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Can You Trust the Bible? Studying the Bible

Is God an Egomaniac?

Author: Patrick Krentz Th.M., Managing Editor for Foundations by ICM

 

There is a common objection to the existence of God that has become popular on the internet and across social media. It goes something like this: A perfect, all-powerful, self-sufficient God would not need to create worshippers and demand that people worship him. The kind of God who does this is an egomaniac, and not actually worthy of worship at all. This may seem like a powerful argument when you first hear it, but let’s take a moment to analyze the question. We will quickly find that it makes assumptions that are not justified. Most importantly, it critiques a God that the Bible does not describe.

So, let’s answer not by reacting to the question, but by cutting away the very foundations of the objection.

 

God Is…

Before the beginning, there was Father, Son, and Spirit. Three persons sharing one essence. This relationship of three persons is God – or put another, God is a relationship of three equal but distinct persons. When we say God in a general sense, this is what we mean. From eternity past, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit exists in a relationship of mutual, self-giving love. Each person loves and exalts the others.

In Scripture, we see that it is the Father’s role to send the Son and the Son’s role to reveal the Father. Similarly, the Son sends the Spirit and the Spirit exalts the Son. Each person points to the others. You don’t see Jesus exalting himself in the New Testament. In fact, you see the opposite – Jesus humbled himself to the greatest possible degree, and fully submitted himself to the Father.

 

Humble God

Consider Philippians 2:5-9:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name.

Jesus began in the highest position of total equality with the Father but lowered himself to the lowest position humanity has to offer. He could have exalted himself at any time, restoring his equality, but he chose humility and submission instead. As a result, verse 9 says, “God has highly exalted him.”

Why does this matter for answering the objection? Because a relationship of three other-exalting persons is quite different from a single self-exalting deity. To illustrate, let’s move from talking about pre-creation to creation itself.

 

Why did God create anything?

If God is self-sufficient, why did he create people to worship him? What is creation in the first place? A key clue to answering this question lies in the sort of creational power God gave to his creatures – procreation. In both a physical and a philosophical sense, procreation (having babies) happens as a result of self-giving love. Each person involved gives of themself in a unifying act that results in the creation of something new.

If we relate this idea to the God who is three-in-one, we can also say that creation itself is the outpouring or overflow of trinitarian, self-giving love. God’s love is unlimited and unbound. Creation was meant to grow the family of God; to create a vast multitude of persons who could experience the joyful union of the Trinity. These creatures were made like their creator in that they could willingly give of themselves in love for others, though they did not share in the perfection or equality with God.

 

God of Relationship

In our present condition, humanity experiences only a minute fraction of the relationship for which we were made. In Eternity, we will enter into that relationship in an ever-expanding, always increasing capacity. Even though this relationship will be enjoyed in eternity with God, distinction remains between God and humanity, God is the Creator and we the creature. This distinction is essential to answering the initial objection of egoism.

A simple answer to the question, “why did God create anything,” would be: To enter into relationship with more people. But did God create us so that we would worship him? No.

God does not need our worship in any sense. He doesn’t need us to say nice things about him so that he can feel better about himself. This is not why he demands that we worship him. Instead, he demands that we worship him because he wants us to enter into the perfect, joyful relationship that he created us to experience.

 

What is Worship?

Let’s pause here and ask, what is worship anyway? If someone objects to a deity who demands worship, it might be good to know the meaning of the word before answering. Worship, by its non-theological, simple dictionary definition, means to express respect and reverence for a deity. So, God demands that we express respect and reverence for him.

Now, let’s think about this in reverse. The objection states that a deity should not require that creatures show respect or reverence for it. If you think about it, that’s absurd. If a perfect, holy, and loving God exists, the only correct response to him would be respect and reverence.

We even understand this from a human perspective. Imagine your boss, or even the leader of your country (assume for a moment that he is a great leader) shows up at your house for dinner. How should you react? Will you casually go about your business, perhaps go out of your way to microwave some leftovers for his dinner? Of course not, you will show respect according to what he deserves.

So, worshipping God is merely the natural reaction we should have toward him. If we are not acting respectfully and reverently toward him then there is something terribly wrong. God, for his part, does not desire worship for worship’ sake, but because he desires that we be in right-relation to him.

 

Conclusion

The God who demands worship gave everything to reunite us to himself. He no more needs our worship than he needs our company, but he desires (and requires) our worship because it is a prerequisite for entering into true relationship with an Almighty God. If we are to be with him for all eternity, then we will worship him for all eternity. That is merely the natural and right response to being in his presence. It is something that anyone who experiences his love will do without question.

Is God an egomaniac? Quite the opposite. He simply wants us to respond appropriately when he pours out his love on us.

Categories
Can You Trust the Bible? Church Development

Is Jesus Coming Back in 2022?

Author: Patrick Krentz Th.M., Managing Editor for Foundations by ICM

 

When you read the letters of the Apostle Paul, you may notice something surprising – he seemed to think the world would end in his lifetime. Was the Holy Spirit inspiring an error when he wrote about Jesus returning soon? It’s been two thousand years… was he crazy? What possible justification could there be for his “wrong” opinions to be codified in inspired texts? Well, I think both he and the Holy Spirit were justified in preserving these thoughts. Let’s take a few moments to consider Paul’s words, and to think about why, perhaps, we should think the same.

 

The End of the World As We Know It

First, let’s recognize that Paul did believe Jesus could return very quickly – possibly while he was alive. This would be the climax of history, the end of the world as we know it, and the beginning of the age of the Messiah. Consider his words to the church in Thessalonica who were distressed about believers who had died. These believers were confused because they did not know what would happen to believers who had ‘gone to sleep’ prior to the return of Christ. Paul reassured them, saying:

For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 NIV)

Do you see his argument? He said, “we who are still alive will be caught up.” His grammar, at least, anticipated that even he would be included in this great event.

 

Who’s Crazy?

So the question remains, was Paul wrong? Did he misunderstand the words of Jesus or the teachings of the other Apostles? And more importantly, did the Holy Spirit inspire Paul to write in error? The simple answer to each of these questions is No. Here’s why: every believer should think exactly the same thing that Paul thought and taught – that Jesus could (and would) return in their lifetime. Consider more from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians:

Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. (1 Thessalonians 5:1-6)

In the first verse of this passage, Paul explains: “about times and dates we do not need to write to you…” Why? Because, first of all, times and dates don’t matter: we need to be ready all the time. But, second, because Paul and the Thessalonians don’t know when the return will happen.

So, while Paul expects Jesus to return soon, he understands that ‘soon’ could be quite literally any time. His emphasis is not about when Christ will return, but that we should be ready when he returns.

In several parables, Jesus tells stories of those who are waiting for their master to return (Luke 12:35-40, 42-49, Matthew 25:1-13, 14-30). He severely warns those who wait to watch at all times, expecting their master’s return at any moment. Jesus summarizes, saying: “You also must be ready because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.Don’t be caught sleeping, distracted, or unprepared just because he’s been gone longer than we expected.

 

 

What’s Our Response?

Be crazy, therefore, as Paul is crazy. Expect the return of Christ in your lifetime. Live as if Jesus will return tomorrow, next week, next month, three years from now… Live like you believe what Jesus, Paul, and other New Testament writers say about the end of the world. The Holy Spirit inspired Paul and others to write about the return as imminent, meaning that it could happen at literally any moment. They were not wrong, they simply did not know when it would happen (and neither do we). This imminence of the return hasn’t changed even though it has been two thousand years since the time of Paul.

Jesus says, “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mark 13:32 NIV) He also says, “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” (Luke 12:40 NIV) If you believe in these words, they will radically change the way you live.

Peter encourages us toward this end, saying: “The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:7-8 NIV)

The End

The Holy Spirit allowed Paul’s expectations to pepper his inspired writings because this is exactly how we should think, how we should live, how we should speak. Jesus is coming back soon… are you ready and watching?

Let’s close with the words of Jesus, the very last words in Scripture, which were repeated four times in the book of Revelation: “Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20 NIV).

 

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Can You Trust the Bible?

Is the Bible Anti-Science?

Author: Andrew Sargent Ph.D., Contributing Author for Foundations by ICM

 

One of the many things that I do that annoys the easily annoyed is that I complicate supposedly simple things. When people denounce the Bible as “anti-science,” I annoy them with questions about the definition and limits of science. Then I challenge their perception of Scripture as merely a collection of unsophisticated children’s stories. 

While doing my Ph.D., I worked as a security guard at a hoity-toity high school. Once, while reading my Bible, a student said, “Why are you reading the Bible when Science has proven that there is no God?” I retorted, “My goodness, Science sure has come a long way. Last I checked, Science was limited to the material world, and was incapable of proving the non-existence of anything.” He scoffed and went on his way. This assumption was not generated in a vacuum, sadly. The student learned this disposition towards “science” from his science teacher, who once boasted to me that ‘science’ has solved nearly every great mystery of the world and has disproven the existence of the immaterial world. 

Perhaps you yourself have wondered if the Bible is anti-science. It is, after all, filled with miracles, talk of angels and demons, odd creation stories, visions, prophetic dreams, and the like. So, is the Bible anti-science? 

Quick answer: NO. 

Annoying answer: Define Science. Articulate the limits of Science. Describe the “pre-scientific” understanding of reality. Then ask me that question again.

Let’s unpack… 

Define Science

In modern times, the word science has taken on mythic proportions. Thanks to Thomas Dolby, it even has its own theme music. Unfortunately, its legend has incorporated many elements that go well beyond its definition. “Oxford Languages” defines science as “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.” In other words, science is a methodology for studying our physical world where knowledge is gained through observation and experimentation.

The Limits of Science

So, science is an inductive method for studying the material world. That’s it. It is limited by the human capacity for observation, measurement, and the ability to conduct experiments with consistent outcomes. Scientists can be considered experts in many matters pertaining to the physical world, and their knowledge should be both welcomed and questioned. Unfortunately, this does not prevent some scientists or the “Scientific-minded” from venturing authoritatively into the realms of the unobservable and unobserved.

People like the teacher and student I mentioned above believe science can “inform” or “prove” many more things than it actually can. For instance, logical and mathematical truths are outside the realm of science and must be presupposed in order to do experiments. Math is rooted in deduction, not induction. Questions about morality or the observation of aesthetic qualities such as goodness or beauty are not determinable through the scientific method. Metaphysical truths, like believing that there are other minds than one’s own, cannot be proven in laboratory experiments. Even the scientific method itself cannot be validated by the scientific method!

The Pre-Scientific Understanding of Reality

Being raised in a science-minded civilization, we tend to divide history into two pieces… scientific and pre-scientific. When we say Pre-scientific, we typically mean “ignorant of reality” and “governed by silly religious superstitions.” This is quite misguided. 

Ancient documents, like pagan myths and even Scripture, were not pre-scientific attempts at science… far from it. Humans of every age and place have observed the cause-effect structures of the material world, continually adding to the compendium of human knowledge over the millennia. We are still learning, and still find ourselves having to unlearn many things that we were absolutely certain we already understood. No, what changed between the scientific and pre-scientific eras of man is, rather, the interest that our respective societies have in the world, our perceptions of the nature of reality itself, and our purpose in seeking to understand the world around us. 

Most scientific-minded people believe they live in a world of only physical things, governed by material laws alone. They accept only material causes as explanations for all phenomena. 

Pre-scientific people were functionally-minded, living in a world of human striving to survive and thrive. They were trying to discover and describe the behavioral patterns that lead to spreading human flourishing… at least for their group. While they were attentive to material cause-effect and implemented that knowledge practically, they were also concerned with the ultimate cause behind material causes. 

We might imagine a No-Smoking sign. Some will talk about the material that went into the sign, or about the script used to deliver the message, or even the dynamics of its support. These are material-minded thinkers. The functional-minded man reads the sign and puts out his cigarette. So… who really understands the sign?

Regarding creation, we modern folk want to know how old the earth is, where all the stuff came from, the processes by which it became what it is… and we imagine that by discovering this we have come to truly understand the world. 

Pre-modern folk, however, wanted to know how the world works, so they could work well within it. Biblical literature is, therefore, as is most of the literary arts of the ancients, wisdom centered… at least in intention… and should be read so. 

The Bible is Not Anti-Science

The answers that ancient people gave about the struggle for human thriving—often articulated creatively in their myths—vary slightly from society to society, but most systems fall naturally under the label “pagan.” In Scripture, we find a radical departure from the pagan struggle for human thriving, but not a departure from their functional orientation to the world. It is important, therefore, to understand what we are reading in Scripture—a wisdom approach to reality. 

Applying a supposed scientific model of interpretation to pre-scientific stories about creation is a grand mistake. This does not make Scripture anti-science. It simply recognizes a completely different orientation to reality, to human need, and to biblical content. We must not demand that Scripture satisfy our modern curiosity about the material world; it is not written to do so. Rather we need to discern what the Bible intended to communicate about living in God’s world as it uses terms, grammar, literary relationships and structure, as well as genre to preach truth to minds struggling with a pagan worldview. 

Properly-applied scientific method, if freed from its enslavement to philosophical materialism and from the agendas of world power players, may add much to our knowledge of the processes of God in His world. Faith has nothing to fear from facts. This does not suggest that “scientists” have figured it all out, nor that what they think they’ve figured out is true. It merely holds out the possibility that man could, if unfettered by hubris and agenda, discover much more about the material world, and more easily escape their enslavement to unprofitable philosophical commitments so as to use this collection of facts wisely… i.e. to promote spreading human flourishing. 

Properly-understood Scripture, if freed from modern attempts to force its ancient texts into a scientific mold, would in turn, more easily bequeath to the modern reader its message of wise action in God’s world. 

Armed with this understanding, we are better prepared to address each instance in which some have proposed a conflict between “science” and Scripture, and can do so without fear. Neither Scripture nor faith has anything to fear from the truth. The Bible is NOT anti-science, but its authors have a different orientation to life… one outside the purview of the scientific method. The Bible is NOT anti-science, for it is the book inspired by the Creator of all.

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Can You Trust the Bible? Christian History

Can You Trust the Bible?

Author: Andrew Sargent Ph.D., Contributing Author for Foundations by ICM

 

Is the Bible Reliable?

One of the questions I get asked the most about the Bible concerns some element of its trustworthiness. “Can you trust the Bible?” 

In fact, I was asked to speak at a philosophy conference many years ago, in which my question for the evening was, “Is the Bible Reliable?” In the weeks leading up to the event, I asked the moderator for a few more specifics on what he meant by reliable, qualifying “reliable for what?” He laughed and told me to take it where I felt inclined. 

He was less than pleased when I opened the lecture part of my discussion with a list of things that we could absolutely rely on the Bible to accomplish. For instance, your Bible will hold up one corner of your couch if its leg is broken. It may be a sacrilege, but it will work. I have a friend who once used a bible to defend us against a street gang intent on robbing us. It was efficient. Indeed, a good Bible will even stop most bullets… assuming it’s not a digital one on your smartphone. 

 

What Can’t You Rely on the Bible to Do?

I followed with a list of things that one could NOT rely on the Bible to do. You cannot rely on all of Scripture to be easy to understand or to give up all its secrets to the casual observer. You cannot rely on the Bible to reflect your own cultural or personal sensibilities back to you, or to use all your own categories for understanding the world. Scripture is neither a math text, nor an encyclopedia, nor dictionary, nor a comprehensive history of the world written with modern standards of what does and does not constitute history. It is not a manual on psychology, philosophy, economics, nor is it a textbook on biology, archaeology, linguistics, physics, chemistry, anthropology, or medicine. 

This does not make its literature primitive babble, nor insist that the Bible is utterly useless when discussing these matters, but it does mean that the authors’ orientation to the world, their vocabulary, and categories will not replicate our own. It does mean that the intention of the writers is not to satisfy inquiring minds, but is to impart a specific body of understanding and wisdom to the diligent student. 

 

The Cosmology of Scripture

While we categorize the animal world with mammals, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and the like, it is perfectly acceptable for the inspired writers to present a world organized around different categories, like swims, crawls, or flies. In that case, a whale can be called a great fish, a bat can be classed with birds. My inability to trust Scripture to organize reality as my modern mind does is NOT a testament to its frailty, but to the important distinction between wisdom and knowledge. 

The cosmology of Scripture, for instance—the vision of the structure and nature of the world—has the disadvantage of being almost entirely presented in poetry, making their beliefs about material world forces difficult to discern with precision. For instance, it is plain from the historical texts written in prose—normal talk—that the ancients understood quite well that rain came from clouds and that clouds were made of water, but that does not keep their prophets from recording God’s poetic challenge to Job and his friends saying, “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow, or have you seen the storehouses of the hail…?

Just so, sailors have known for ages that the earth is round, witnessing at sea as the hulls of ships disappeared from view before their sails, exposing the curvature to view. In fact, the Greek mathematician Eratosthenes discovered the circumference of the earth with a stick and a shadow almost three centuries before Jesus walked the shores of the Mediterranean. 

There is a big difference between what the arrogance of modern souls imagine about the ignorance of the past and what the ancients actually knew. We can trust the Scriptures to present to us the divine wisdom of the ages in an ancient husk if we are wise enough to wrestle our way to it. Hubris will sabotage us.

 

Is Scripture a Science Book?

Let’s finish with one more. You cannot rely on Scripture to be a science book. The scientific method was articulated millennia after the writing of even the newest Scriptures. Our particular way of thinking about and talking about the world as scientific-minded readers (however poorly we do at it) will not be reflected back at us. This does not make Scripture untrustworthy or wrong, rather it qualifies the kinds of discussions we can and cannot have with the Biblical text. 

For example: The Creation story of Scripture, which in truth stretches from Genesis 1 through Genesis 11 is not interested in our modern ontological curiosities about the origin of the material world. The Biblical Creation story is more interested in functional ontology than material ontology. Scripture tells us not about the origins of all the stuff, beginning its tale with the material world in place, unformed as it was, but does tell us about the nature of divine order in creation as God takes that material and turns it into a functional world. 

We want to know “when” and “how,” but the author of Genesis wants to talk about “Who,” and “Why,” and “What.” Who made the world? What did He make the world to be? Why did He make the world? How did He make it function? The ultimate question then becomes a wisdom question: How can I function best in the world that Yahweh made and that man has influenced? This is the Bible’s bailiwick. 

 

The Truth of the Bible and Our Holy Creator

The inspired descriptions of creation are made within the bounds of interest for the inspired writer, dealing with the realities of a world drowning in paganism. Therefore, I cannot rely on him to dazzle me with a scientifically definitive answer to questions of “when” and “how,” but I CAN rely on the prophetic writer to tell me the truth about life before the one Holy Creator of all. I can trust him to tell me the truth about the fundamental problem in the world’s systems. I can trust the Bible to speak the truth about the hope that we have for redemption and restoration in the salvation plan of that Holy Creator. 

This does not mean that the inspired writers are ignorant clods on all matters we would regard as scientific. They lived and prospered in their world far better than most of us would if magically transported there. True, we understand many things that they do not. We know how far the moon is from the earth. We know what the bottom of the ocean looks like. We even know the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow. But we don’t know many things that they understood intuitively and that they learned by lived experiences so different from our own. 

It reminds me of the punch line in the majestic poem in Job 28, which after detailing all the then-modern accomplishments of man, asks the more meaningful question. We find boasts like those in verses 3 & 4, saying, “Man puts an end to darkness, And to the farthest limit he searches out. The rock in gloom and deep shadow. He sinks a shaft far from habitation, forgotten by the foot” But, the poet turns to the important counter in verses 12 & 13, “But where can wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? “Man does not know its value, Nor is it found in the land of the living.

 

Can You Trust the Bible?

We can put an astronaut on the moon, but living peaceably with our fellow man is often beyond us. We can map the human genome but do not know how to cultivate truth and integrity. We may rightfully boast the former, but it is Scripture that will guide us in the mastery of the latter. 

As we continue to unpack the question, “Can you trust the Bible?” let us escape the simple-minded approaches to Scripture common to modern readers who have not learned to think reasonably or wisely about their own questions and expectations. Instead, let us articulate exactly what we mean (and don’t mean) when we ask, “Can I trust the Bible?” and continue the investigation in coming posts. 

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