truthfulness of Jesus’ claims, he asks if it is easier to say that someone sins are forgiven or to tell the paralytic to get up and walk? So in order to prove that He is God, Jesus tells the paralytic to walk, and to everyone’s surprise, he walks! So once again, Jesus proves that He is God.

Mark 14:53-65. This is the passage where Jesus is questioned before the Jewish council. They ask Him to prove if He is the one who was to come. Jesus gave an interesting answer, “And Jesus said to them, I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven”. As a result, and should be no surprise, the Jewish leaders once more thought Jesus was blaspheming so they condemned Him.

 The reason why this answer was so important to the Jewish leaders is that Jesus was making reference back to Daniel chapter 7 where Daniel sees a figure that is given all authority and dominion. Jesus was claiming to be that figure that Daniel saw. This is why Jesus claimed to be the Son of Man. This reference comes from Daniel 7. Again, this is a third example of Jesus claiming to be God.

     Overall there are many more passage in which Jesus is portrayed to be God, but this post could continue forever. The point here is that the Bible does in fact claim that Jesus is God. God did not beat around the bush as some might suspect, but clearly presented this in His word. In the end, I am not so sure why people like to argue that Jesus never claimed to be God, because He in fact did do so. I would urge all those who doubt Jesus’ divinity to reconsider their thoughts on the matter because it is over abundantly clear that Scripture affirms this truth. In the end, every knee will bow before Jesus and recognize Him as God, even if you believe in His divinity or not. Now this is an interesting thought to consider. Click here to view the Deen Show video.


Responding to 10 Reasons why Jesus is not God…Reason #10

     It’s no secret that the true identity of Jesus is debated about all around the world. These discussions range from topics concerning the real historical Jesus to theological disputes about the nature of Jesus’ divinity. The question is however, who is right? Over the next couple of weeks, I would like to take some time and respond to a comment that was left on my blog site that challenged me to consider a video put together by an Islamic theological talk show. The particular episode in question is about a guest host, who was a former Christian youth minister, gives the top 10 reasons why Jesus is not God. My objective for this series of writings is two-fold.

     1.) I want to accept this challenge and give responses to each of the 10 reasons. In each response, I will be responding directly to the claim made by the people on the show. My responses may not be too long, but if further discussion is desired, I would love to engage. 2.) In doing so, I would like to advocate that Jesus is in fact God and that God is truly revealed through the person and work of Jesus Christ. Without His works, death, and resurrection, no one could know God in a redemptive way.

     First, before we get started, I would like to say that in me responding to these theological claims, I want it to be understood that I am not attacking the Islamic people in any way. I do not have anything personal against them. I am seeking to humbly and faithfully defend the Christian faith. If anything, this should make for an interesting discussion that could prove pivotal in later engagement with Muslim believers.

     As I was watching this video, I noticed that the host and the guest being interviewed were very humble and kind. I respect that and I commend them for taking this issue very seriously. The video is an episode from a talk show called, “The Deen Show” (Click here to preview this video), and they’re website can be found at www.thedeenshow.com. If you get a chance, you should check it out, it’s quite interesting.

#10 Reason why Jesus is not God

      According to the guest on the show the first reason that Jesus cannot be God is because Jesus was born. He argues that God has always existed, even before time. He would like to argue that God has always existed and cannot be born, Jesus was born, and therefore, Jesus does not have the same qualities as God so He cannot be God.

Response to Reason #10

     I guess my first thought on the matter is to simply ask, why not? Even if Jesus is God, why can He not be born? Cannot God do anything that He wants to? This reason of why Jesus cannot be God fails to embrace the fact that Christianity has developed a theological system of how Jesus can be both God and be born, and the system works. In order for this objection to carry any weight, more on the matter needs to be argued. Just by stating that God cannot be born is not enough to overthrow such a belief.

     Besides that, Christianity has a whole theology built around the incarnation (Jesus becoming man) of Christ. Along with our Muslim friends, Christians too believe that God has always existed, but we hold to a Trinitarian nature of God. This Trinitarian nature of God consists of the fact that God is 3 persons in one nature, the Father, the Son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit. They’re not 3 separate gods that are really one in the end, as some eastern religions might believe, but rather there are 3 persons in one nature. The Trinitarian concept of God is a monotheistic belief, only one God. All of that to say, we believe that Jesus has always existed.

     So we see that reason number 10 taken alone does not work. Christianity has a whole theology built around the fact that Jesus is God and was born. In order for this objection to work, it would have to discredit the whole of Christian belief and by itself it cannot accomplish that. However, the fact that Christianity has a place for Jesus being God and being born does not mean that it has answered every objection, but it does give us a good starting point.


God and the Promised Land: A War to remember

     In my last two posts, we have looked at two major topics that I have done research on for my senior research paper in college. In the first post, the idea of divine command ethics was discussed and then in the second, the problem of evil. I would now like to move on to my third and final part of the research, and that deals with the issue of the Canaanite extermination in the Old Testament. Many modern scholars such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and others attack Christianity in this way and argue that the God of the Old Testament cannot be the God of the New Testament. In what follows is my brief and introductory attempt at answering this question. After reading, if anyone would like to discuss further, please email or message me because this issue can go so much deeper.

     I would like to remind everyone that in this section specifically, I have quoted some work by Dr. Paul Copan and an Old Testament scholar by the name of Richard Hess. They make some interesting claims about the Canaanite issue, but in the end I am not sure I totally agree with them. It will take more study on the matter.

     The attack on God’s morality does not stop with the problem of evil however, but continues with the question of how a loving God can permit a moral atrocity such as genocide? In the Old Testament book of Joshua, readers can find God commanding the Israelite army to basically exterminate a group of tribes collectively known as the Canaanites. “Then they devoted all in the city to destruction, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys, with the edge of the sword” (Joshua 6. 21). How could an all-loving God that Christians so often talk about be so harsh and destructive in the Old Testament?

     Just like the problem of evil, the issue of the Canaanite annihilation is not easy to deal with, even for a strong Christian believer. Since this is such an extreme situation in the biblical narrative, it has been ammunition for some of the world’s leading opponents of the Christian faith. Take Richard Dawkins for example, an Oxford University distinguished professor, he states, “The ethnic cleansing begun in the time of Moses is brought to bloody fruition in the book of Joshua, a text remarkable for the bloodthirsty massacres it records and the xenophobic relish with which it does so” (247).

     This quote from Dawkins is not even the most aggressive when it comes to display of emotions from people towards this situation. Consider what Dr. Mirabello has to say about this issue, “Joshua, the legendary warlord who led the armed forces of the “children of Israel” into Palestine, committed war crimes and genocide and destroyed all that breathed, as the Lord God of Israel commanded” (1). Consider also, another quote from Christopher Hitchens, a journalist who wrote a book titled, God is not Great, “However, one mutters a few sympathetic words for the forgotten and obliterated Hivites, Canaanites, and Hittites, also presumably part of the Lord’s original creation, who are to be pitilessly driven out of their homes to make room for the ungrateful and mutinous children of Israel” (101).

     Every one of these quotes convey detailed emotion and dedication to the position they hold. These quotes, however, do not fully communicate the raw passion as well as Richard Dawkins himself does. Again, consider Dawkins on this issue, “The point is that, whether true or not, the Bible is held up to us as the source of our morality. And the Bible story of Joshua’s destruction of Jericho, and the invasion of the Promised Land in general, is morally indistinguishable from Hitler’s invasion of Poland, or Saddam Hussein’s massacres of the Kurds and the Marsh Arabs” (247).

     With unsympathetic acquisitions such as these, how can the Christian worldview possibly give an acceptable answer to a situation of this magnitude? There have been a great number of writings dedicated to answering this topic from a Christian perspective. There are several ways in which an answer can be given, but there are two that prove to be beneficial in trying to give an answer.

     In the book of Deuteronomy, the writer engages the reader with information as to how the Canaanites were dealt with, “And we devoted them to destruction, as we did to Sihon the king Hesbon, devoting to destruction every city, men, women, and children” (Deut. 3. 6). This passage seems to clearly communicate that every person associated with the Canaanite tribes was executed and that there were none left alive.

     In an article by Dr. Paul Copan, a philosopher of ethics from Florida, he suggests that maybe when the Bible speaks of the annihilation of every person, it could be nothing more than just a type of war hype. Consider what Copan says, “I observed in my previous essay that the language of total obliteration is an Ancient Near East rhetorical device, an exaggeration commonly associated with warfare”. If what Copan is saying is true, his analysis proves to be pivotal in answering this objection.

     Copan goes on in his article to back up what he is saying by using the Bible itself, “After all, the books of Joshua and Judges themselves make clear that many inhabitants remained in the land”. What Copan is saying becomes evident from a biblical passage found in the book of Judges, “But the people of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem, so the Jebusites have lived with the people of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day” (Judges 1. 21).

     Copan’s argument, though persuasive, does not fully do the trick. So what if everyone was not killed, what about the ones who were? Were small children and women included in the killings? Copan, in the same article, quotes and Old Testament scholar named Richard Hess. Copan suggests, “Hess’s research has led him to conclude that the ban (war commands from God) refers to the ‘total destruction of all warriors in the battle not noncombatants”.

     It seems now that Copan’s argument comes full circle. Copan suggests that the command to “kill all” in the Old Testament does not literally refer to all, but is a “rhetorical device”. If Copan’s biblical interpretation holds together then it becomes difficult to label what happened to the Canaanites a true genocide as critics suggest. However, though Copan’s argument is good, it only holds up on one front. There is still the question of why God would command the Israelites to go to war with the Canaanites and cause intense fighting in the first place. How does a Christian answer this question?

     There are many Christian scholars who say that in order to answer an objection of this magnitude; it is wise to call upon a method of theological study known as “Biblical Theology”. C. Stephen Evans, a professor of philosophy at Baylor University defines Biblical Theology as, “An attempt to develop theology out of the study of biblical texts” (114). When applying his definition to the Canaanite issue, it would be wise to see what the biblical narrative as a whole has to say about the problem. Once the broader picture of the Bible is seen, then it will clear up any misconceptions that people may have of the issue.

     Dr. Iain Duguid, professor of Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary, states, “the Israelites acted as the agents of God’s righteous judgment against sinners” (107). Taken at face value, this statement seems a bit judgmental on the part of Duguid, but this is an example of how the practice of good biblical theology will help. Just as it is explained in the beginning of this essay that human nature, according to the Christian perspective, is naturally prone to evil, this same concept is also applied to the Canaanite tribes. Just every person born throughout all of history is born at enmity with God; there is no difference for the Canaanite people.

     When considering possible reasons for why God would command such an order for the Israelites to do, the primary question that comes to mind is why God would do this to innocent people. Though this is a great question, it assumes that the Canaanites were in fact, innocent people. Just by nature the Canaanites were evil and in active rebellion against God. Furthermore, the Canaanites we involved in some nasty practices that anyone would see as evil. Dr. Walter Kaiser, academic dean, professor of Old Testament and Semitic Languages at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, suggests,

     “Why then were the Canaanites singled out for such severe treatment? They were cut off to prevent Israel and the rest of the world from being corrupted (Deut. 20. 16-18). When a people starts to burn their children in honor of their gods (Lev. 18.21), practice sodomy, bestiality, and all sorts of loathsome vices (Lev. 18.23, 24, 20.3), the land itself begins to “vomit” them out as the body heaves under the load of internal poisons (Lev. 18.25, 27-30)” (268).

     As a holy God, just as the Bible suggests God is, it is by His holy nature that God is in total opposition to evil and rebellion. This is why the Bible makes the claim that God is a just and righteous God. By the very fact that the Canaanites were evil, makes it perfectly clear as to why God would pronounce judgment on them. The Canaanites were deserving of a just judgment.

     This brings this third objection to its final question. Why did God use Israel to execute judgment? Was it because there were better than everyone else? The answer to that is no, and the bible actually makes it clear as to why God used Israel. This passage comes from the book of Deuteronomy,

     “Not because of your righteousness of the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob” (Deut. 9.5).

     The answer becomes apparent now, it is not that the Israelites are better, but that God is actively and rightfully judging the nations as they deserve. The same goes for the nation of Israel to at the time. They too, for practicing evil deeds, are judged by God. Just as Dr. Tremper Longman, a professor of Old Testament, suggests, “It would be wrong to say that God was on Israel’s side pure and simple” (175). Israel was in covenant with God and if Israel somehow “broke” covenant with God, they too would be judged for their wicked ways. Consider what would happen to Israel in the event of breaking covenant with God,

     “The Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. You shall go out one way against them and flee seven ways before them. And you shall be a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth” (Deut. 28. 25).

     In review of this last section, many concepts have been learned. It is very difficult for any reader of the Old Testament to breeze by stories of war and extermination without questioning, but a deeper look into the matter reveals true facts of the matter. It is quite possible that not every person from the Canaanite tribes were wiped out, but only the combatants fighting the war. It has also been made clear that not one person is innocent to begin with and that God is a righteous judge who judges truthfully. With these ideas in mind, a light in the distance can be seen to make way out of this problem.


a quick defense against the problem of evil

     Every single human who is alive and fully aware of the world today knows that there is seemingly a problem of evil all over. Everything from sickness, natural disasters, and even moral evils plague or earth everyday and people are powerless at times to stop it. The question though, is how do we provide an answer for why this is happening? In what follows is a second section from my senior research paper in which I engage the problem of evil. Just as a to reminder readers, I engage the problem of evil a philosophical and theological basis and attempt to provide an answer to skeptics who are against the Christian faith.

     Another quick reminder is that in writing this section, my intention was to show two of the most popular answers to the problem of evil from the Christian faith. Though, these two answers do work, my convictions are more towards the greater good defense rather than the free will defense, especially when it comes to libertarian free will. I am not a proponent of the libertarian view. With those thoughts in mind, here we go! 

     A second common assault on the idea of God’s morality comes from both a philosophical and personal slant. This objection is universally known as the problem of evil. The question is always asked, if there is an all-good and all-powerful God who really exists, then how could He allow so much evil to exist in the world? This question is such an important issue, that the very outcome of this argument may persuade a person to belief or non-belief in God. Timothy Keller, a pastor and theologian, quotes a woman on this issue,

     “I just don’t believe the God of Christianity exists. God allows terrible suffering in the world. So he might be either all-powerful but not good enough to end evil and suffering, or else he might be all-good but not powerful enough to end evil and suffering. Either way the all-good, all-powerful God of the Bible couldn’t exist” (22).

     It becomes clear from a testimony such as this why the problem of evil even matters. Every human being on the face of the planet has to deal with evil of some kind in their life. Evil can result from an event in nature, such as the 2004 tsunami, or evil can be caused as a result of an action or lack of action by another human. This kind of evil is known as moral evil.

     The problem of evil, though very emotional, has also been at the forefront of heavy academic debate by many scholars across the academic spectrum. In one specific essay by the late contemporary philosopher J.L. Mackie titled, Evil and Omnipotence, Mackie lays out a massive case for why the problem of evil is logically inconsistent with the belief in Christian theism. Mackie’s argument for his thinking is stated in this way, “In its simplest form the problem is this: God is omnipotent; God is wholly good; and yet evil exists. There seems to be some contradiction between these three propositions, so that if any two of them were true the third would be false” (305).

     Just by reviewing what Mackie is trying to say, it may not be clear as to why his point even matters at all. How could Mackie’s conclusion show that belief in the Christian God is incoherent? In his book, Letter to a Christian nation, Sam Harris, an avid writer on issues concerning the validity of religious worldviews states, “If God exists, either He can do nothing to stop the most egregious calamities, or He does not care to. God, therefore, is either impotent or evil” (55). Along with Mackie’s philosophical definition and Harris’ practical application, a picture of why the problem of evil presents a problem for rational belief in God becomes clear.

     Though the problem of evil is simple is description, the path that seeks to find an answer is a tough one to travel. Even the late great Christian philosopher Dr. Ronald Nash agrees, “Every philosopher I know believes that the most serious challenge to theism was, is, and will continue to be the problem of evil” (177). This is an extraordinary claim coming from an academician who was himself an ardent believer in the Christian God.  How then does the Christian answer the objection of the problem of evil?

     Throughout the course of theological and philosophical history, there have been many theories presented that try and deal with the problem of evil. Of the several arguments offered, there are two that seem to fit the bill when providing an answer for this dilemma. They are known as the “Free Will Defense” and the “Greater Good Defense” arguments. Both will prove to be satisfactory answers to the question at hand.

     The first objective is to take another in depth look at the argument that Mackie and others make. Mackie suggests that if God is all-powerful, if He is supremely good, and evil does exist in the world, then belief in God is logically inconsistent. However, just as big time philosopher of religion Dr. Alvin Plantinga suggests, “One wonders, therefore, why the many atheologians who confidently assert that this formulation is contradictory make not attempt whatever to show that it is. For the most part they are content just to assert that there is a contradiction here” (323).

     Plantinga’s assessment is right. Why must the argument that Mackie defends lead to a contradiction for the Christian? Could it be that the human mind cannot possibly contemplate the way God works due to God’s position in eternity? Christianity affirms that God is, “Declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying ‘My counsel shall stand and I will accomplish all my purpose”, (Isaiah 46.10). If Christianity is true in its claims then, how can humans argue that the way in which God is dealing with the problem of evil is not the best way possible? If God exists, it would be purely self-centered of humanity to claim that they know better than God on an issue like this.

     Could it also be stated that, if Christianity is correct, then humanity is to blame for why there is evil in the world?  If these questions are right, then just as the Christian worldview suggests, God is still all-powerful because He has set in motion a plan of “redemption” to eradicate evil. God is also supremely good in the fact that He has established an arrangement to make “right” what is morally “wrong”, and evil does exist in the world now because of human free will. If all three can be proven to be true, then Mackie’s argument and the alike contain no positive arguments for their case.

     The first of the two major Christian defenses is what philosophers call “The Freewill Defense”. Nash explains this position well, “According to this argument, God has good reasons for creating a world containing creatures that are significantly free, that is, free with regard to actions that have moral significance. To say that they are significantly free means that these creatures are free either to do A or not to do A, where A is a morally significant action” (189).

     If one were to apply this argument to the Christian worldview, it is not hard to see how it would work. When God created humanity, He created them with the ability to make morally free decisions. From the book of Genesis, we see that God gave a command to humanity that in the event of disobedience, the result would be death. “And the Lord commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in that day that you eat of it, you shall surely die” (Gen. 2.16-17).

     As the book of Genesis progresses, the outcome would end in the human’s disobedience to God, thus the reason for evil and corruption entering the world is given. Due to human’s free action of immorality against the command of God, the world now has the problem of evil as a result of humanity’s actions. One arguably could then make the counter that if God knew this would happen, why did He create humans in the first place?

     This is the logical response to the free-will defense, but it too does not prove to be effective. God obviously saw that the value of human life is worth more than the corruption it caused. This would make sense given the Christian perspective since God Himself ends up dying on a cross to redeem a fallen humanity. The Free Will Defense then seems to work despite the problems that opponents bring to the table.

     The second of the two Christian responses is known as the “Greater-Good Defense”. Dr. John Frame, a philosopher at Reformed Theological Seminary, states in his book, “Another approach to the problem of evil is to claim that the presence, or at least the possibility, of evil in the world is good, when seen from a broader perspective. Such observations have been called “The greater-good defense” against the problem of evil” (169). This argument against the problem of evil seems to carry extreme promise in answering this dilemma.

     When Christians present this argument, there are normally two examples from biblical literature that are used. The first is the story of Joseph being sold into slavery from the book of Genesis. Dr. Keller in his book, simply and accurately summarizes Joseph’s story,

     “Joseph was an arrogant young man who was hated by his brothers. In their anger at him, they imprisoned him in a pit and then sold him into a life of slavery and misery in Egypt. Doubtless Joseph prayed to God to help him escape, but no help was forthcoming, and into slavery he went. Though he experienced years of bondage and misery, Joseph’s character was refined and strengthened by his trials. Eventually he rose up to become a prime minister of Egypt who saved thousands of lives and even his own family from starvation. If God had not allowed Joseph’s years of suffering, he never would have been such a powerful agent for social justice and spiritual healing” (24).

     In the Bible, this account is summed up very well by the very words of Joseph when he interacts with his brothers’ years after the act of violence they had done. “As for you, you meant this for evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Gen. 50.20). An example would be a surgeon who cuts a person ultimately not to harm, but to heal. God intended for Joseph to go through major suffering for the later saving of thousands from death. Evil was permitted to happen for sake of a greater-good being brought about.

     Another example, and the most important within Christianity, has to be the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. Frame states, “But the chief example of God’s astonishing ways is found in the cross of Jesus” (172). It is through the death of Jesus that the greater-good model is truly displayed. The Bible claims that God sent Jesus to endure some of the cruelest and most abusive punishment that eventually leads to His death. All of this was for the purpose of redeeming humanity’s fallen nature. Inside Christianity, the death of Jesus results in the ultimate good for humanity.

     In review of all that has been addressed in this section, it is clear to see that J.L Mackie’s formulation of the problem of evil does not stand in light of careful theological and philosophical evaluation. Not only does Mackie’s argument fail to prove the inconsistency of the existence of both God and evil, it cannot account for humanity’s free-will or God using evil for a greater-good. Just as Paul says in his letter to the Roman church, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8.28).


The Reality of Divine Command Ethics and Euthyphro’s Dilemma

     The society we live in today is filled with differing views and opinions about the religious pluralism throughout the world. Of the many world religions, there is much debate over the issues surrounding each system of faith, and debates over the validity of the Christian faith seem to be at the forefront everywhere. In what follows, is a section of my undergraduate research paper in which I dealt with three issues surrounding the nature of morality when it comes to the God of the Christian faith.  Being a Christian myself, I am defending the claim that God from the Bible is in fact a morally sound agent who loves and cares for His creation. Please consider the following argument as it deals with heavy philosophical and moral implications.       

     One of the major attacks on God’s morality comes from a strong moral and philosophical angle. This objection takes in to consideration a theological theory known as “Divine Command Ethics”. Within the Christian circle, there are many scholars who hold to this view. Among a few would be Dr. William Lane Craig from Biola University, Dr. John Frame professor at Reformed Theological Seminary, and Greg Koukl the president of Stand to Reason. All three advocate the idea of Divine Command Ethics.

      Divine command ethics is a view that seeks to formulate the true basis for morality, namely, that it comes from God Himself. Consider what Dr. James Rachels, a moral philosopher who was University Professor of Philosophy at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, has to say when defining this concept, “Essentially, this theory says that “morally right” is a matter of being commanded by God and “morally wrong” is a matter of being forbidden by God” (54). In other words, morality results specifically from what God commands.

     Rachels goes on to point out in his book, The Elements of Moral Philosophy, that the concept of Divine Command Ethics “has a number of attractive features” (54).  One of these “attractive” features would be the solving of the problem of morality being objective. If God does exist, then there is no reason to think that morality is subjective because there is a higher authority giving morality a true objective grounding in reality.

     Another striking quality about Divine Command Ethics is the fact that it answers the question of why anyone should trouble themselves with morality in the first place. Again, just as Rachels states, “If immorality is the violation of God’s commandments, there is an easy answer: On the day of final reckoning, you will be held accountable” (54). If God does exist then that should be enough motivation for anyone to get their “act” together morally.

     Though the theory of Divine Command Ethics seems attractive at first glance, there seems to be an apparent fallacy within the theory itself that seems to present a problem for the Christian worldview.  As Rachels explains further, “The main problem was first noted by Plato, the Greek philosopher who lived 400 years before the birth of Jesus” (55). But what exactly is this problem?

     The predicament that Rachels is referring to has come to be known as “Euthyphro’s Dilemma”. Several hundred years before the Common Era there was a major philosopher named Plato and some of his writings were in the form of conversations that took place between another philosopher known as Socrates and other thinkers. “In one of these dialogues, the Euthyphro, there is a discussion concerning whether “right” can be defined as “that which the gods command” (Rachels 55).

      This discussion in Plato’s writings would eventually lead to a question that Dr. James Rachels and other skeptics use to show how God’s concept of morality is flawed. Consider how Gregory Koukl, a strong evangelical Christian and president of Stand to Reason states this problem in his own words, “Is a thing good simply because the gods say it is? Or do the gods say a thing is good because of some other quality it has? If so, what is that quality”?

     Rachels, being a skeptic of Christianity, takes these two questions and applies them in the same way that Plato did, but in this case to Christianity. Rachels point in doing this is to show that morality from the Christian perspective has no ground if ethics are commanded by God. So the problem is now presented as, “Does God make moral truths true or does he merely recognize that they are true” (Rachels 55). In other words, is morality good because God commands it, or does God command morality because He recognizes morality as good?

     Rachels, in his book, focuses on both questions and shows how the Christian, if asked these questions, cannot seem provide adequate answers. As for the question of if God commands morality because He sees that morality is good, if the Christian accepts this view then the implications are devastating. If God commands morality because it is good, then this means there is a higher standard to judge morality than God Himself. As Rachels states, “When we say that God commands us to be truthful because truthfulness is right, we are acknowledging a standard of right and wrong that is independent of God’s will” (57).

     Rachels actually makes a valid point here. If the Christian believes this to be true, then they are not staying true to the theological convictions of historical Christianity. In this circumstance, God would be an inferior being even to morality. Just as Koukl states and agrees with Rachels, “If the standard itself is absolute such that not even God can violate it, doesn’t this make the Almighty Himself beholden to a higher law? The sovereign becomes the subordinate”. The Christian in turn would be forced to give up the belief that, “you might know that the Lord is God; there is no other besides him” (Deut. 4.35). If God recognizes that there is some kind of higher moral standard, then not even God is the final authority, there is something else co-eternal or even above God Himself.

     What about the second question that Rachels presents? Is morality good because God commands it? Even in this question the Christian appears to be caught by the powers of philosophical logic. On this view, morality is seen to be an arbitrary command. As Koukl states, “The content of morality would be arbitrary dependent on God’s whim”.

     Dr. Rachels continues in his book to give a great example of his argument. Rachels takes the example of child abuse and applies it, “God could make an instance of child abuse right—not by turning a slap into a friendly pinch of the cheek, but by commanding that the slap is right” (56). Most everyone would agree that child abuse is wrong and even if God commanded an act of child abuse to be “right”, people would still think it is wrong. If God could get away with what Rachels describes, then morality would be arbitrary and meaningless. This would go for any other concept of morality as well. Again, consider Koukl, “Though God has declared murder, theft, and debauchery wrong, it could have been otherwise had God willed it so. Any immoral act could suddenly become moral by simple fiat”.

     So it seems that an advocate of the Christian worldview is at a standstill at this point in the argument. Does Rachels make such a good argument that there is no answer to be given from the Christian on this issue? At first glance the apparent answer would be yes, Rachels does make a convincing argument that is logically consistent. In fact, it is such a good argument that Dr. Rachels is right. There is no way for a Christian to get out of this dilemma just by choosing one of these two options. What Dr. Rachels has not considered though, is the fact that neither of these two options describes Christianity in its true light.

     Rachels has missed the notion that within the Christian worldview morality cannot be seen as wholly separate from God rendering it arbitrary or higher in authority to God, but rather, God is the essence of what morality is. Consider what Koukl has to say concerning a new third option for the Christian to grasp, “The third option is that an objective standard exists. However, the standard is not external to God, but internal. Morality is grounded in the immutable character of God, who is perfectly good. His commands are not whims, but rooted in His holiness”. If morality is “rooted in God’s holiness” then it cannot be arbitrary because God cannot make moral whatever He wishes. It would go against God’s character completely. Morality also cannot be separate from God either because God is not separate from His own character. God’s perfect goodness is a personal trait that cannot be taken away from Him.

     There is, however, biblical evidence to support what Koukl is saying. One example comes from the letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament, “So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of His purpose, He guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie” (Hebrews 6. 17-18). This passage seems to suggest that there is no way in which God could possibly lie. This biblical passage puts a damper on Rachel’s argument that morality is arbitrary when God commands it. If morality where arbitrary to God, potentially God could deem lying as morally “right”. Since within the Christian worldview God cannot lie, He could not change His mind on the issue of lying as Rachels suggests in the example of child abuse.

July 2019
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