For Rewind Wednesday, check out the post below from November 2021, based on Ecclesiastes 7:9-10 – ““Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools. Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.”
Dear fellow travelers,
Continuing a theme from a post earlier this week, today’s rewind is another post about nature and how it is not yet what is meant to be.
Let us rejoice in the hope of paradise the very trees look forward to!
Read the full post at the link below.
(Estimated reading time only 1 minute!)
[Note to readers: Other than this note and minor edits this is the third post from a short-lived, now-defunct blog from 2011. The first two are here and here, and this one builds from those. I’m considering adding in some similar work to the new site – let me know what you think!]
Luke 14:23 “Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.”
This verse is part of a larger parable about how the master invited many, but many of those declined the invitation. So, the master, wanting a full house, asks the servant to go outside the original invitation list and bring in whoever will come. However, the use of the word “compel” has led members of the church over the centuries to use the verse as justification for the use of violence to bring people into the church.
Observing the methods of the state and other Christian sects of his day, even Saint Augustine – one of the most influential writers in all of Christian history – used this verse and other “proof texts” to justify force. Augustine argued that Christ used force to compel Saul (who became the Apostle Paul) to believe in and follow Him and therefore provided a precedent (text here). Augustine’s arguments were copied in defense of the Spanish Inquisition and other blemishes on the historical record of the church. Essentially, this verse has been used to justify the means toward an end.
Critics of Christianity have, of course, jumped on the opportunity. Christopher Hitchens, one of the “New Atheists”, makes statements like “The real axis of evil is Christianity, Judaism, and Islam”, and that religion is “the main source of hatred in the world”. The evidence comes from well-known historical events, and incidentally these arguments have helped sell a lot of books.
However, is “Christianity” the culprit, or are people the problem? Did some followers of Christ get the wrong message? Could Augustine have been wrong? Are all those who claim to act for Christ really being faithful to Him? Is it logical, or even responsible, to blame the actions of a group of people on a person they claim to follow, even if the one would clearly disapprove of them?
Isn’t lumping all Christians, Muslims, and Jews in with the most violent examples of people who claim those faiths like lumping all atheists in with Stalin or Mao? Because some practice a perverse form of the original philosophy, does that make the whole philosophy rotten? Is the philosophy at fault?
The Bible is very clear that there is a distinction between those who call themselves Christian and those who actually are – a distinction that many who criticize “the church” ignore. Matthew 7:21-23 says: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”
The Bible is also very clear that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Nobody’s perfect, or even close. Most of the Bible is the story of the failures of people who can’t follow the will of God, but that God loves and accepts them anyway. More failures should not be a surprise, and the church would be wrong to ignore them – but instead these are evidence that man needs help, and that God’s capacity for forgiveness is vast.
Apparently the “New Atheists” find themselves in an interesting position. They are actually in agreement with Jesus, who saved his harshest words for those who used the church for its own purposes and twisted His commands. He hated hypocrisy, and called out hypocrites in public quite often, calling them a “den of thieves”, and a “brood of vipers”, among other names. From this perspective, “Christianity” is not the culprit of these crimes, but some people calling themselves “Christian” are the culprit. Or, another perspective: Christopher Hitchens’ “hypocrite” or “demon” is Martin Luther’s doctrine of “Simul justus et peccator” (simultaneously righteous yet still a sinner).
So, what does all this mean for the modern church?
A better interpretation (unless you are an Inquisitor or a New Atheist) of “compel them to come in” is found in Matthew Henry’s commentary on Luke 14:23, which says “compel them to come in, not by force of arms, but by force of arguments. Be earnest with them; for in this case, it will be necessary to convince them that the invitation is sincere and not a banter; they will be shy and modest and will hardly believe that they shall be welcome.”
In Jesus’ day, a Gentile would have been shocked to be invited into a Jewish community, and likely would have been apprehensive or suspicious. As I wrote earlier, the people who were not on the original guest list might need some convincing. After all, Jehovah had always been the God of the Jews, and there was a good degree of history between the two groups. Would an outsider need a compelling reason to come in, or would a simple hello suffice?
Exactly what these compelling reasons are is too large an issue for this post, but I’ll say that if force or reason (alone) is the method of compulsion, the church will likely be full of people like the man who follows Jesus because his neighbor was struck by lightning (see my last post). Their brain is convinced, or they are afraid to say no, but they aren’t really committed. A church full of these people is not likely to be “compelling” to the next generation of churchgoers.
The larger issue is the pressure the church has always faced to increase membership, and if the results don’t come, there’s a big temptation to find a way. After all, if hell is a terrible place, and we don’t want people to go there, don’t the ends justify the means? However, God supplies the means, and ignoring them shows a lack of faith, not a strength of conviction. The Inquisitor is not a hero of the church, but a villain. God tells us how He wants the church to witness to the world, and it does not involve violence.
In our desire for “results”, we often become like the disciples in Mark 9:14-29. Unable to drive out a spirit, the disciples became agitated. The problem? Jesus reminds them: “This kind can come out only by prayer”. Disciples of God are supposed to accomplish God’s ends by God’s means.
God’s chosen means do not depend on reasoned arguments and force of strength, “But God chose what the world considers nonsense to put wise people to shame. God chose what the world considers weak to put what is strong to shame.” (1 Cor 1:27) When preaching to the Corinthians, Paul “didn’t use intellectual arguments. That would have made the cross of Christ lose its meaning.” (1 Cor 1:17) This is, of course, the same Paul that Augustine says is the precedent for conversion by force.
The church has sometimes pursued an end by force cannot be achieved by reason or forceful compulsion, but must be catalyzed by God Himself. As I pointed out in my first post, if being witness to incredible supernatural events cannot compel belief, why would so many believe that logic or force could compel belief?
“For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” (1 Cor 1:25)
[Note to readers: Other than this note and minor edits this is the second post from a short-lived, now-defunct blog from 2011. The first post is here. While working on the next set of new long form posts, I will re-post what ended up being only 3 apologetics-focused posts from 2011 each Saturday. I’m considering adding in some similar work to the new site – let me know what you think!]
John 12:28 – [Jesus said] “Father, glorify Your name. Then a voice came from heaven, saying “I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.”
Have you ever heard a voice from heaven? If you did, how would you know to believe it?
When this voice spoke, the hearers still had to decide whether or not to believe it. In John 12, not everyone on the scene had faith that this voice was actually God. Not everyone who heard it decided that this God deserved their obedience. As in my last post, these people were eyewitnesses to a supernatural event that many today would be thrilled to see, to “prove” God’s existence.
Suppose someone on the scene looked up at the sky and said: “Who do you think you are? I don’t know who this ‘Jesus’ guy is, and I sure don’t know who you are – why should I follow you?” The voice from heaven responds with a bolt of thunder, and this poor man is now a dead smoldering heap.
Now, the man next to this one could be thinking: “I really should follow this Jesus person, because if I don’t, the next bolt could be for me.” Perfectly rational, a solid example of reason. But, this reason is not the same as faith. This man’s other response could be: “Jesus really is the Son of God, and deserves my loyalty. I’m grateful that He is willing to accept me as I am.” Did the lightning really provide convincing evidence of this? Are there still other alternatives? Could the voice have been some other deity trying to gain followers? Perhaps, so therefore this second response is more like faith than reason.
Even faced with overwhelming evidence, “reason” does not power a decision to truly make a decision, “faith” does. Reason can lead a horse to water, but it can’t make him drink. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph 2:8) (Not to have a predestination argument here, but I think most Christians would agree that faith would be meaningless without grace, and vice versa – and that either or both come from God to one who does not deserve or earn it)
Claims contrary to Christianity also require a supernatural faith (albeit one without a source), and here are two examples:
1) “There is no God” – Some say that if he exists, he should show himself. Of course, as we have seen, even those who claimed to know Jesus Himself and witness his miracles say this would not convince a skeptic who decided not to believe. Also, how does one prove God does not exist? Europeans used to believe there was no such thing as a black swan because they had never seen one – until they traveled more of the world. They could never prove that black swans did not exist, but they could (and did) believe it. To prove it, they would have to be personally present in all parts of the universe at all times simultaneously – in essence, they would need to be God to prove that all swans were white. “There is no God” cannot be proven by reason, but a skeptic can claim that they have not witnessed God in their experience, and that they have faith that God does not exist outside their experience.
2) “Man is the result of purely natural processes” – If “natural” is that which science has explained, and “supernatural” is everything else, it turns out that this is a claim about the supernatural, not a claim that there is no supernatural. If you change “observed” to “observable” in Merriam-Webster’s definition of “supernatural” (“of or relating to an order of existence beyond the visible observable universe”), you see this distinction. Merriam-Webster takes for granted that all things “supernatural” will become “natural” through scientific advancement in the way the current majority thinks they will. The consensus in Galileo’s day was that everything revolved around the earth – but the consensus was proved wrong. Proving that man is purely natural requires that the current thinking on evolution is correct, and that nothing outside of current knowledge could ever possibly over-turn it.
However, in the words of GK Chesterton, “Science knows nothing whatever about pre-historic man; for the excellent reason that he is pre-historic.” The “evidence” for one species changing into another is based on deductions from historical fossils, not on eyewitness accounts. In modern labs, we have seen species mutate and acquire new traits, but we have not yet seen lab results of a monkey (or anything else) mutating into a man. The theory of human evolution makes a lot of claims about the history of mutations across species. It takes the observed changes within a species, and assumes that over millennia these mutations lead to one species changing into another, then another… It claims that future evidence will inevitably support current evidence, in spite of the fact that evidence for evolution has been overturned repeatedly in history. What I was taught in middle school was different than what I was taught in college. If the historical track record is not that good, why have faith that the future track record will be perfect? Evolutionists refer to the process of discovery by trial and error consistently as “progress”, but is it always? Unless you already know beyond any shadow of doubt what you are progressing toward, how do you know you are progressing?
I’m not claiming to have dis-proved evolution here, but only to show that to prove it beyond a shadow of any possible doubt is beyond the power of reason. It’s another black swan.
So, the claim that there is no supernatural, is a claim about the supernatural. These are claims that would require supernatural means to prove. They require seeing the future and the past. To believe a supernatural claim without supernatural evidence requires faith. It is beyond reason and proof. To me, the evidence and the logic do not live up to the claims they want to support.
Some may say I’m stretching here, and providing a no-win situation for the materialist, but even if scientific advancement somehow demonstrates in a lab everything that evolution claims, evolution still falls short because it is not really a theory of origins. It is a theory about how the current inhabitants on Earth grew from previous ones. But where did the original ones come from? Why does the universe follow certain patterns and laws? Where did those come from? Scientists would simply have moved from taking evolution on faith to taking these answers on faith, and making assumptions about the future evidence.
There will always be such a thing as the “supernatural”. Although science will continue to advance, the amount of total knowledge in the universe will always be larger than the quantity of human understanding. All people speculate about what’s out there in that realm we can’t reproduce in a lab. Many people have dogmas about what’s in that space – evolutionists believe that everything they do not understand yet will confirm that there is no God; religious people of all types believe that there is enough evidence in the world we’ve already observed to warrant the possibility of a God.
All people have faith – just in different things. Materialists fail to explain how man, as a mere complex set of materials and chemical reactions, consciously and intentionally goes about his life pondering deep thoughts about the origin of himself, while an earthworm does not bother. Christians – even the authors of the Bible – fail to explain how some consciously and intentionally choose faith when in the presence of miracles, while others do not (other than to say that “God did it”).
On the one hand, you have the supernatural claims of natural men. They claim two things: 1) that they (and you) are the accidental result of millennia of chemical mutations, and that these chemicals follow rules that they do not know the origins of (yet); and 2) that the chemicals in their brain “believe” without a doubt that they can predict that what they do not know will confirm what they currently know and believe. This future evidence will prove their current belief, which was itself the result of a chain of accidental chemical reactions (but apparently under the purposeful control of some unknown thing that seeks to convince you of your mere natural chemicalness).
On the other hand, there is a written record of a man who claimed to be from that supernatural realm, who sees the future and the past, who knew there were black swans. How many there were. Where they were. And that the Europeans would eventually find them. This man asked for your belief – which set of claims is more reasonable?
“Come near to God and he will come near to you” – James 4:8
John 20:30-31 “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name”
John 12:37 “But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him, that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke: “Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”
[Note to readers: Other than this note and a title change (it was originally “A Paradox of Proof”), this is the unedited opening post from a short-lived, now-defunct blog from 2011. While working on the next set of new long form posts, I will re-post what ended up being only 3 apologetics-focused posts from 2011 each Saturday. I’m considering adding in some similar work to the new site – let me know what you think!]
Everyone has a point of view – and in modern times that often leads to a blog. I am starting this blog to put some thoughts out there. I am not a professional philosopher or minister. However, I felt I needed a forum for sharing ideas – and hopefully improving mine and others.
People by nature want to persuade others of their rightness. For example, John, the disciple of Jesus, wrote a book for a specific purpose – to persuade anyone listening “that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.” In the same book, John says that miracles were performed for this same reason – and that many were not convinced. In fact, John says this failure to convince was intentional on God’s part. Whatever your beliefs, have you ever been frustrated when someone just won’t come around to your view, no matter what you said? Would you be more frustrated if you were told that any argument you could make wouldn’t be good enough?
In John’s gospel, he claims to be a first-hand witness of several miracles performed by Jesus, climaxing in the resurrection of one Lazarus, who was apparently dead for so long that “there is a stench” (John 11:39). John spends a lot of time setting the scene — many people had gathered to comfort Martha and Mary, the sisters of the deceased — pointing out that Lazarus had his own tomb, which indicates he was probably affluent and well-known — this event was to be very public. The result when Lazarus came out? John says many “believed in Him”, but many others did not believe, and some saw Him as a threat – resulting in his crucifixion.
John, writing for the specific purpose of creating belief, tells us the ultimate miracles are not enough to generate belief in everyone. “Proof” does not always convince, and those who disagree hold their beliefs as strongly as those who agree.
Every day I am confronted by those who propose a purely naturalistic world where the supernatural is not allowed in. Miracles do not exist, and never did. Mankind was created through an unknowing process of natural selection and is a type of animal, although perhaps a special animal. They have just as much conviction as I do. I could argue against these views – what G.K. Chesterton called a “dogma of materialism” because proving it would mean disproving every claim about a supernatural occurrence that any human has ever claimed. This is, of course, impossible. (If you have a link, or links, to a page, or multiple pages, with all this evidence, please post it). It is a matter of faith, however much proponents of evolution and other “scientific” issues claim overwhelming evidence and vast consensus. It takes faith to fill in the gaps in the evidence. Those who disagree with me are obviously willing to accept these gaps.
On the other hand, we have the oral and written testimony of many people reporting many supernatural things over the centuries. This includes John’s records of many first century miracles. However, John also testifies that a man raised from the dead was not enough to convince the skeptics on the scene. This man, Lazarus, even became the target of death threats, because he was evidence that threatened the well-being of those who made their living off the established religion.
If you are a Christian – what argument can you make that is better than raising a man from the dead, then following that up by raising yourself from the dead?
The best anyone can do is state their case, get feedback, question and/or refine the message, try again, and hope. However, there is more to proof than meets the eye. There is more to life than cold reason. People have reasons for believing what they do and acting how they act. The Apostle Paul says “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood…” (Eph 6:12). Nothing I can write, do, or say is guaranteed to convince anyone, but it might. In the meantime, it should make for some interesting, character-building discussion. I hope my mind is changed on occasion.
If you agree, encourage, refine, and participate. Take heart that Chesterton also said: “When I fancied that I stood alone I was really in the ridiculous position of being backed up by all of Christendom.” If you do not agree with what I write, say why. Provide details. Stay on topic. But don’t shoot the messenger.