Thursday, November 13, 2014

Five Arguments From Atheists

When I talk to atheists - which is often these days - it's very, very common for us to debate the merits of Christianity. 

As a Christian, I affirm that there is a God, that the direct revelation of God's will to mankind can be found in the Bible, and that Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins and restore us to God. 

The atheists...well, they disagree.

In debating a wide range of issues, from morality to God's nature and everything in between, there are five lines of reasoning that I hear often from atheists.

1. The God of the Old Testament was violent and wicked.

It's true that there is a lot of violence in the Old Testament. It's also true that God commanded much of this violence (e.g. Lev. 20:10; Deut. 7:1-2; 1 Sam. 15:1-3). Many atheists object to God's command to Abraham to sacrifice his only son (Gen. 22:2), even though God was only testing Abraham's faith and stopped him before he could go through with it (vs. 10-12).

Of course, there are countless examples of God's incredible mercy and patience as well, which the atheists ignore, but yes, I won't deny the examples of violent acts and seemingly harsh laws.

Atheists are disgusted and horrified by these stories, and coming from their perspective, I can understand why.

But none of this disproves the existence of God, does it? Even if God is as horrible as they seem to believe, it only means that they don't approve of God's character. I know my kids sometimes think I'm a little mean or harsh...but I'm still their father. There's no way around that.

Any parent will tell you that even though their kids sometimes view them as harsh or unfair, it's often just love misunderstood or justice unappreciated. Even though children and teenagers think they have all the answers, they are usually just very immature, ignorant and naive. Also, when I mete out punishment to one of my children, it may seem harsh to my other children or to bystanders because there are details they don't know.

Are we children? Not technically. But in comparison to God, we kind of are, aren't we? And sometimes, just like spoiled children, we accuse God of wrongdoing without knowing all the details. Without getting into every example of God's allegedly violent and harsh nature, suffice it to say that there is a lot more to these instances than you might think.

2. "Science makes God unnecessary."

The well-known scientist Stephen Hawking, once a theist, has concluded that God is no longer needed as an explanation for how the world works. There was a time, for example, when folks ignorantly believed that solar eclipses and bolts of lightning from the sky were expressions of God's wrath or whatever. God was used as an explanation of the otherwise unexplainable.

I have talked to many atheists who believe that because there is a natural explanation for everything, there is no reason to invoke God as an explanation.

This is illogical.

Think about it. Because we can explain how a computer works, have we explained away engineers and programmers? Not at all. Because we can explain how a car works, have we explained away the designers, the mechanics, or even Henry Ford? Of course not.

"But Casey, we can see the engineers and mechanics; we can't see God!" I understand that. But first of all, the point simply is that it's not logical to conclude that because there are natural explanations for how the world works, that there must not be a God. Secondly, I do not deny that believing in God takes faith. "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen...By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible" (Hebrews 11:1, 3).

In the Bible, we learn that even though God is active in the world and sustains it, the world primarily operates according to natural laws. For example, in Job 5:10 and Job 28:26, we're told that the Lord sends rain on the earth, but in Ecclesiastes 1:7, the hydrological cycle is explained. God sends rain on the earth using natural processes.

I'll even go so far as to say that because this world operates according to natural LAWS - laws that work together to sustain an orderly world - God is the only viable explanation. After all, laws infer a lawgiver and order infers an overseer. Paul observed in Acts 14:17, "Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness."

Here's the trailer for "Earth From Space," a mind-blowing video from PBS that illustrates the incredible order and complexity of the world we live in. To watch the full documentary, click here.
3. The Bible is full of contradictions and fallacies.

I have a few friends who are scientists and it's a fact that almost nothing frustrates them more than when non-scientists are careless and irresponsible with science. Like with anything else, scientific facts can be taken out of context and misused to reach the wrong conclusions. 

And yet many atheists - the same ones who can be very protective of science and hyper-sensitive to the mishandling of science by non-scientists - fall short of their own standard when it comes to their criticisms of the Bible. They cite an alleged Bible contradiction without giving any real thought to the greater context of the verses they are pitting against each another. And then, when Christians like myself offer an explanation, they accuse us of trying to "explain it away." I wonder how they would feel if I blew off their explanations of the deeper complexities of science. "You're just explaining it away you ignorant scientist you!"

In reality, many of these atheists (though not all) have a prejudice against the Bible. They're usually seeking to discredit and malign the Bible, not better understand it. For this reason, I am always so excited when I meet an atheist who seems genuinely interested in how I understand certain biblical truths or how I explain certain alleged contradictions.

One more thing...

Should a person who is trying to better understand science begin with quantum physics? Or would it be wiser to begin with basic physics? And should they consider the entire field of physics to be "junk science" or pseudoscience when they fail to understand quantum physics (as they inevitably will)?

To my atheist friends: just because you can't understand some of the deeper, meatier issues of the Bible (Heb. 5:12-14; 2 Pet. 3:15-16) doesn't invalidate the Bible or mean that it is full of logical fallacies. Be patient, please.

In other words, extend the Bible (and Christians) the same courtesy that you expect Christians to extend to science (and to you).

4. What makes Christianity any more right than other world religions?

How can I say that Christianity is right when there are Muslims who are equally-convinced that they have the truth? Isn't it the height of arrogance to tell another person of faith that I am right and they are wrong? And how can I have any confidence in the Bible as divinely inspired when there are other religious people who make the same claims about their holy books?

But is this problem unique to religion?

There are differences among historians about historical events. There are differences among politicians about policies and legislation. There are differences among parents about parenting styles. There are differences among doctors about health and lifestyle choices. 

On a scientific level, what makes evolutionary scientists right when there are creation scientists claiming to have a better understanding of the universe? What about the differences that abound among scientists when it comes to string theory, the multiverse, uniformitarianism, etc?

In the end, I cannot answer for every Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Wiccan or Jew out there. I can't even answer for every Christian. All I can do is explain why I believe Christianity is true and why you need Jesus to be your Savior. The Bible says that we're to "Test all things; hold fast what is good" (1 Thess. 5:21).

5. Religion is rooted in emotions and wishful-thinking, not science and reason.

Unfortunately, this is true for a lot of Christians and religious people. There are people who cling to their faith, not because they have reasoned it out, but because they want to continue their family tradition, or they're clinging to some emotional connection, or because they "want" to believe that it's true, or because it adds structure to their life, or...well, you get the point.

Sometimes an atheist will even share a video like this on their Facebook page just to show how ridiculous religious people are. And yes, there are people out there like this. I've seen it.

But the Christian faith, even though it absolutely appeals to our emotions and feelings on a number of levels, also appeals to our intellect. 
"And I set my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all that is done under heaven; this burdensome task God has given to the sons of man, by which they may be exercised" (Eccl. 1:13).
"Jesus said to him, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment" (Mt. 22:37).
"...that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of Glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling..." (Eph. 1:17-18).
I would suggest to you that Christians - true, committed disciples of Christ - are very interested in the human intellect and in truth. I know I am, and I have a lot of brothers and sisters-in-Christ who are as well. Again, true disciples (learners) must be!!!

And finally, to be fair, let's not fool ourselves into thinking that emotionalism is restricted to religious people only. I can assure you that some folks are atheists because they are "angry at God" or have had bad experiences in religion. Others may be atheists simply because they don't want to feel obligated to an authority higher than themselves. Some are too lazy to be religious and wear the 'atheist' label because it's convenient. In other words, not all atheists are atheists because of science and reason. So this isn't a religion problem, it's a human problem.

In this article, I've addressed five of the common arguments I hear from atheists. There are other arguments, I know, but those will have to be addressed in another article. And keep in mind that the answers I've provided are condensed; there's a lot more to say in response to each point. 

If you would like me to address a particular argument or line-of-reasoning that you've heard atheists use, please let me know. I'd love to hear from you.

Until then, take care, and may God bless you in your pursuit of truth.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Naaman's Friends

The story of Naaman the leper in 2 Kings 5 is well-known by Bible students. Our children often learn this story in 'Sunday School' - the story of "Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria" (vs. 1) who sought to be healed of his leprosy by the prophet Elisha, and was healed when he finally agreed to dip himself seven times in the Jordan River per the prophet's command (vs. 10-14).

But have you ever given any real thought to the other key characters in this story? As I reviewed this account a few minutes ago, it occurred to me that there is much for us to learn from these individuals.

Let's start with Naaman himself. Leprosy was a stigmatizing, debilitating skin disease, and so not only was Naaman well aware of this issue in his life, he was willing to do anything to be cleansed. Sin is like a disease, and we ought to be as eager as Naaman to be cleansed. In Isaiah 1:18, the LORD says, "Come now, and let us reason together...though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool." This spiritual cleansing which God offers should be on the foremost of your mind if you haven't yet received it. Ananias said to Saul, "And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16).

But then there's the young girl from the land of Israel that became Naaman's servant (2 Kings 5:2). When she learned of her master's leprosy, she said, "If only my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria! For he would heal him of his leprosy" (vs. 3). She knew how and where Naaman could be healed, and it appears that she was very excited to share this news with him. I wonder what impact Christians would have on the world if we were all this excited and this outspoken about the cleansing and salvation that Jesus offers to the world? If this girl hadn't spoken up, would Naaman have been cleansed? Probably not. How would he have learned of God's prophet otherwise?

In the story, the king of Syria sent a letter to the king of Israel on Naaman's behalf. "Now be advised, when this letter comes to you, that I have sent Naaman my servant to you, that you may heal him of his leprosy" (2 Kings 5:6). The text goes on to say that "when the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, 'Am I God, to kill and make alive...?" (vs. 7) In other words, the king of Israel viewed Naaman as a burden that he'd rather not deal with. I think that sometimes we feel like the king of Israel in this story when people with serious problems and issues come to our church and express interest in the Lord. Instead of rejoicing that they are sincerely interested in seeking God, we only think of all the work and time and resources that will be spent on these people once they are converted. Shame on us!

The king of Syria has something to teach us as well, believe it or not. Think about it. He was willing to send Naaman to Elisha for cleansing...because Naaman needed cleansing...but he himself had no interest in meeting this "miracle worker" because, after all, he didn't "need" the help. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people in the world just like this today! They are happy that others can benefit from religion, but they don't think that they personally need religion in their own lives. Let me ask you this question: could this man have learned something from Elisha? Absolutely! He could have learned about the true God of heaven, just as Naaman did. We all need cleansing, and therefore, we all need the Lord!

Of course, we have to mention Elisha the prophet, don't we? What I love about Elisha in this story is that he felt no need to impress Naaman, a very important person in the Syrian government. He didn't let it go to his head. In fact, when Naaman showed up at his door, he didn't even go out to meet him, but sent his servant to tell Naaman what he needed to do. Christians today, and especially those in leadership positions, should learn from Elisha's example here. Christianity isn't a political movement. We're not in this for the power or prestige. Like Elisha, we need to preach the truth and point people to God.

It surprised Naaman when Elisha instructed him to "Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you" (2 Kings 5:10). Naaman reacted in anger. He complained, saying, "Indeed, I said to myself, 'He will surely come out to me, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place, and heal the leprosy.' Are not the Abanah and the Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?' So he turned and went away in a rage" (vs. 11-12). This is where we meet Naaman's servants. They rebuked their master for his childish behavior and encouraged him to obey the prophet's command. After all, it wasn't difficult to dip in the Jordan River seven times, so why not at least try it? It was at their urging that Naaman finally obeyed the command and was healed. If they hadn't been there to encourage Naaman, I doubt he would have been healed. Likewise, we need to be that voice of reason to our friends, family and coworkers. Instead of getting sucked into the drama, we need to encourage people to do the right thing.

And finally, there is Gehazi, Elisha's assistant. For most of the story, Gehazi looks great. But in verses 20-27, we see this man of God succumbing to greed. You see, Elisha wouldn't take payment from Naaman for what he had done for him. When Naaman left to return to Damascus, Gehazi said, "I will run after him and take something from him" (vs. 20). So he concocted a lie and received from Naaman two talents of silver and two changes of garments (vs. 23). Gehazi thought he had gotten away with it, but Elisha knew what he had done and confronted him about it. In the end, Naaman's leprosy was transferred to Gehazi and his descendants (vs. 26-27). Of course, Gehazi illustrates for us the ugliness of greed and the fact that we cannot hide anything from God (see Hebrews 4:13). But also, we learn from Gehazi that ministry is NOT a business. We cannot view our Christian faith as a means of getting rich and famous. Paul the apostle affirms that while preachers can be paid for the work they do (1 Cor. 9:14), men should preach, not for the money, but because they feel called by God to do it (1 Cor. 9:15-18).

Can you relate to any of the characters in this story? 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Are We Blind Also?

"And Jesus said, 'For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind.' Then some of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these words, and said to Him, 'Are we blind also?' Jesus said to them, 'If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, 'We see.' Therefore your sin remains'" (John 9:40-41).
Earlier in this chapter, Jesus restored sight to a man who had been blind from birth. Can you imagine never having seen a thing? And then, can you imagine all of a sudden being able to see everything? What an amazing experience that must have been. 

And yet the Pharisees - the religious elite of the day - weren't too thrilled when they heard what happened. After all, it was the Sabbath day, and no work on the Sabbath meant no healing on the Sabbath. Instead of rejoicing with this man, they interrogated him to ascertain the Sabbath-breaker. They failed to realize (or they forgot)  that "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning" (James 1:17). 

The Pharisees were so self-righteous that they couldn't pass up an opportunity to show the world how right they were and how wrong everyone else - including Jesus - was. They liked pointing fingers. They enjoying sapping the joy out of faith. They took pleasure in making spirituality burdensome. In reality, they were more concerned about their own righteousness than the glory of God.

And so, at the end of the story, we find this interesting dialogue between Jesus and the Pharisees.

Jesus said that his mission on earth was to not only give sight to the blind but also blindness to those who claimed to have full vision. It seems to me that Jesus was using the physical healing of the blind man to illustrate spiritual blindness and spiritual enlightenment. So, in other words, Jesus was saying to the Pharisees that He came to this world to open our spiritual eyes to the truth of God.
" open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me" (Acts 26:18).
"For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6). 
But what does it mean that Jesus came so that "those who see may be made blind?" 

In John 9:40-41, Jesus went on to say that the Pharisees were among those who could see, or at least, claimed they could see. Again, he told them, "If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, 'We see.' Therefore your sin remains."

Contrary to conventional wisdom, Jesus seems to prefer blindness over claimed vision. Those who are blind have no sin, but those who claim to be able to see are still in their sins.

Ultimately, Jesus is repudiating arrogance and self-righteousness, not true spiritual enlightenment. He's not saying that those who are spiritually-enlightened and understand the truths of God's word are still anchored in the muck and mire of their own sin. He's saying that those who claim to be enlightened on their own apart from the work and grace of God are lost.

Those who come to Jesus freely admitting their need for His help and guidance will be warmly received into the kingdom of God. But those, like the Pharisees, who think they already have all the answers...well, there's nothing Jesus can do for them.

I'm reminded of the beatitudes where Jesus says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3). 

And then there's this...
"For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence" (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).
So which are you?
  • Are you blind? Jesus is willing to open your eyes to His truth!
  • Do you think you can see? If so, you are still in your sins and there is nothing that Christ can do for you so long as you persist in your self-righteousness!
  • Has Jesus opened your eyes? Keep your eyes open, dear brother or sister! Remain humble and continue in the light and truth of Christ!