Some Thoughts on Evil …

Aurora, Colorado

Aurora, Colorado (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Aurora, Colorado people are experiencing pain I can only imagine as they mourn the loss of their friends and family. James Holmes’ own family has been thrust into confusion and heartache as they wonder how someone they love so much is capable of so much evil. Throughout the United States people have been confronted with a sore reminder that it’s not just powerful dictators in distant third world countries who senselessly kill helpless people. It happens at home, and we don’t understand why.

Amidst all the pain, suffering, and confusion we look for a reason. We want to know why it happens. What goes wrong in someone’s head to make them want to storm into a movie theater dressed in ballistic gear, carrying 4 guns and some gas bombs, proclaim “I’m the joker,” open fire on people … and seem to enjoy it? It’s evil!

Some look to God as the ultimate scapegoat. He’s the one who is in charge. Where was He when Holmes strutted into the midnight showing of Batman? Why didn’t He stop it? Why did He let all of those innocent people die? If He created everything isn’t He ultimately responsible for all this evil? Why did He create evil? Below are a few thoughts:

1) God did not create evil. Evil is not a created thing. All of creation was originally good. In the beginning there was no corruption. No evil. Creation was complete. There is no indication that God did any further ex nihilo (literally “out of nothing”) creation after the Genesis 1 account. Even Adam and Eve were created out of ingredients He had already formed.

Evil is not an object, a state of mind, an idea to be pondered, or a philosophy to be understood. Evil, in it’s very essence, is de-creation. As rust is the decay of iron, evil is the decay of creation. Evil unravels creation. Evil is against creation, and against anything and everything that is good. Evil is rebellion against God. So did God create evil? No! You cannot create something that is not created, something that is ultimately anti-creation.

2) “Evil doesn’t make sense.” I recently told that to a young woman who was trying to make sense of the deep betrayal she just experienced from a “friend.” She wanted to make sense of why someone she knew would hurt her so badly, and why God allowed it to happen to one of His people. What had happened to her was evil, and there was no denying it. Since evil is de-creation, since it unravels everything that is good, since it is ultimately rebellion against God … it cannot make sense. That’s why evil makes us feel so vulnerable, anything we cannot understand or explain makes us feel very vulnerable. No wonder we tend to question God when faced with evil. But that’s not the end of the story.

3) Jesus made himself vulnerable to evil, and became the ultimate scapegoat in the greatest evil ever committed. In Christ, God is not immune to the suffering caused by evil. Evil was committed to Jesus. He was betrayed, He was beaten, He was falsely accused, He was not given justice … and we killed Him. We killed God. It was the greatest evil ever committed, and He used it for the greatest good ever imaginable. The bible tells us that “for our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). So not only was Jesus beaten, abused, and exposed to evil, he took on our sin. He took the blame for all the wrong that I did. He actually became the scapegoat that we still try to make him out to be.

Even the term “scapegoat” comes from the Old Testament. On the day of atonement the high priest took a live goat, put both of his hands on the goat’s head, confessed Israel’s sin on the goat, and then ran the goat off into the desert (Leviticus 16:20-22). The scapegoat took on Israel’s sin and took it away.

Jesus fulfilled the scapegoat’s role, so there is no longer a need for a real goat. He took on our sin and took it away from us. The great irony is that we try to blame God for the evil that people do, and 2,000 years ago Jesus beat us to the punch and took on the guilt for our evil voluntarily.

4) When we’re confronted with evil, we can truly be grateful for God’s wrath. Evil makes us angry, and it should, but there’s little we can do about it. Our anger is distorted and weak. God’s anger is good and powerful. Only God’s anger can punish evil and ultimately set everything right again. Since God is light and there is no darkness in Him, His anger is completely good and completely against evil. Justice will be served.

I hope James Holmes comes to know Jesus, and Jesus will gladly absorb his guilt. However, if he does not, he will not go unpunished for his actions. This shouldn’t cause us to cheer, but it can bring relief that justice will be served. For a little more on God’s wrath read this post.

5) One day He’ll make it right. Evil absolutely does not make sense. We are acutely aware of the need for sense to be made of it. We’re not able to make sense of it because we’re incapable of fixing it. However, one day, God will. The book of Revelation shows a beautiful picture of creation restored. Evil has been banished, beauty abounds, and Jesus will wipe every tear from our eyes. Isaiah foretold of a day when “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9). So right now we see a world that’s broken and where people commit evil that we don’t understand. But one day, that will all be over. Jesus will make all things new, and everyone who has put their faith in Him can put thoughts of evil behind them for eternity.

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He Loves Me

(This is my wife’s first blog post, a little bit of her journey)

When I found out I was pregnant I thought that God was showing His love for me by giving me a baby.  I basked in the joy every day of knowing life was growing inside me.  This was my special gift.  I knew I would feel it kick soon (my favorite part of being pregnant), I was willing to go through morning sickness (all day) again.  I was excited to think about names and to tell the kids. We were that couple that could never wait beyond the first week to spread the news.  I was sure of it, I was sure God was blessing me extra.

Then it happened.  I was sure of it, I was sure God was taking my baby away.  Why?  Why so soon?  I never got to feel it kick inside me.  We never even picked out a name.  No ultra sound photo, no baby shower, no diapers.  I never even got to find out if it was a boy or a girl. All of a sudden.  Was God not loving me anymore?  Why did He take my gift?  Why did He change His mind?

I have come to find that God was loving me when He gave me my baby and He was loving me when He took it away.  Jeremiah 1:5 talks about Jesus knowing us in our Mother’s womb.  I don’t get to know our baby, but the creator of the world does, intimately.  Our baby will never feel pain, never be lonely or scared or sad.  He or she will never know us on this side of Heaven but he/she will always know Jesus.  I think that is a gift.

I have come to realize God’s love and gift in another way.  Through the loving arms of my husband who held me when I couldn’t cry anymore.  Who rushed me to the hospital when I refused just to see if they could end some of the pain.  Who has taken care of every detail, big and small, for the past 3 days.  I haven’t even had to think of when I took my last medicine, who would take care of the kids and make them happy too.  God has loved me through our friends and family bringing us dinner, gifts and a listening ear.  People who love us to sit and cry with us.  When I woke up to “Dora the Explorer” tucked under my arm that my 3 yr old put there while I was asleep.  I am learning that sometimes God’s gifts may be different than we think they will be, or different than we would originally ask for, but they are no doubt His gifts.  And I am thankful for them.  I wish I could hold my baby in my arms one day, but I know God is holding me and my baby in His.

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A Time to Cry

We lost you almost as quickly as we had found you. Your conception was a surprise, losing you was a shock. We had already thought about what to name you and what it would be like to have a child with a January birthday (your due date was your oldest cousin’s birthday). We wondered what your personality would be like. Would you be thoughtful and silly like Noah, mischievous and graceful like Hannah, or would you have a completely unexpected and unique personality? Who was going to be outnumbered: the boys or the girls? We knew for sure that the adults would be outnumbered – 2 adults and 3 children. I have a particular affection for 3rd children. I always have, I always will …

Your sister would ask every day when the baby would come out. She must have thought that you would hurry if she kept asking. Your brother was excited too, even though he really didn’t understand what to expect. He’s already a great big brother. That would have simply continued.

I just led my first baby dedication service this Mother’s Day. It hit me that, next Mother’s Day, I would want a different pastor to lead the service so that I didn’t have to dedicate my child by myself. Now I can lead it.

You were a victim of the last enemy. The enemy that will one day lose its sting, but it hasn’t yet. The enemy that will be swallowed up forever, but that’s for the new earth. I’ll no longer be able to hear the word “miscarriage” without a twinge of pain in my gut. A reminder of the child that I had hoped would come, but never will.

I can believe with David, “I shall go to him (or her), but he (or she) will not return to me” (2 Samuel 14:23b). One day I’ll see my child. On the day when Jesus wipes every tear from every eye. The Jesus you now see face to face. The Jesus I was going to introduce you to. It looks like you may do that for me one day instead …

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Hunger Games Review

The Hunger Games (film)

The Hunger Games (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So I watched The Hunger Games. Since it’s such a cultural phenomenon I decided to write about it. I’m not a movie critic so I will focus less on the movie itself, and more on what it says about human nature – which is a lot.

Overview (Spoiler Alert)

The Hunger Games is set in a futuristic United States, which is no longer the United States. It’s now Panem, a nation divided into 13 districts. Over 70 years prior to the setting of the movie, 12 of the 13 districts rebelled against the government and lost. To pay for their rebellion, each district has to send a male and female “tribute” (teenagers chosen by lottery) to fight to the death in what becomes the annual Hunger Games. The games are televised and are as popular in Panem as American Idol once was in America.

16 year old Katniss Everdeen goes to the Hunger Games as a tribute from district 12, but she wasn’t picked by lottery. Her younger sister Primrose was picked, and Katniss volunteered to go in her place. Through skill, attitude, and cunning Katniss won. There’s only one problem. She won by outwitting the government and game officials, and they don’t like being outwitted. The movie ends by contrasting the victorious Katniss with the angry President Snow of Panem.

What The Hunger Games Reveals About Us

The movie roped me in from the very beginning. I loved Katniss, I was annoyed by her co-tribute Peeta, and disgusted by the very idea of The Hunger Games. I hoped that, somehow, Katniss would be able to put an end to them.

I’m not going to play the “there are so many parallels to the gospel” card that so many people played with the Matrix in the late 90’s. However, there is no denying that Katniss is no ordinary film protagonist. You love Katniss because she sacrificially gave her life as a substitute for someone else. Also, she and her trainer Haymitch seem to be the only two people in the entire movie who are in touch with reality. Ok, maybe Lenny Kravitz too.

Finally, even though Katniss does kill in the Hunger Games, she’s never vindictive. Whenever she killed it was out of justice, self defense, or to protect younger innocent tributes. She even tricked the corrupt government and game officials into allowing her to save Peeta’s life at the end. This was in stark contrast to some of the other tributes who formed alliances, killed for pleasure, and mocked their victims’ pleas for mercy.

The popularity of Katniss’ character reveals a deep desire for Christ in us. We are drawn to people who sacrifice their lives for others. As Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13 ESV). We have a need for an honorable hero who can also outwit evil. Who can enter an evil and tainted world without becoming tainted as well. We are drawn to characters who don’t give into self-promoting fame. So is Katniss like Jesus? No. Jesus is way better. However, the character traits that make Katniss a hero and that we love are shown perfect in Jesus Christ. If you like Katniss, you’ll love Jesus.

Controversy

The Hunger Games is extremely controversial. After all, it’s about senseless violence between teenagers. Some of the controversies I understand, and others I don’t.

First of all, The Hunger Games is marketed as adolescent literature. So part of the target audience is 12 year old girls. This means that 9 and 10 year old girls will read it to be cool. Apparently some middle school language arts teachers have even read it in their classes. I wouldn’t want my children to be reading a book or watching a movie that violent at such a young age. I certainly wouldn’t want them reading it in school, instead of under my guidance.

The controversy over it’s violent narrative structure is unnecessary, however. It shows teenagers engaging in senseless violence, but that’s not the same as promoting it. The senseless violence is clearly portrayed as just that – senseless violence. The host, Game Maker, and television audience on the movie are all moronic villains.

If anything, the portrayal of the audience on the film shows how wicked people are. Like that audience, all of us are quick to flock to something exciting just because everyone else is. We’re quick to call something good when it is actually evil. Whether we want to admit it or not, that’s the way we are by nature. Less than 2,000 years ago ancient Romans were flocking to the Colosseum to watch Gladiators kill one another. Since the Hunger Games TV Host and Game Maker are named Caesar and Seneca respectively (ancient Roman names), Collins is obviously trying to compare modern human behavior to ancient behavior. As much as we may think we have evolved to become gentle and civilized, we have not. As a friend of mine pointed out, the audience was obsessed with their own external beauty to the point of looking grotesque, but inside they’re still wicked. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9 ESV).

Perhaps the controversy surrounding the Hunger Games is that it forces us to look into the mirror far too closely. While the audience may serve as a caricature, it only emphasizes the reality of who we are. Left to ourselves we want to look beautiful, even if we are actually wicked. We want excitement and pleasure, even if it costs others their lives. Left to ourselves, we are so unaware of how wicked we are that evil will entertain us without being aware of it.

So we love the movie because we need a Katniss. But we need so much more than Katniss. Katniss lived in luxury while training for the Hunger Games, Jesus had nowhere to lay His head. Katniss is cynical and hopeless about life, Jesus came to give hope and a future. Katniss killed to save her life, Jesus laid down His life … and then came back.

For another review of the film from a Biblical perspective, watch this:

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Can’t Touch This – Final Post

Deutsch: Lutherbibel von 1534 English: Luther ...

Deutsch: Lutherbibel von 1534 English: Luther Bible, 1534 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Apocrypha

There is one set of books that Catholics consider to be part of the Bible, but Protestants (Baptists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, etc.) do not. These books are referred to collectively as the Apocrypha. They contain ancient Jewish history and teachings. Some believe disagreement over these books’ canonicity brings the entire Bible into question. Shouldn’t Catholics and Protestants be in complete agreement on what books are included in the Bible? They should, but that is outside the scope of this blog series. Instead, it’s worth defending the Protestant stance of not including the Apocrypha as part of scripture, since I’m Protestant.

There is a simple reason that Protestants do not believe the Apocrypha (ancient Jewish historical writings and teachings) are scripture: ancient Jews did not consider the Apocrypha to be scripture. The Apocryphal writings were all written after Malachi, the last of the Old Testament prophets, and before any of the New Testament writings. They were written in the approximately 400 year gap between the Old and New Testaments. No Jewish historian or teacher considered anything written in that time gap to be scripture. Jesus, who argued extensively with the religious elite of His day, never argued about what books should be considered part of the Old Testament (the extent of scripture during His lifetime). He and the Pharisees were in complete agreement on what was and was not scripture; neither party ever quoted apocryphal writings as scripture. This belief continued for the first 1,500 years of Christianity.[1]

The Apocrypha was added to the Catholic Bible in 1546 at the Council of Trent. This Council was held as a response to Martin Luther, who was challenging some of the Catholic Church’s teachings. This period of history is now called the Protestant Reformation. Some Catholic teachings that Luther disagreed with included: justification by faith plus works – instead of by faith alone, and praying for people to be saved after they have died. The Bible does not teach these doctrines, but the Apocrypha does, so the Catholic Church included the Apocrypha as scripture to justify what they had already been teaching.[2] Books that are included as scripture 1,500 years after the advent of Christianity in order to justify teachings should not be considered scripture.

Conclusion

God was faithful when He inspired men to write all 66 books of the Bible, and He was faithful enough to preserve it over thousands of years. You can trust, that when you read the Bible, you’re reading what God inspired. This blog series has only a brief explanation of why the Bible has not been changed. Many books have been written to confirm and expand what has been written here. The Bible has not been tampered with, it has not been changed, it has remained the same. As Sir Frederic Kenyon said, “the Christian can take the whole Bible in his hand and say without fear or hesitation that he holds in it the true Word of God, handed down without essential loss from generation to generation throughout the centuries.”[3]


[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, 1994), 56-59.

[2] Grudem, 59.

[3] Josh McDowell, Evidence that demands a verdict (San Bernardino, 1972), 56.

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Can’t Touch This – Part 10

The Da Vinci Code

The Da Vinci Code (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Gnostic “Gospels”

In the early 2000’s, popular books like The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown lead people to doubt the Bible. These books teach that the early church leaders and Emperor Constantine intentionally took certain books out of the Bible in order to consolidate power and to omit things about Jesus that they wanted to conceal. Many of the reasons this is a faulty historical argument are outside of the scope of this article. However, The Da Vinci Code asserts that books such as the “gospels” of Philip and Thomas should be included in the Biblical canon. This is false for many reasons.

These books are known as the Gnostic gospels, because they teach a set of beliefs called Gnosticism. Among other things, Gnosticism taught that Jesus did not have a physical body, which directly contradicts biblical books like 1 John and the first chapter of the Gospel of John. The Gnostic gospels present two clear problems. The first problem is dating. They are believed to be written in the second or third centuries AD, whereas it is widely accepted that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were written in the first century AD. The biblical canon was completed during the first century. So no one believes that the gospels of Peter and Thomas etc. were written by Peter or Thomas. These books were written, or at least completed, after the alleged authors had died.[1]

The second problem is that they include odd writings that are not reflected, or alluded to, in any other reputable writings. For example, the gospel of Thomas ends with the statement, “Simon Peter said to them: ‘Let Mary go away from us, for women are not worthy of life.’ Jesus said: ‘Lo, I shall lead her, so that I may make her a male, that she too may become a living spirit, resembling you males. For every woman who makes herself a male will enter the kingdom of heaven.’”[2] Statements like this are both odd and completely inconsistent with the Bible, therefore they should not be included as part of scripture.


[1] Darrell Bock, The Missing Gospels (Nashville, 2006), 4-9.

[2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, 1994), 67.

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Can’t Touch This – Part 9

Library--New Testament Studies

Library--New Testament Studies (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How did the Right Books Make it in?

Obviously not all ancient books, not even ancient Jewish religious books, made it into the Bible. It had to somehow be decided what made it in and what didn’t. So how was the canon (the list of all the books that belong in the Bible) decided on? This has to be decided on in two sections. The first section is the Old Testament. The Old Testament began with the 10 Commandments. Even though they were recorded in the 2nd book of the Bible, they were the first written words of God. It ended around 435 BC with the prophetic book of Malachi.[1]

The quickest way to confirm what 39 books belong in the Old Testament is through the New Testament. Jesus and the New Testament authors quote various parts of the Old Testament as divinely inspired scripture over 295 times (the Apocrypha is not quoted at all). They are also confirmed through a lack of argument. Jesus argued with the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders over many things, but one thing they agreed on was the 39 books of the Old Testament.[2] If Jesus and the Pharisees, who were diametrically opposed on many theological issues, could agree on what belonged in the Old Testament, it’s safe to say that we can trust what belongs in the Old Testament.

The New Testament Canon took a slightly more formalized approach to decide on. First of all, according to Jesus, the apostles’ would miraculously remember Jesus’ life (Matthew and John wrote accounts directly),[3] and further teaching taught to them by the Holy Spirit would become scripture.[4] Paul, who did not know Jesus on earth, boldly claimed to write scripture[5] and one of Jesus’ best friends, Peter, confirmed it.[6] Paul also quoted Luke 10:7 as scripture right beside a quote from Deuteronomy.[7] So the New Testament declares itself to be God’s Word. So how did the early church decide which 27 books were part of the New Testament?

The list of the 27 authoritative New Testament books was decided early on in Church councils. The purpose of these councils was not to give divine authority to any human writings. Instead, the purpose was “to recognize the divinely authored characteristic of writings that already had such a quality.”[8] In other words, they were formally recognizing books that were already informally recognized to be scripture by the early church. The easiest ones to recognize were those that were written directly by an apostle. That means Matthew; John; Romans to Philemon (all of Paul’s letters); James; 1 and 2 Peter; 1, 2, and 3 John; and Revelation were automatically included.[9]

Five books of the New Testament, however, were not written directly by an apostle: Mark, Luke, Acts, Hebrews, and Jude. Mark, Luke, Acts, and Jude were easy to decide on. Mark worked closely with Peter. Many people believe the content of Mark’s gospel account was based on Peter’s sermons and one on one work with Mark. Luke, who wrote the books of Luke and Acts, traveled extensively with Paul. Jude worked very closely with James and was Jesus’ own brother. Even though these men were not Apostles, they worked closely with, and were approved by, Apostles.[10]

Hebrews was the trickiest book to get approval, since its author is anonymous. At first, many people believed it should be included because it was believed to have been written by Paul. However, that could never be confirmed. Much of what lead the early church fathers to include Hebrews as part of the canon was qualities within the book itself. Hebrews clearly portrays Jesus as the Savior, the Messiah, and the ultimate hope and fulfillment of the Old Testament – and in a way that is consistent with the rest of the New Testament. It was clear that God wrote Hebrews through an unknown human author.[11]

This self-attestation may seem circular, that a book is part of the New Testament because it has a clear New Testament quality to it. However, when you consider that Jesus said “my sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me,”[12] it is understandable that He can work through His people to decide what are and are not His words. That’s exactly what happened; it is a testament to God’s sovereignty.

Over time the books of the New Testament were written and widely circulated, so the canon was not decided immediately. In 367 AD the Thirty-ninth Paschal Letter of Athanasius listed the 27 books of the New Testament as the authorized New Testament canon. This represented the view of the church on the eastern end of the Mediterranean. Thirty years later the Council of Carthage decided on the exact same list, confirming its acceptance with churches on the western end of the Mediterranean.[13]

There is a faith element in accepting the 66 books of the Bible as being God’s word, and it’s based on God’s character. “Just as God was at work in creation, in the calling of His people Israel, in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, and in the early work and writings of the apostles, so God was at work in the preservation and assembling together of the books of scripture for the benefit of His people for the entire church age. Ultimately, then, we base our confidence in the correctness of our present canon on the faithfulness of God.”[14]


[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, 1994), 55-56.

[2] Grudem, 56-57.

[8] Grudem, 68.

[9] Grudem, 62.

[10] Grudem, 62.

[11] Grudem, 62-63.

[13] Grudem, 63-64.

[14] Grudem, 66.

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