This is a wonderful, wonderful post from Amy Hall, who writes for the Stand to Reason blog.
I had a brief interaction with an atheist on Twitter a couple of weeks ago that unexpectedly turned to the issue of suffering when she said:
You clearly never had a time you were hurt. I don’t mean sick. I don’t mean heart broken. I mean literally a near death experience or rape or abusive relationship…. You can keep floating on a [expletive] cloud thinking Jesus will do everything for you but it’s a lie. What makes you so special?
That surprised me at first because it didn’t seem to have anything to do with the tweet she was responding to, and I was confused as to why she would assume I’d never been through anything traumatic. But then in subsequent tweets, when she revealed she had been raped, it became clear that her trauma had played a central role in her becoming an outspoken, obviously angry “antitheist.” She’s a self-described antitheist now because she thinks Christianity teaches Jesus “will do everything for you” to give you a perfect life, and now she knows that’s a lie. The rape proved her understanding of Christianity false.
So it made sense for her to reason that since I believe Christianity is true, I must still be under the delusion that Jesus is making my life special, which means I obviously never encountered any evil or suffering to shake that delusion.
All right, readers. I don’t want any of you to be thinking that if you become a Christian that these things should be expected to happen:
you will feel happy all the time
you will be able to sense God’s secret plan for your life through your feelings
God’s secret plan for your life will automatically work, even though it’s crazy
God will give you a perfect spouse and lots of money without you having to do any work
you get permission to do things that that make you happy, even if they are expressly forbidden by the Bible
you don’t have to do anything that makes you feel bad (e.g. – go to work), because God wants you to be happy
No! Where do people get this idea that if they convert to Christianity, then God will become their cosmic butler?
Amy has the answer: (emphasis mine)
Hear me, everyone: This is a failure of the church.
A friend of mine who was deeply suffering once said to me that many Christians are in for “an epic letdown” when they realize their preconceived notions about what God is expected to do for us are false. Pastors who preach a life-improvement Jesus are leading people down this precarious path to disillusionment.
If suffering disproves your Christianity, you’ve missed Christianity. The Bible is filled with the suffering of those whom God loves. The central event of the Bible is one of suffering. Love involves suffering. “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” That means suffering.
It’s the church. It’s all the singing about happy things and having of happy feelings and happy preaching designed to make us feel good. I would say the comforting devotional reading doesn’t help to make us any tougher or more practical, either. People seem to use Bible study and devotion as a way to artificially create good feelings of happiness, peace and comfort, instead of just doing hard things to serve God. I don’t think it’s a “spiritual” Christian thing to read A. W. Tozer, etc. just so that you can feel comforted and spiritual. That stuff just gives you a false sense of safety about your precarious situation. God’s job is not to prevent you from suffering. In fact, even if you make really smart, practical decisions, you can expect to get creamed anyway.
Purpose of Writing: 1 Peter is a letter from Peter to the believers who had been dispersed throughout the ancient world and were under intense persecution. If anyone understood persecution, it was Peter. He was beaten, threatened, punished and jailed for preaching the Word of God. He knew what it took to endure without bitterness, without losing hope and in great faith living an obedient, victorious life. This knowledge of living hope in Jesus was the message and Christ’s example was the one to follow.
Brief Summary: Though this time of persecution was desperate, Peter reveals that it was actually a time to rejoice. He says to count it a privilege to suffer for the sake of Christ, as their Savior suffered for them. This letter makes reference to Peter’s personal experiences with Jesus and his sermons from the book of Acts. Peter confirms Satan as the great enemy of every Christian but the assurance of Christ’s future return gives the incentive of hope.
Practical Application: The assurance of eternal life is given to all Christians. One way to identify with Christ is to share in His suffering. To us that would be to endure insults and slurs from those who call us “goodie two shoes” or “holier than thou.” This is so minor compared to what Christ suffered for us on the Cross. Stand up for what you know and believe is right and rejoice when the world and Satan aim to hurt you.
Recently, I blogged about how suffering is compatible with an all-powerful God, so you might want to read that too if you missed it.
For those who don’t want to watch the video, here’s a good thought from J. Warner Wallace at Please Convince Me.
A “just” God does justice, which means to punish or reward appropriately. In the Western tradition, we punish people for the actions they commit, but the extent of punishment is dependent also on the person’s mental state, and a person’s mental state is reflective of his or her beliefs. Premeditated murder is worse than manslaughter, and is punished more severely, and a hate crime is a sentencing enhancement that adds more punishment to the underlying crime. In both examples, a person’s beliefs are at play: the premeditated murderer has reflected on his choices and wants the victim dead; a hate crime reflects a belief that the rights of a member of the protected group are especially unworthy of respect. So, considering a person’s beliefs may well be relevant, especially if those beliefs have motivated the criminal behavior.
But the challenger’s mistake is even more fundamental. He is wrong to assert that people are condemned for not accepting the gospel. Christians believe that people are condemned for their sinful behavior – the “wages of sin is death” – not for what they fail to do. The quoted challenge is like saying that the sick man died of “not going to the doctor.” No, the person died of a specific condition – perhaps cancer or a heart attack – which a doctor might have been able to cure. So too with eternal punishment. No one is condemned for refusing to believe in Jesus. While Jesus can – and does – provide salvation for those who seek it, there is nothing unjust about not providing salvation to those who refuse to seek it. After all, we don’t normally feel obliged to help someone who has not asked for, and does not want, our assistance. So too the Creator has the right to withhold a gift – i.e. eternity spent in His presence – from those who would trample on the gift, and on the gift-giver.
The quoted assertion also demonstrates an unspoken belief that we can impress God with our “kind” or “generous” behavior. This fails to grasp what God is – a perfect being. We cannot impress Him. What we do right we should do. We don’t drag people into court and reward them for not committing crimes. This is expected of them. They can’t commit a murder and then claim that punishment is unfair, because they had been kind and generous in the past. When a person gets his mind around the idea of what perfection entails, trying to impress a perfect Creator with our “basic goodness” no longer seems like such a good option.
If you want to hear a debate featuring exclusivists versus pluralists, I’ve got a podcast and a summary of a good debate on this issue between Chris Sinkinson and John Hick. You can’t find a more prominent pluralist than John Hick, except for maybe Paul Knitter, who is featured in a debate with Harold Netland in the new “Debating Christian Theism” book that is just out with Oxford University Press.
Bart Ehrman is well known as a US New Testament Scholar who lost his Christian faith and now questions many core precepts of Christianity, including the Resurrection of Jesus. When Mike Licona had doubts he devoted himself to investigating the evidence and became convinced that Jesus resurrection is the only rational explanation for the facts.
They debate key historical facts about the resurrection – are the letters of Paul that report the resurrection and the Gospel accounts trustworthy or theologised and changed with time? What about apparent contradictions between the Gospels? Does the consensus of scholars count as evidence, or is there a Christian bias? Can a miracle count as an explanation for historical data?
Snarky summary of the radio debate: (items with * are my made-up paraphrases/clarifications)
This has got to be one of my silliest summaries, but Ehrman makes me so annoyed.
– my new book is about forgeries in the ancient world
– some books were falsely attributed to prominent Christian figures
– there are mistakes in the Bible
– there are mistakes in the resurrection narratives
– the defeat of inerrancy led to his conversion to liberal Christianity
– the problem of evil and suffering caused him to become a non-Christian
– there are minimal facts that are agreed to by a broad spectrum of scholars
– the minimal facts are accepted because they pass standard historical criteria
– Fact 1: Jesus died by crucifixion
– Fact 2: Individuals and groups had visions of Jesus after his death
– Fact 3: Paul, a skeptic and an enemy, had an appearance of Jesus that converted him
– these facts are agreed to atheist scholars, liberal scholars, etc.
– virtually 100% of scholars agree with these three facts
– there is no naturalistic explanation of these three facts
– therefore, the best explanation of these three facts is that God raised Jesus from the dead
– all historians would accept these three facts, except for maybe the group appearances
– the death of Jesus is irrelevant to the resurrection
– the second and third point can be collapsed together
– so really there is only one fact
– the crucifixion is relevant because Muslims don’t admit that fact
– the crucifixion important because it establishes a resurrection, not a resuscitation
– well, if the point is that he died, then yes, this does require a resurrection
– the crucifixion refutes Muslims who deny that Jesus died
– the crucifixion refutes the apparent death theory (swoon theory)
– the death is required for a bodily resurrection
– it’s important to know what facts most scholars, regardless of worldview, agree on
– it’s important to emphasize that Licona is working from historical bedrock facts
– the resurrection is the best explanation for the historical bedrock facts
– you are trying to list 3 things, but really it is just one thing – the appearances
– and not ALL scholars agree that the group visions occurred
– name one prominent scholar who denies the group appearances
– the radically leftist atheist nutcase John Dominic Crossan denies the group appearances
* Crossan is so far on the left that I look like a nutcase for even citing him
* Crossan believes in the Secret Gospel of Mark, which is a hoax – but I still cite Crossan
* Crossan believes that the synoptics are LATER than gnostic forged gospels – but I still cite Crossan
* Crossan presupposes atheism, so he cannot admit to miracle stories as a pre-supposition – but I still cite Crossan
* Crossan pre-supposes religious pluralism, so he cannot allow any exclusive claims Christians make – but I still cite Crossan
* Crossan is a good historian, it’s just that he is so far to the left that no one – NO ONE – agrees with his all of crazy theories
* I think it is a good idea to cite historians who pre-suppose atheism and political correctness before they sit down to do history
– let me explain why most scholars accept the individual and group post-mortem appearances
– the best source for the appearances is the early creed recorded by Paul in 1 Cor 15:3-8
– Paul himself had an appearance of Jesus after Jesus’ death
– Paul received this material from a source very soon after the appearances – within 1-3 years
– we know that Paul met with Jesus disciples multiple times prior to writing
– Paul probably received it from Peter and James, who were themselves eyewitnesses
– this early dating presumably rules out legend
– well legends CAN start quickly
– it does show that Paul was an eyewitness
– it does show that Paul was in contact with reliable eyewitnesses
– 1 Corinthians is written around 55 AD, twenty-five years after Jesus died
– it is not implausible that Paul got the creed from the disciples, who were eyewitnesses
– but you don’t need a long time for legends to emerge, so that is a possibility
– only about 3% of people could read and write back them
– instead, people had enormous capacity for memorization
– the Pharisees were particularly good at memorization
– Jews were very serious about passing along traditions accurately
– Paul, a prominent Pharisee, would have been capable of passing on early creeds accurately
– Paul, in 1 Cor 7, shows that he is willing to separate his opinions from authentic tradition
– Paul had an opportunity in 1 Cor 7 to put words into Jesus’ mouth, but he wouldn’t do it
– cultural anthropologists show that things do get changed in some oral cultures
– in these oral cultures, it is assumed that the story teller will change the story
– only in written cultures are they careful to avoid changing the story
– in the New Testament, you can compare the same story in two different gospels, there are differences
– Ehrman is right that the gospel writers pick and choose things from the oral tradition that they want to include in their gospels
– different oral tradition transmission schemes have more or less embellishment
– african tribes embellish more, rabbinic teaching embellishes less
* Jesus’ followers would have viewed him as a rabbi, and been careful about adding to his teachings
– Paul, an eyewitness, probably received the creed in 1 Cor 15 from other eyewitnesses
– Paul speaks about going twice to Jerusalem in Galatians
– he is meeting with Peter and James to check his facts
– when you look at Mark and John, there are lots of differences in the narrative
– I agree that the gospels have differences, but the oral tradition is likely fixed
– but Mark and John have different sayings
– why doesn’t Mark have the same explicit high Christology that John has?
– the “apocalyptic Son of Man” isn’t in John
– what about in John 9 with the man who was born blind
– where is the apocalyptic part?
– the healed man worships Jesus because he is the Son of Man
– that links to the apocalypic passages in the Old Testament
– what about the differences between the gospels?
* well, now is the time for me to set up an inerrantist straw man and then knock it down!
* who was at the empty tomb: one angel or two angels? we don’t know, so the whole Bible is false!
* I used to be an inerrantist, so one minor difference is enough for me to dump the whole Bible
* I’ll kill you, you stupid straw man! I hate you, Moody Bible Institute! You lied to me!
– many of these problems can be solved by realizing that the gospel writers compress time
– the stories don’t have to list ALL the characters in every scene
– you don’t have to force the Bible to meet some sort of wooden chronology
– the main thing is that the events happened, not that the descriptions match word for word across sources
– you can’t infer a miracle from history, David Hume says so
* extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, David Hume says so
* no I don’t know what begging the question is, I’m not a philosopher
* no I don’t remember when Bill Craig kicked my ass on this Hume objection in our debate
– the New Testament gospels contradict each other at every point, they are not reliable at all!
* they cannot even agree what Jesus’ name is! There are 1 trillion variants of Jesus’ name!
* “one angel vs two angels” proves that the gospels contradict each other at every point
* my expansive list of FOUR theologically insignificant variants proves that the gospels contradict each other at every point
– um, the gospels agree on the central narrative and disagree on the peripherals
– and they agree on the minimal facts I presented, even if they disagree about the number of angels
* they have to agree on everything and be inerrant! The Moody Straw Man Bible Institute says so!
* I really really really need to have the number of angels be the same, or Jesus didn’t die on the cross
– but you don’t deny any of the three minimal facts I presented (crucifixion, appearances, Paul)
– well, I don’t know if the group appearances occurred – maybe they did
– i think Jesus died on the cross, and I think that people said they saw him alive afterward
– if you deny the minimal facts, then you are outside the majority of scholars
– the majority of scholars who agree to the minimal facts you presented are Christians
* Gerd Ludemann is an atheist Christian
* James Crossley is an atheist Christian
* Hector Avalos is an atheist Christian
* the majority of the atheist scholars are all Christians!
– VIRTUALLY EVERYBODY IN THE SOCIETY OF BIBLICAL LITERATURE IS A CHRISTIAN!!! (Yes, he said that)
– but he CLAIMS TO BE A CHRISTIAN so that means HE IS A CHRISTIAN
* all you have to do to be a Christian is claim to be one
* you can even deny the existence of God and the divinity of Christ and still be one, you bigot!
– would Jesus or the apostles recognize a Christian as being someone who doubts God’s existence
– my view is that Jesus and the apostles would not recognize evangelical Christians as Christians
* a non-theist can be a Christian just by claiming to be one, but evangelical Christians are not Christians even if they claim to be Christians
– Christians can’t record accurate history about the resurrection because they are biased
– on your view, if a person is a Christian then he can’t write about the evidence for the resurrection
– so then similarly, you would not allow Jews to write about the historicity of the Holocaust
– because you think that if people have an interest in what they are recording then they can’t be objective
– but you have to consider the evidence we have, taking the biases of the sources into account
– but the only people who believe in the resurrection are Christians!
– well, people can consider the evidence for the resurrection as non-Christians
– and then if they accept it they can become Christians
– what about your bias? you don’t believe in God – doesn’t that pre-supposition affect how you do history?
– well, I presuppose naturalism, so I can’t admit to anything in history that implicates supernatural causes
* no I have never heard of the arguments for the Big Bang, fine-tuning, origin of life, Cambrian explosion, irreducible complexity, limits on mutations creating information, habitability and so on – I never heard about that stuff from my atheist university professors and even if I had I would have been expelled for talking about it because that would make people feel bad about their sinning
– so it’s not bias you are concerned about, it’s that you don’t want history to contradict your untested religion of naturalism?
– why not just do the history without pre-suppositions to gather the minimal facts and then see what the best explanation is?
* well God is out of bounds as an explanation because I could not have got my PhD if I mentioned God
* I really needed my smart atheist professors to like me and give me good grades so God is RIGHT OUT
* ideas like a real God and moral laws and Hell makes my atheist professors uncomfortable and that means low grades for me
* I’m not really interested in butting heads with professors – it’s easier to just agree with them and move on to selling books to the gullible
* My books are much more sensational than Dan Brown books, so please buy lots of them!
– what if the historical evidence is good enough to show that Jesus rose from the dead?
– well I would not call someone rising from the dead a miracle – I would call it weird
* I also think that the Big Bang is “weird” but that doesn’t prove that God created the universe out of nothing
* if it’s a miracle then I’m going to have to not sin, and maybe even go to Hell, and we can’t have that
– well, you accept the three minimal facts
– what if we try all the naturalistic explanations for those three facts and there are problems with all of them?
– what if the resurrection is the best explanation for the three minimal facts?
– but I want to arbitrarily rule God put because I want to pre-suppose naturalism
– there is not historical reason I have to rule put supernatural explanations a priori
– I think you are struggling with the theological implications of a historical conclusion
– well when you do theology, you have to avoid grounding your theology on science or history
– theology has to be completely made up or it’s not good theology
– I think you are letting your dislike of the implications of the resurrection determine your historical conclusions
– you have to use historical methods to gather the minimal facts that every scholar accepts, regardless of worldview
– then you weigh ALL the hypotheses, natural and supernatural, that could account for these minimal facts
– then you choose the hypothesis that best explains the minimal facts
An argument frequently advanced by those attempting to defend homosexual practice is that Christians ‘cherry pick’ the commands in the Bible – that is, they chose to emphasise some commands while ignoring others.
The Old Testament may forbid homosexual acts (Leviticus 18:2; 20:13) but it also forbids eating seafood without fins and scales (Leviticus 11:9-12; Deuteronomy 14:9, 10).
So how can Christians then justify upholding laws on sexual morality whilst at the same time ignoring the food laws from the very same books of the Bible? Why may they eat shellfish but not be allowed to have sex outside marriage? Isn’t this inconsistent and hypocritical?
The solution is that God enters into “covenants” with his people, and the terms of those covenants change.
Especially dietary laws:
The answer to this question lies in an understanding of biblical covenants.
A covenant is a binding solemn agreement made between two parties. It generally leaves each with obligations. But it holds only between the parties involved.
There are a number of biblical covenants: Noahic, Abrahamic, Sinaitic (Old), Davidic and New.
Under the Noahic covenant, which God made with all living human beings (Genesis 9:8-17), people were able to eat anything:
‘Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything’ (Genesis 9:3).
But under the Sinaitic (Old) Covenant, which God made with the nation of Israel, people were able to eat certain foods, but not others.
Jesus clearly created a new covenant with his followers, where the dietary laws are lifted:
Jesus said that he had come to fulfil the ‘Law and the Prophets’ (Matthew 5:17; Luke 24:44). He would establish this new covenant with new laws, with himself as high priest based on his own sacrificial death on the cross.
This new covenant would completely deal with sin (Hebrews 10:1-18) and protect all those who put their faith in him from God’s wrath and judgement…
[…]‘In the same way, after the supper (Jesus) took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you”’ (Luke 22:20). ‘…we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all’ (Hebrews 10:10)
People would come under the protection of this new covenant, not by virtue of belonging to the nation of Israel, but through faith in Christ. In fact the function of the Old Testament Law (Sinaitic covenant) was to point to Christ as its fulfilment.
[…]So what then did Christ say about foods? He pronounced all foods clean for his followers to eat:
‘ “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.) He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” (Mark 7:18-23)
Jesus was making that point that under the new covenant God required purity of the heart. Internal thoughts and attitudes were as important as external actions.
Food is OK for Christians, but sexual immorality – which includes premarital sex and adultery – are NOT OK for Christians.
I think sometimes when you are talking to people whose motivation is just to get rid of any objective moral law entirely, they tend to ask questions without really wanting a good answer. This is especially true when it comes to the morality of sex. They ask the question not to get an answer, but to justify getting rid of the moral rules governing sexuality. The answers are there for people who are willing to respect God in their decision-making to find. The answers are not found only by people who have a reason to not want to find them.
In case you’re wondering, I am one of those Christian men who takes chastity seriously. Marriage is about having a close connection with your spouse. Sure, I could break the rules and have a lot of fun now. A lot of Christians have a hard time turning down fun. But when I look at Jesus, I don’t see a man who is pursuing fun and thrills. I see a man who sees a need and then sacrifices his own interests to rescue others from peril.