Tag Archives: Rebellion

William Lane Craig explains the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement

I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery
I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery

Probably one of the most common questions that you hear from people who don’t fully understand Christianity is this question: “why did Jesus have to die?”. The answer that most Christians seem to hold to is that 1) humans are rebelling against God, 2) Humans deserve punishment for their rebellion, 3) Humans cannot escape the punishment for their rebellion on their own, 4) Jesus was punished in the place of the rebellious humans, 5) Those who accept this sacrifice are forgiven for their rebelling.

Are humans rebellious?

Some people think that humans are not really rebellious at all, but it’s actually easy to see. You can see it just by looking at how people spend their time. Some of us have no time for God at all, and instead try to fill our lives with material possessions and experiences in order to have happy feelings. Some of us embrace just the parts of God that make us feel happy, like church and singing and feelings of comfort, while avoiding the hard parts of that vertical relationship; reading, thinking and disagreeing with people who don’t believe the truth about God. And so on.

This condition of being in rebellion is universal, and all of us are guilty of breaking the law at some point. All of us deserve to be separated from God’s goodness and love. Even if we wanted to stop rebelling, we would not be able to make up for the times where we do rebel by being good at other times, any more than we could get out of a speeding ticket by appealing to the times when we drove at the speed limit, (something that I never do, in any case).

This is not to say that all sinners are punished equally – the degree of punishment is proportional to the sins a person commits. However, the standard is perfection. And worse than that, the most important moral obligation is a vertical moral obligation. You can’t satisfy the demands of the moral law just by making your neighbor happy, while treating God like a pariah. The first commandment is to love God, the second is to love your neighbor. Even loving your neighbor requires you to tell your neighbor the truth – not just to make them feel good. The vertical relationship is more important than the horizontal one, and we’ve all screwed up the vertical relationship. We all don’t want God to be there, telling us what’s best for us, interfering with our fun. We don’t want to relate to a loving God if it means having to care what he thinks about anything that we are doing.

Who is going to pay for our rebellion?

The Christian answer to the problem of our rebellion is that Jesus takes the punishment we deserve in our place.

However, I’ve noticed that on some atheist blogs, they don’t like the idea that someone else can take our punishment for us to exonerate us for crimes that we’ve committed. So I’ll quote from this post by the great William Lane Craig, to respond to that objection.

Excerpt:

The central problem of the Penal Theory is, as you point out, understanding how punishing a person other than the perpetrator of the wrong can meet the demands of justice. Indeed, we might even say that it would be wrong to punish some innocent person for the crimes I commit!

It seems to me, however, that in other aspects of human life we do recognize this practice. I remember once sharing the Gospel with a businessman. When I explained that Christ had died to pay the penalty for our sins, he responded, “Oh, yes, that’s imputation.” I was stunned, as I never expected this theological concept to be familiar to this non-Christian businessman. When I asked him how he came to be familiar with this idea, he replied, “Oh, we use imputation all the time in the insurance business.” He explained to me that certain sorts of insurance policy are written so that, for example, if someone else drives my car and gets in an accident, the responsibility is imputed to me rather than to the driver. Even though the driver behaved recklessly, I am the one held liable; it is just as if I had done it.

Now this is parallel to substitutionary atonement. Normally I would be liable for the misdeeds I have done. But through my faith in Christ, I am, as it were, covered by his divine insurance policy, whereby he assumes the liability for my actions. My sin is imputed to him, and he pays its penalty. The demands of justice are fulfilled, just as they are in mundane affairs in which someone pays the penalty for something imputed to him. This is as literal a transaction as those that transpire regularly in the insurance industry.

So, it turns out that the doctrine of substitionary atonement is not as mysterious or as objectionable as everyone seems to think it is.

New study: women seeking to have a child should start before age 32

Brain vs Heart, from: theawkwardyeti.com
Brain vs Heart, from: theawkwardyeti.com

Dina sent me this sobering piece of research from the New Scientist which is perfect for all the young feminists who have been taught in college that marriage should be put off, and women can easily get pregnant after age 40.

Excerpt:

It’s a question many people will ask themselves at some point in their lives: when should I start a family? If you know how many children you’d like, and whether or not you would consider, or could afford, IVF, a computer model can suggest when to start trying for your first child.

Happy with just one? The model recommends you get started by age 32 to have a 90 per cent chance of realising your dream without IVF. A brood of three would mean starting by age 23 to have the same chance of success. Wait until 35 and the odds are 50:50 (see “When to get started”).

The suggestions are based on averages pulled from a swathe of data so don’t give a personal prediction. And of course, things aren’t this simple in real life – if only family size and feelings about IVF were the only factors to consider when planning a family. But the idea behind the model is to help people make a decision by condensing all the information out there into an accessible form.

“We have tried to fill a missing link in the decision-making process,” says Dik Habbema at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, one of the creators of the model. “My son is 35 and many of his friends have a problem deciding when to have children because there are so many things they want to do.”

It’s a scenario that will be familiar to many; the age at which people have their first child has been creeping up over the last 40 or so years. For example, the average age at which a woman has her first child is 28 in the UK and has reached 30 in Italy, Spain and Switzerland. In the US, the birth rate for women in their 20s has hit a record low, while the figures for those over 35 have increased over the last few decades.

The decision is more pressing for women thanks to their limited supply of eggs, which steadily drop in quantity and quality with age. Female fertility is thought to start declining at 30, with a more significant fall after the age of 35.

[…]The new model incorporates data from studies that assess how fertility naturally declines with age. The team took information on natural fertility from population data collected over 300 years up to the 1970s, which includes data on 58,000 women.

I have often tried to talk to young women about the need to get their lives in gear. I advise them to work summers during high school, obtain a STEM degree in university, minimize borrowing money by going to community college for the generic prerequisites, don’t have premarital sex, get a job related to their STEM field straight out of college, pay off their debts, move out of their parents’ house, start investing from the first paycheck, marry between age 25-30, and then start having children after the first two “stabilizing” years of marriage. This is sound advice, rooted in my careful reconnaissance of the things that human beings care about and need in their old age. This advice is not bullying, it comes from reading many, many relevant papers. It comes from putting the knowledge gained from reading the papers into practice, and seeing results where appropriate.

I am giving you the numbers. Straight out of a peer-reviewed study. Don’t follow your heart. Don’t listen to your friends. Follow the science. Make your decisions within the boundaries of reality. God will not save you from foolish decisions.

Related posts

A lesson about men for marriage-minded women from the movie “High Noon”

Marine prays with his wife on their wedding day
Marine prays with his wife on their wedding day

One of my favorite movies for explaining the differences between men and women is “High Noon” (1952).

Here’s the summary from IMDB:

Former marshal Will Kane (Gary Cooper) is preparing to leave the small town of Hadleyville, New Mexico, with his new bride, Amy (Grace Kelly), when he learns that local criminal Frank Miller has been set free and is coming to seek revenge on the marshal who turned him in. When he starts recruiting deputies to fight Miller, Kane is discouraged to find that the people of Hadleyville turn cowardly when the time comes for a showdown, and he must face Miller and his cronies alone.

The main theme of the film concerns Amy’s decision to break her wedding vows the very day that she makes them. She tells her new husband that he must bow to her will, and give up his male role as protector. When he explains his reasons for standing his ground to her practically (Miller will hunt them down) and morally (he has a duty protect the town), she dismisses both. She tells him that if he doesn’t run away from Miller and his gang with her, that she will get on the train and leave town by herself.

The intro of film shows the member’s of Miller’s gang assembling, and the words of the song explain the central conflict between husband and wife:

Here’s the part of the lyrics we care about:

The noonday train will bring Frank Miller.
If I’m a man I must be brave
And I must face that deadly killer
Or lie a coward, a craven coward,
Or lie a coward in my grave.

O to be torn ‘twixt love and duty!
S’posin’ I lose my fair-haired beauty!
Look at that big hand move along
Nearin’ high noon.

He made a vow while in State’s Prison,
Vow’d it would be my life or his’n
I’m not afraid of death, but O,
What will I do if you leave me?

Do not forsake me O my darlin’
You made that promise when we wed.
Do not forsake me O my darlin’
Although you’re grievin’, I can’t be leavin’
Until I shoot Frank Miller dead.

What’s interesting is that his new wife Amy apparently does not understand the meaning of wedding vows or the natural roles of good men as protectors of the weak, and fighters against evil. Although she vowed to stick by him and help him, the minute anything threatening appears that makes her feel unhappy, she abandons her vows and abandons her man. Let’s break down her mistakes now, using actual conversations from the movie.

First, she doesn’t understand or respect the man she married as a man:

Kane: [while riding out of town] It’s no good. I’ve got to go back, Amy.

Amy: Why?

Kane: This is crazy. I haven’t even got any guns.

Amy: Then let’s go on. Hurry.

Kane: No, that’s what I’ve been thinkin’. They’re making me run. I’ve never run from anybody before.

Amy: I don’t understand any of this.

Kane: [after looking at his vest watch] Well, I haven’t got time to tell ya.

Amy: Then don’t go back, Will.

Kane: I’ve got to. That’s the whole thing. [He turns the buggy around and rides back into town]

Her feelings and her desires for the world to be a happy place for her are so strong that they cloud her judgment.

Second, she doesn’t understand the threat posed by evil men:

More:

Kane: I sent a man up five years ago for murder. He was supposed to hang. But up North, they commuted it to life and now he’s free. I don’t know how. Anyway, it looks like he’s coming back.

Amy: I still don’t understand.

Kane: He was always wild and kind of crazy. He’ll probably make trouble.

Amy: But that’s no concern of yours, not anymore.

Kane: I’m the one who sent him up.

Amy: Well, that was part of your job. That’s finished now. They’ve got a new marshal.

Kane: He won’t be here until tomorrow. Seems to me I’ve got to stay. Anyway, I’m the same man with or without this. [He pins his badge on his vest]

Amy: Oh, that isn’t so.

Kane: I expect he’ll come lookin’ for me. Three of his old bunch are waiting at the depot.

Amy: That’s exactly why we ought to go.

Kane: They’ll just come after us, four of ’em, and we’d be all alone on the prairie.

Amy: We’ve got an hour.

Kane: What’s an hour?…What’s a hundred miles? We’d never be able to keep that store, Amy. They’d come after us and we’d have to run again, as long as we live.

Amy: No we wouldn’t, not if they didn’t know where to find us. Oh Will! Will, I’m begging you, please let’s go.

Kane: I can’t.

Amy: Don’t try to be a hero. You don’t have to be a hero, not for me.

Kane: I’m not trying to be a hero. If you think I like this, you’re crazy.

Instead of recognizing how her feelings are deceiving her about the threat and trusting her husband, she tries to force him to accept her mistaken view of reality by threatening to abandon him.

One of Kane’s ex-girlfriends has a talk with Amy, which helps her to understand who Kane is, and what is expected of her:

Amy: That man downstairs, the clerk, he said things about you and Will. I’ve been trying to understand why he wouldn’t go with me, and now all I can think of is that it’s got to be because of you…Let him go, he still has a chance. Let him go.

Helen: He isn’t staying for me. I haven’t spoken to him for a year – until today. I am leaving on the same train you are…What kind of woman are you? How can you leave him like this? Does the sound of guns frighten you that much?

Amy: I’ve heard guns. My father and my brother were killed by guns. They were on the right side but that didn’t help them any when the shooting started. My brother was nineteen. I watched him die. That’s when I became a Quaker. I don’t care who’s right or who’s wrong. There’s got to be some better way for people to live. Will knows how I feel about it.

Helen: I hate this town. I always hated it – to be a Mexican woman in a town like this.

Amy: I understand.

Helen: You do? That’s good. I don’t understand you. No matter what you say. If Kane was my man, I’d never leave him like this. I’d get a gun. I’d fight.

Amy: Why don’t you?

Helen: He is not my man. He’s yours.

Helen understands the need for a wife to stand by her man. But Amy’s response to evil is to shut her eyes and focus on feeling good and being happy. Notice that her “better way” is unspecified – it’s just a feeling she has that pacificism and no-violence will somehow “work” to stop evil. But in reality, pacifism is not a “better way” of dealing with evil – it does not work. Her pacifist response not only does not make evil go away, it actually encourages more evil. Weakness emboldens evildoers, and laying down your arms provokes them to do more evil. Will Kane knows this, but she won’t listen to him.

You can watch the final gunfight here, as well as Amy’s final decision:

So, this is why I really recommend this movie as a discussion-starter when you like a girl and are thinking of marrying her. It clarifies the essential problem with many young women today not being ready for marriage. To be fair, most women come around to respect their husbands and his different roles after they get married. However, the risk of divorce is so dangerous that it makes sense to bring it up for discussion before the marriage happens. Marriage is supposed to be an engine to serve God, and the success of that enterprise cannot be left to chance. You can’t just rely on the fact that she says the words of the vow, you have to check to see if she has a habit of keeping her promises when it goes against her own self-interest.

Ask yourself: Who are you, as a man? And does your woman accept that you have obligations to stand up to evil and do good ? Will she support you in your battle against evil, or will the marriage just be about her feelings and desires? I would especially beware of women who think that God is speaking to them through their feelings and desires. Look at her friends: are they practical and successful? Or are they irresponsible, unaccountable and reckless? Look at her father: does he have a plan for her, and does he lead her to be practical, frugal and hard-working? If you are not going to get an ally and a supporter in a wife, then you will not be able to serve God well, as a married man. Think about it.

How do you explain the gospel to a non-Christian in two minutes?

Bible study that hits the spot
Bible study that hits the spot

Here’s my attempt, then we’ll see an expert do it.

I hope that everyone who reads my blog is passionate about the gospel and understands it enough to explain it to others. It is so practical, you can see the need for it immediately when you talk to people in any detail. People are in rebellion against God. We want to seek our own happiness from rational constraints, moral constraints, judgments and feelings of shame. We want to not have to care what other people think of us (unless they agree), and this goes double for the God of the universe. This is literally infuriating to God, since he is the one who gives us so many blessings. It is proper for us to to recognize and respect him in our decision making – even if we find his greatness offensive to our pride. Instead of respecting God, we attribute the blessings to blind luck. We refuse to acknowledge God in our decision-making, and not just in moral issues but in everything we do. This is just astonishing ingratitude, and for this we deserve to be punished. However, God has given us a way to be reconciled with him, by allowing his own Son to be punished in our place. This punishment of Jesus pays the debt that we owe to God for our rebellion against him. If we acknowledge this sacrifice by Jesus, and put him in place as our leader and mentor, then God will forgive us and we will be reconciled with Him. And so, a relationship with God can begin, and it lasts forever. That is the gospel.

Here is famous evangelist Ravi Zacharias explaining the gospel in two minutes:

For those who don’t want to watch the video, here’s a good thought about the gospel from J. Warner Wallace at Please Convince Me.

Excerpt:

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.

I think it’s very important to get all of this clear, and nothing makes it clearer than when you get to know a non-Christian and really hear their reasons for not looking into whether God exists. Ask them what they think life is really about, and what motivates them, and see where God is in it. I think we get confused by non-Christians because they can sometimes be very nice to other people. But the real standard is whether people recognize and acknowledge God as he really is, and respond to him in a relationship.

What is the meaning and significance of Christmas for Christians?

It’s the time of year when we explain what Christianity is about.

God exists

Basically, we know from a variety of scientific arguments that the universe was created and fine-tuned for life by an intelligent agent that existed causally prior to the beginning of the universe, because this agent brought the universe into being. Our purpose as humans is to enter into a two-way loving relationship with this Creator/Designer of the universe. This is the only way that we can ultimately be happy and fulfilled.

We avoid God

Now, when you look at human experience, none of us is interested in finding out about the character of this Creator/Designer, because we are afraid that if we find out too much about him then we will have our freedom to do as we please constrained by the demands of a relationship with an all-powerful, all-good being. Just knowing that such a person exists and has a character distinct from our own is enough to cause us to flee from him so that we can stay autonomous from the obligations of the moral law that he expects us to follow.

Christians believe that this universal desire to avoid an all-powerful, all-good God who will judge us is a result of bad behaviors inherited by us from the very first rebellion against God by our ancestors. Ever since that rebellion, the capability for relating to God has been lost, because we no longer have the ability to stop our rebellion against God. Christians call the first rebellion of our ancestors “The Fall of Man”.

What does this rebellion look like for us today? Well, we want to do whatever we want, in order to be happy, and to ignore God’s demands. We want to have happy feelings, including security, community and being morally good, all without a relationship with God. We want to acquire and rearrange matter for our selfish ends without acknowledging and honoring the Creator/Designer of that matter. And, of course, we would like other people to affirm, voluntarily or involuntarily, that our rebellion against God is really the height of moral goodness.

Additionally, some people imagine that God, if he exists at all, must desire our happiness. And of course when their needs are not met by this invented God, then they become even more bitter at God, and eventually decide that God could not really exist since their selfish needs are not being met by him. It never seems to occur to us humans that some pain and suffering may be permitted by God in order to turn our attention away from pleasure and security in this life, and back towards a relationship with him.

This is the mess we find ourselves in. This propensity for turning away from God and trying to pursue selfish happiness and security apart from a relationship with God is what the Bible calls “sin”. Every single one of us deserves severe punishment for refusing to pursue a genuine two-way love relationship with the God who is there. That is the mess we are in before Jesus appears to address this problem.

Jesus saves the day

I cannot say much about how Jesus solves the problem of rebellion against God, because that is really the story of Easter, and today we are dealing with the story of Christmas. But I can say that the solution to the problem requires that God step into history to communicate with his creatures and to perform actions in order to be reconciled with them. That is the message of Christmas: God is stepping into history to do something to end our rebellion. Easter is the story of what he does.

This is talked about in the Bible in John 1, for example.

John 1:1-5:

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

2He was with God in the beginning.

3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

4In him was life, and that life was the light of men.

5The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

You can substitute the word “Word” there for Logos, which really means logic or reason or wisdom. This is a person with a divine nature, identified with the eternal being of God, who exists causally prior to the creation of the universe, who is going to take on an additional human nature, including a human body. (Christians believe that there is one divine “what” being and three divine “who” persons). Software engineers, you can think of Jesus having two natures as multiple inheritance in C++.

And it continues in John 1:10-14:

10He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.

11He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.

12Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—

13children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Here the word grace doesn’t mean like a graceful ballet dancer. It means an instance of mercy received from a superior. A person (a “who”) identified with the divine being (a “what”) has decided to make us a top-down offer of mercy.

The same message of God stepping into history is found in the Christmas carols that people sing at Christmas.

Christmas carols

Here’s the best one, “O, Holy Night“, and it says:

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining.
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.

When we were in rebellion, we had lost our most valuable capacity – the capacity of being in a direct relationship with God. And if the newborn baby Jesus can accomplish his mission (and he did), then we are going to regain that capacity for a direct relationship with God.

Now look at “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing“, which one of my favorites:

Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled.”

Basically, as I often say, there are only two kinds of people in the world. There are people who are willing to respond to the offer of a relationship with God, with all the little sacrifices and compromises that a relationship entails, and then there are people who are not willing to respond. For the people who are willing to respond, the appearance of Jesus is the best thing that could possibly happen, because now we are finally going to have a chance to deal directly with God, face-to-face, to find out what he is like, and change ourselves to be more like him, with his help.

And that is why people celebrate Christmas. It’s the anniversary of the birth of Jesus. It is the story of God stepping into history to be reconciled with his rebellious creatures. It’s the story of the divine Logos subjecting himself to the life of a creature in order to rescue us from our sinful, self-destructive rebellion. This love for undeserving creatures is above and beyond the call of duty. We didn’t love him, but instead he loved us first, and he loved us enough to come down here and suffer with us so that we could be reconciled with God.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!