Thursday, January 26, 2012

Dealing with the Problem of Evil, Pt 6



We’ve been taking some time to deal with the problem of evil.  The problem of evil, loosely stated, is that given the existence of evil in the world, it is unlikely, if not impossible, that an all-good, all-knowing, and all-powerful God exists.  Many people believe that the problem of evil is the great unanswerable objection to belief in God.  However, a little reflection shows that the existence of evil is a far greater difficulty for atheists. 
Atheists recognize evil just like you and I do.  They read the news and hear about all the child abuse, rape, torture, murder, and genocide going on in the world.  And like us, they deplore it.  They deplore it and condemn it in adamant, objective terms.  Their conviction that the existence of evil demonstrates that God does not exist is based upon the presupposition that if He did exist, He ought to have done something to prevent evil. 
That word “ought” is the crux of their problem.  On what basis are they able to determine what ought to be?  According to what standard are they even able to recognize what evil is?  The fact is that their innate sense of good and evil, right and wrong, is incompatible with their own worldview.  They believe that the only things that exist are material, that the world is a closed system of physical processes.  Richard Dawkins explains what should be expected from an evolutionary, atheistic understanding of reality:
In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication some people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice.  The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no other good.  Nothing but blind pitiless indifference.[1]
Dawkins is right – not about atheism being true, but about the ramifications of an evolutionary, atheistic view of the world.  If atheistic presuppositions are true, there can be no design, purpose, evil, or good.  The universe is just a huge pot of random processes.  There can be no “ought,” only “is.” 
Yet, atheists cannot help but make moral judgments.  They cannot help but seek justice and abhor injustice.  They cannot help but make claims about what ought to be.  And their worldview cannot account for that universal impulse. 
Whenever you and I drive a car we are expected to drive the speed limit.  Our speed is expressed in miles per hour.  The only reason we are able to comply with the law is because there is an objective standard for a mile and an objective standard for an hour.  A mile is 5,280 feet.  An hour is 60 minutes.  Without those objective measures, the expression “miles per hour” would be completely meaningless. 
Likewise, the only reason the human race is able to recognize good and evil is because we have an objective standard of good.  That objective standard is the character of God (Psa 100:5; 106:1; 107:1; Luke 18:19; 1John1:5).  The character of God is expressed in His Word in the form of biblical law.  All people have knowledge of this law because it is written on the human heart in the form of the conscience (Rom 2:14-16). 
If there is no God, there is no objective standard of right and wrong.  In other words, if there is no God, what is good?  What is evil?  The atheist is left without a way to answer that question.  And when he points to evil in an attempt to argue that God does not exist, he presupposes the existence of an objective standard of good and evil – God Himself.


[1] Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (New York: Basic Books, 1995), 133.
Posted by Greg Birdwell

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Transforming Power of the Gospel


The New Testament is clear that God’s purpose for those whom He redeems is not complete at our justification.  When we repent of our sin and trust in Christ to save us, and are declared righteous before God due to Christ’s own righteousness being imputed to us, that is only the beginning of God’s work in us.  Paul writes in Romans 8:29, For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.  This process of our being conformed to Christlikeness (becoming like Christ in our character and conduct) is called sanctification.  It is God’s design that every believer would progress to that standard of holiness.
There is a great deal of confusion in the church about how sanctification happens.  It seems that many of us err in one of two directions.  Some of us live as if our transformation into the image of Christ is a work completed by our own effort alone.  We attempt to rid ourselves of sinful attitudes and actions by sheer willpower. While we may accomplish some change in this way, it is usually only temporary.  Inevitably, we are unsuccessful in achieving lasting change, and extreme discouragement sets in.
Others of us live as if our transformation into the image of Christ is a work completed by God without any exertion of our own.  Some have called this the “let go and let God” approach to sanctification.  We think that if we will just think hard about the truths of what God has done for us, we will automatically be changed in our attitudes and actions.  Undoubtedly, God does work change in us, but the New Testament repeatedly teaches that we are to expend great effort in pursuing Christlikeness (Phil 2:12-13; 1Tim 4:10; Heb 12:14; 2Pet 1:3-7).  Expecting God to sanctify us without any work on our part is itself disobedience.
So how do we maintain the right balance between depending upon God and actively pursuing obedience?  The key is in understanding the role that the gospel plays in our sanctification. 
You may have heard it said that the same gospel that saves us sanctifies us.  What does that mean?  And how do we appropriate the truth and power of the gospel in our everyday battle against sin?  We’ve been looking at this issue in our Wednesday night study on dealing with anger.  This is a teaching that is desperately needed in the church.
That’s why I’m grateful to God for a new book by Jerry Bridges that just came out, entitled, The Transforming Power of the Gospel.  This is easily the best book I have read on the subject of how sanctification works and what part the gospel plays in that process. 
On the inside cover of the book, Bridges writes this:
            Transformation into the image of Jesus is much more than a change of outward conduct; rather, it is a deep penetrating work of the Holy Spirit in the very core of our being, what the Bible calls the heart – the center of our intellect, affections, and will.  It is what is sometimes called “a change from the inside out.”
            But though the transformation process is primarily a work of the Holy Spirit, it very much involves our earnest, active pursuit of that holiness without which no one will see the Lord.  So what is it that will engage our affections or desires to earnestly pursue transformation into the likeness of Jesus?  What is it that will inspire us to want to do what we ought to do?
            This is a major question that we’ll seek to answer in this book.  Its answer is one of the key lessons I have learned in my own journey toward spiritual transformation.
In the book, Bridges addresses such topics as what the gospel is, how we can embrace the gospel daily, how the gospel motivates us toward obedience, what grace is, how to understand the Holy Spirit’s work in us, what role spiritual disciplines play in our spiritual growth, and how God uses adversity to spur us on to greater maturity.  This is a book that will be difficult for me to leave on the bookshelf – I will be keeping it close at hand. 
Jerry Bridges writes in a very conversational style.   All of his books are easy reads.  This one is no different.  Please consider ordering a copy for you and your family.  It is well worth the time and money.

Posted by Greg Birdwell

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Does Jesus Hate Religion?

Recently a Youtube video went viral with a catchy poem about Jesus and religion. Even today in church people were discussing it and considering the arguments that were presented.

I wanted to offer my comments but I could do no better than those made by Kevin DeYoung. You can view the video and his assessment of it here. I think he did an excellent job.

Here is one quote from his blog:
"We love the Jesus that hates religion. The only problem is, he didn’t. Jesus was a Jew. He went to services at the synagogue. He observed Jewish holy days. He did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them (Matt. 5:17). He founded the church (Matt. 16:18). He established church discipline (Matt. 18:15-20). He instituted a ritual meal (Matt. 26:26-28). He told his disciples to baptize people and to teach others to obey everything he commanded (Matt. 28:19-20). He insisted that people believe in him and believe certain things about him (John 3:16-18; 8:24). If religion is characterized by doctrine, commands, rituals, and structure, then Jesus is not your go-to guy for hating religion."

Posted by Rick Jones


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Dealing with the Problem of Evil, Pt 5


(Click here to read the previous entries in this series: Part 1   Part 2   Part 3   Part 4)
In the past few weeks we have been looking at the problem of evil, which refers to a common objection to belief in God.  To some, there seems to be a logical contradiction between the existence of a good, all-powerful, and all-knowing God and the existence of evil.  If God is good and knows how to prevent evil and has the power to prevent evil, why does evil exist?  For some, the existence of evil represents an impassible barrier to belief in God.
The simplest way to deal with this objection is to show that the problem actually does not exist.  Last time, we noted that the Bible does not recognize the existence of God and evil as a problem.  Scripture teaches that God is real and that He is good, omnipotent, and omniscient.  It also teaches that evil exists and that God is not responsible for it.  As far as the Holy Spirit-inspired biblical authors were concerned, there is no contradiction.
We can also show that the problem of evil does not exist based on the logical premises in the classical statement of the problem.  The classical problem can be stripped down to the following premises:
1.     God exists.
2.     God is omnipotent.
3.     God is omniscient.
4.     God is omnibenevolent.
5.     Evil exists.
Many believe that all five of these cannot be true, that they hold an irreconcilable contradiction.  Alvin Plantinga, a reformed Christian philosopher and apologist, asks the question, “Where is the alleged contradiction?”[1]  A true contradiction is a set of claims that a proposition is both true and false at the same time and in the same sense.  For example, “It is true that my office is painted blue and it is false that my office is painted blue.”  That is a true contradiction.  None of the propositions above contradict any others.
In fact, the only way that a problem can be created is if we make inferences from the above propositions.  For example, those who want to discredit belief in God by using the problem of evil usually make the following inferences:
1.     If God is all-powerful, He is able to prevent evil. 
2.     If God is all-knowing, He knows both how and when to prevent evil. 
3.     If God is loving and good, He wants to prevent evil.   
Then a fourth inference is made:
4.     An all-powerful, all knowing, and good God will always choose to prevent all evil. 
These inferences may sound reasonable, but they do not all necessarily follow from the original premises.  There are serious problems with inferences 3 and 4.  Those in the reformed tradition would contest both of them.  It is true that our good, omniscient, and omnipotent God wants to prevent evil much of the time and does prevent evil much of the time, but the Bible clearly teaches that there are times when God’s higher goal of bringing glory to Himself entails allowing evil.  In other words, there are times when God pursues a greater good than the good that would have become of His preventing an evil act.
A great biblical example is the story of Joseph being sold into slavery in the book of Genesis.  In ch37, Joseph’s brothers threw him into a pit and sold him as a slave to a caravan of Ishmaelites, who then sold him to Potiphar in Egypt.  This was undoubtedly an evil act, and we know that Joseph’s brothers knew that it was evil because they covered up their crime, and they were fearful when Joseph confronted them in ch45. 
But Joseph himself gives the God’s-eye-view interpretation of these events.  Having ascended from a lowly slave to the second in command over all Egypt, Joseph says to his brothers, “And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.  For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest.  And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God” (Gen 45:5-8 ESV).
God’s intent in allowing Joseph to be sold into slavery was to preserve the family of Israel from the coming famine, and therefore to keep His promise to Abraham that he would be the father of many nations.  This played a significant role in salvation history by placing all of Israel’s descendants in Egypt, so that they could be enslaved there, so that they could be saved from Egypt in the exodus, which setup the rest of Old Testament history and provided a picture of the redemption that God would one day accomplish through Christ in bringing us out of death into life. 
Clearly, this shows that God does use the evil of men to bring about His own good purposes, both the salvation of His people and the glorification of Himself.  It simply does not follow that if God is good and all-powerful and all-knowing, it will always be His greatest desire and plan to prevent all evil. 
For the problem of evil to be successful, inferences must be made from the premises of the problem.  But as we can see, those inferences are untenable.  No atheistic philosopher has ever been able to demonstrate a true contradiction in the problem of evil. 
Though many atheists have considered the problem of evil to be the silver bullet that destroys theism, they don’t seem to realize that the existence of evil is a far bigger problem for those who don’t believe in God.  We’ll look at that next time.


[1]Alvin Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974).
 Posted by Greg Birdwell

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