Posts tagged ‘Revelation’

The Problem With The New York Times’ God Problem

The polemical can sometimes become the enemy of the thoughtful.  This seems to be what has happened in an opinion piece penned by Peter Atterton for The New York Times titled, “A God Problem.”

Mr. Atterton is a professor of philosophy at San Diego State University who spends his piece trotting out well-worn and, if I may be frank, tired arguments against the logical integrity of Theism.  He begins with this classic:

Can God create a stone that cannot be lifted?  If God can create such a stone, then He is not all powerful, since He Himself cannot lift it.  On the other hand, if He cannot create a stone that cannot be lifted, then He is not all powerful, since He cannot create the unliftable stone.  Either way, God is not all powerful.

This is popularly known as the “omnipotence paradox.”  God either cannot create an unliftable stone or He can create an unliftable stone, but then He cannot lift it.  Either way, there is something God cannot do, which, the argument goes, means His omnipotence is rendered impotent.  C.S. Lewis’ classic rejoinder to this paradox remains the most cogent:

God’s omnipotence means power to do all that is intrinsically possible, not to do the intrinsically impossible.  You may attribute miracles to Him, but not nonsense.  This is no limit to His power.  If you choose to say, ‘God can give a creature free will and at the same time withhold free will from it,’ you have not succeeded in saying anything about God: meaningless combinations of words do not suddenly acquire meaning simply because we prefix to them the two other words, ‘God can’ … Nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God.

Lewis’ position is the position the Bible itself takes when speaking of God.  Logically, there are some things Scripture says God cannot do – not because He lacks power, but simply because to pose even their possibility is to traffic in utter nonsense.  The apostle Paul, for instance, writes, “If we are faithless, God remains faithful, for He cannot disown Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13).  In other words, God cannot not be God.  He also cannot create liftable unliftable stones – again, not because He lacks power, but because liftable unliftable stones aren’t about exercising power over some theoretical state of nature.  They’re about the law of noncontradiction.  And to try to break the law of noncontradiction doesn’t mean you have unlimited power.  It just means you’re incoherent and incompetent.  And God is neither.  To insist that God use His power to perform senseless and silly acts so that we may be properly impressed seems to be worthy of the kind of rebuke Jesus once gave to the religious leaders who demanded from Him a powerful sign: “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign” (Matthew 12:39)!

Ultimately, the omnipotence paradox strips God’s power of any purpose by demanding a brute cracking of an irrational and useless quandary.  And to have power without purpose only results in disaster.  For instance, uncontrolled explosions are powerful, but they are also, paradoxically, powerless, because they cannot exercise any ordered power over their chaotic power.  Omnipotence requires that there is power over uncontrolled power that directs and contains it toward generative ends.  This is how God’s power is classically conceived.  Just look at the creation story.  God’s power needs purpose to be omnipotence, which is precisely what God’s power has, and precisely what the omnipotence paradox does not care to address.

For his second objection against God, Mr. Atterton turns to the problem of evil:

Can God create a world in which evil does not exist? This does appear to be logically possible.  Presumably God could have created such a world without contradiction.  It evidently would be a world very different from the one we currently inhabit, but a possible world all the same.  Indeed, if God is morally perfect, it is difficult to see why He wouldn’t have created such a world.  So why didn’t He? 

According to the Bible, God did create a world where evil did not exist.  It was called Eden.  And God will re-create a world where evil will not exist.  It will be called the New Jerusalem.  As for the evil that Adam and Eve brought into the world, this much is sure:  God is more than up to the task of dealing with the evil that they, and we, have welcomed.  He has conquered and is conquering it in Christ.

With this being said, a common objection remains: Why did and does God allow evil to remain in this time – in our time?  Or, to take the objection back to evil’s initial entry into creation: Why would God allow for the possibility of evil by putting a tree in the center of Eden if He knew Adam and Eve were going to eat from it and bring sin into the world?  This objection, however, misses the true locus of evil.  The true locus of evil was not the tree.  It was Adam and Eve, who wanted to usurp God’s authority.  They were tempted not by a tree, but by a futile aspiration: “You can be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5).  If Adam and Eve wouldn’t have had a tree around to use to try to usurp God’s prerogative, they almost assuredly would have tried to use something else.  The tree was only an incidental means for them to indulge the evil pride they harbored in their hearts.  If God wanted to create a world where evil most assuredly would never exist, then, He would have had to create a world without us.

Thus, I’m not quite sure what there’s to object to here.  The story of evil’s entrance into creation doesn’t sound like the story of a feckless God who can’t get things right. It sounds like the story of a loving God who willingly sacrifices to make right the things He already knows we will get wrong even before He puts us here.  God decides from eternity that we are worth His Son’s suffering.

The final objection to God leveled by Mr. Atterton has to do with God’s omniscience:

If God knows all there is to know, then He knows at least as much as we know.  But if He knows what we know, then this would appear to detract from His perfection.  Why?

There are some things that we know that, if they were also known to God, would automatically make Him a sinner, which of course is in contradiction with the concept of God.  As the late American philosopher Michael Martin has already pointed out, if God knows all that is knowable, then God must know things that we do, like lust and envy.  But one cannot know lust and envy unless one has experienced them.  But to have had feelings of lust and envy is to have sinned, in which case God cannot be morally perfect.

This is the weakest of Mr. Atterton’s three objections.  One can have knowledge without experience.  I know about murder even though I have never taken a knife or gun to someone.  God can know about lust and envy even if He has not lusted and envied.  The preacher of Hebrews explains well how God can know sin and yet not commit sin as he describes Jesus’ struggles under temptation: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet He did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15).  Jesus was confronted with every sinful temptation, so He knows what sin is, but He also refused to swim to sin’s siren songs.  The difference, then, is not in what He knows and we know.  The difference is in how He responds to what He knows and how we respond to what we know.

One additional point is in order.  Though I believe Mr. Atterton’s assertion that one cannot know certain things “unless one has experienced them” is questionable, it can nevertheless be addressed on its own terms by Christianity.  On the cross, Christians believe that every sin was laid upon Christ, who thereby became sin for us.  In other words, Christ, on the cross, became the chief of sinners, suffering the penalty that every sinner deserved, while, in exchange, giving us the righteous life that only He could live (see 2 Corinthians 5:21).  In this way, then, Christ has experienced every sin on the cross because He has borne every sin on the cross.  Thus, even according to Mr. Atterton’s own rules for knowing, in Christ, God can know everything through Christ, including every sin.

I should conclude with a confession about a hunch.  I am a little suspicious whether or not this 1,140-word opinion piece in The New York Times decrying faith in God as illogical was written in, ahem, good faith.  This piece and its arguments feel a little too meandering and scattershot and seem a little too clickbait-y to be serious.  Nevertheless, this is a piece that has gained a lot of traction and talk.  I’m not sure that the traction and talk, rather than the arguments, weren’t the point.

Whatever the case, Theism has certainly seen more compelling and interesting interlocutions than this piece.  God, blessedly, is still safely on His throne.

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April 1, 2019 at 5:15 am 2 comments

The Real Relationship Between Closed Doors and Opened Windows

Last week, Melody and I were startled awake to the sound of our shih tzu, Bandit, growling and barking frenziedly.  My hackles – and nerves – were immediately raised.  “What is he barking at?” I thought to myself.  “Is something wrong in the house?  Is something on fire?  Is there an invader?”  After I wiped the sleep out of my eyes, I sat up to see Bandit sitting on our bedroom floor, tail wagging back and forth, barking ferociously…at our cat.  There was no fire or invader.  Just a feline, as frustrated as we were at Bandit’s barking.

Melody was not at all amused by this nocturnal rowdiness, nor was she amused at the fact that, rather than putting an end to Bandit’s snarling, I just sat in bed, taking it all in.  “Get those animals out of here!” she exclaimed.  The dog and cat did eventually settle down.  But a few hours later, they were at it again.  And Melody was awoken again.  After kicking the animals out of the bedroom, I did what I should have done earlier that night:  I closed the door.  And peace ensued.

In our text for this past Sunday from Revelation 21, we catch a glimpse into the new Jerusalem, that is, the new creation which God will usher in on the Last Day.  In John’s description of this heavenly hub, I find this to be especially notable:  “On no day will Jerusalem’s gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there” (verse 25).  Like I shut our bedroom door at night to keep out the pets, ancient cities would often shut their gates at night to keep out nefarious invaders.  For example, when the city of Jericho learns that the Israelites are drawing near to attack, the book of Joshua notes, “Now Jericho was tightly shut up because of the Israelites.  No one went out and no one came in” (Joshua 6:1).  Ancient cities closed their gates.  The new Jerusalem will not.

Why will the new Jerusalem’s gates always be open?  Because unlike the municipalities of antiquity, the this cosmic metropolis will have no foes of which to be afraid.  For all of the city’s enemies will have been conquered, even as John says:  “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars – their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur” (verse 8).  Thus, Jesus opens the city’s doors.

Jesus is in the business of opening doors.  As Jesus Himself says, “Knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7).  Paul, after a mission tour through Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe rejoices that God “had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles” (Acts 14:27).  He later prays “that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains” (Colossians 4:3).  Christ’s desire is to open doors for His followers.  Even at the beginning of Revelation, Jesus exclaims to the church at Philadelphia, “See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut (Revelation 3:8).

There’s an old, oft-repeated, and tired Christian cliché:  “Whenever God closes one door, He always opens a window.”  The premise of this statement is that God will make a way, even when things don’t turn out how you might expect or want them to.  As much as I appreciate the general sentiment, I’m not so sure that the specific imagery is accurate.  For when it comes to this specific image of a door, Scripture portrays God as one who opens doors rather than closing them. If we run up against a roadblock, before we blame God for slamming a door in our face, perhaps we should wonder if the door was ever open in the first place.  Or perhaps we should consider whether it was our own sinfulness that closed a door rather than God.  In fact, the only time that God is portrayed as closing a door is in Luke 13:23-28 when someone asks Jesus:

“Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” He said to them, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’
But He will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’ Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with You, and You taught in our streets.’ But He will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from Me, all you evildoers!’ There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth.”

The door out of hell, it seems, will be locked up tight by Christ so that the gates of the new Jerusalem can be left open, free from the fear of God’s enemies.

So today, rather than bemoaning the “closed doors” in your life, why don’t you thank God for the ones He has opened for you?  For they are many.  He has opened the door to his knowledge through the pages of Scripture.  He has opened the door to forgiveness through His Son, Jesus Christ.  And He has opened the gates of His new Jerusalem so that we may come in.  I can’t wait to walk through.

September 24, 2012 at 5:15 am 3 comments

Weekend Extra – The Gift of the Gospel

In the book of Esther, the good queen Esther foils a plot by the evil Haman to exterminate the Jews after Haman becomes enraged when one Jew in particular, Mordecai, refuses to bow down and pay him homage.  Being an egomaniac, Mordecai’s insult infuriates Haman so much that “he scorned the idea of killing only Mordecai. Instead Haman looked for a way to destroy all Mordecai’s people, the Jews, throughout the whole kingdom of Xerxes” (Esther 3:6).  When Mordecai learns of Haman’s nefarious intentions, he calls Esther, a relative of his and also a Jewess, and pleads with her to go entreat the king for the lives of the Jews.  But Esther knows that such a request cannot be made without peril:

All the king’s officials and the people of the royal provinces know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that he be put to death. The only exception to this is for the king to extend the gold scepter to him and spare his life. (Esther 4:11)

To approach the king, Esther’s will have to put her life on the line.  But with great courage, Esther approaches the king uninvited:

Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the palace, in front of the king’s hall. The king was sitting on his royal throne in the hall, facing the entrance. When he saw Queen Esther standing in the court, he was pleased with her and held out to her the gold scepter that was in his hand. So Esther approached and touched the tip of the scepter. Then the king asked, “What is it, Queen Esther? What is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be given you.” (Esther 5:1-3)

With the king’s words, Esther can take comfort in the fact that her life is no longer in danger.  For the king has spared her life and has even offered to grant her request, whatever it may be.  “It will be given you,” the king says.  The story finds its happy ending when Esther requests a banquet with Haman and the king only to foil Haman’s plot against the Jews.  Providentially, the king was willing to give Esther her banquet which she leveraged to save her people.

“It will be given you.”  These are not only the words of a king.  These are also the words of the gospel.  For the gospel is a gift.  Jesus promises:  “Ask and it will be given to you” (Matthew 7:7).  And the greatest gift that Jesus has given to humanity, of course, is His own death and resurrection.  For this gift brings our salvation.

In our reading from this past weekend from Revelation 19, we catch a breathtaking glimpse of the end of time when Satan is finally conquered the Church is wed to Christ once and for all.  The song of praise at this wedding is beautiful:

Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear. (Revelation 19:6-8)

A Church once stained by the sin and depravity of her people is now arrayed in “fine linen, bright and clean.”  How does she obtain such linen?  It is “given her to wear.”  Even at the end of time, God’s gospel goes on.  The church does not earn her linens, nor does she merit them; rather, they are given to her.

Just as the bride of the king was given life by an extended gold scepter, the bride of Christ is given life by His arms, extended on a cross.  And when Jesus extends His arms on a cross, He does so with a promise on His lips:  “It will be given you!  Forgiveness will be given you!  Life will be given you!  Salvation will be given you!  Fine linen of holiness, unsoiled by sin will be given you!  It will be given you!”  This is why, on the Last Day, when the wedding of the Lamb of God to His Church finally arrives, we will be stained no more by sin.  For Christ will have given us all we need – even perfection into eternity.  It will be given you. What a gift!

Want to learn more on this passage? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Hower’s
message!

September 6, 2010 at 5:15 am 1 comment


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