Category: Apologetics

Predict the Sunrise?

It’s unclear whether certain events in the Bible happened through miraculous intervention or by natural causes.   

I am not talking today about clear-cut miracles like Jesus turning water into wine. Rather, I’m talking about when people who do believe in miracles have a difference of opinion about whether a particular event in the Bible had natural or supernatural causes. Let’s look at one of these.

Today’s episode happened just before a key battle between the Israelites, led by David, and the Philistines. David received his marching orders from God:

 As soon as you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the poplar trees, move quickly, because that will mean the Lord has gone out in front of you to strike the Philistine army (2 Samuel 5:24)

There are two possible explanations for the sound of marching described here.

  1. God made a marching sound supernaturally to scare the daylights out of the Philistines.
  2. The rustling noise in the trees came from a normal gale wind which just happened to be at the right time and was noisy enough to provide a cover for the Israelites to stealthily advance on their enemies.

I used to think that there was an enormous difference between the two choices. But now I don’t think whether it’s #1 or #2 makes any difference. Why?

 Obviously, #1 describes a clear cut supernatural miracle. But now let’s look more closely at #2.

If a strong gale hit just when Israel’s enemies were ready to attack, was that a coincidence?  No, it was God who synchronized and directed the weather patterns so that that a gale would show up at the exact needed time.

There are no coincidences with God. Indeed, since God synchronizes all events, there’s not even such a thing as a random occurrence.  

We think we see unchanging laws of nature. But it is stunning to realize that these “laws” are only “laws” because Christ directly sustains them:

 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.    (Colossians 1:17)

So sometimes God is actively using his usual laws of nature to achieve his purposes, and at other times he overrides them to accomplish his will. Thus I see no difference between “natural” or “supernatural”: Either way, it’s still directed by God.    

Some folks think God set the universe to run like a timepiece and took his hands off. But what may appear to be a timepiece is sustained moment to moment by God!

Try this thought experiment: What if the time the sun will rise tomorrow were as unpredictable as exactly what the weather will be tomorrow?  Is the predictability of sunrises a “law of nature” that will never ever change — or is it what God has nicely set up and actively sustains for the time being? He did promise:

 “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” (Genesis 8:22)

For now, it suits God’s purposes of grace and mercy to keep the seasons consistent, allowing us to plan, to have agriculture, and to not face total famine and chaos. But it’s an error to assume that it will always be so.

Those who deny that God can sovereignly overrule his natural laws at his good pleasure are in for a big shock. We aren’t told all the details, but I take seriously that the Bible says that various laws of physics/astrophysics/astronomy will undergo major changes.

The earth will not endure as is forever.

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.” (Revelation 21:1).

We will get a revamped earth with new laws. We can only guess at exactly how these will work but something will never change: we will always have a good omnipotent loving God who is always working to achieve his purposes. Now and forever. He invites us to join in this now and forever adventure by believing in his son Jesus!

Secret Knowledge?

secret bible codes

The Apostle Paul warns that we can end up always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. (2 Timothy 3:7)

But what’s the difference between learning and knowledge?
I couldn’t find a big difference between these two Greek words so the context must be key.  

Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” So knowledge of the truth is given to everyone who follows Jesus. To know the truth is to know Jesus, since he is the truth.

Therefore the learning that Paul is talking about in this verse must mean something outside of truly knowing Jesus. As you see above in The Sun’s front page, this “learning” is information that will be revealed to the select few —- note the words “hidden” and “secret.”

Unlike the writers in the Sun, I don’t know secrets like where Jimmy Hoffa is today. Nor do I have a quick, secret shortcut to give you lasting peace of mind and your best life now.

If I learn a lot of hidden linkages and connections in the Bible along with secret number codes, how does that increase my compassion for anyone?

I have been reflecting on the simple message of the gospel. I like how Jonathan Leeman says it:
The gospel can be summarized in four words: God, man, Christ, response.
God is holy and loving.
Man sinned and earned the judgment of a holy and loving God.
Christ lived and died in our place to defeat sin and death.
We are called to respond in repentance and faith.

There isn’t anything secret about the gospel. It’s the knowledge that we really need!

Turning From Worthless Things

Starting a recent study of the book of Romans, I saw how the Roman and Greek societies in New Testament times were quite modern compared to the Ancient Near East societies in the Old Testament. Both the Greeks and the Romans were more cosmopolitan, more advanced technologically, and had more developments in philosophy and political theory than the societies who lived in the times when the Hebrew Bible was written.

Yet what God told the Jews in their Bible has never been replaced by something “more modern”. This truth would not change: There is one God Yahweh who is ruler over all creation.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. (Deuteronomy 6:4)

In the more advanced Greek and Roman societies there remained pantheons of gods to worship. Only the Jews proclaimed worshiping the one true God.

And the apostle Paul, born a Jew,  loved showing how Jesus was the Messiah that  God had long ago promised in that very Bible, a Messiah not only to the Jews but also to the Greeks, Romans and all the peoples and tribes yet to come.

Here’s a good mind game:  Imagine what it would be like if the Apostle Paul were first writing now, in the 2020’s. He would not change the core of the gospel message of salvation through faith in the crucified and risen Christ that he presented 2000 years ago.

But, as he did in his own time, he would contextualize by explaining the unchanging message of following the one true God in a way that would persuade and convince 21st century people. Indeed, successful pastors today knows how to do that. Men like Tim Keller or my local pastor Dave Gustavsen do that well today.

When Barnabas and Paul visited Lystra the Lystrans wanted to worship them because they thought that they were the gods Zeus and Hermes come down to earth in human form.

But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: “Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. (Acts 14:14-15)

Nowadays we don’t have Zeus worship, but there are still plenty of worthless things that we “worship” today! Look at American greed and commercialism.

I had to laugh sadly as I read about a recent controversy in France. Businesses there usually shut down early on Sunday to allow people to rest. But one chain, Casino Group, attracted ire by wanting to keep their supermarkets open past the normal 1PM Sunday closing hour. And the criticism was that this chain wanted to turn France into a greedy commercial place like the US! Oh, the irony! The “Christian” country is greedy and the highly secular country has a more “Christian” view of Sunday!

But of course the real question, whether you live in France or the US or anywhere else, is not whether you close your shops on Sundays or not.  It’s this:  Do you want to follow the real God whose son is the resurrected Jesus?

Another Bogus Bill

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “When you enter the land of Canaan, which I am giving you as your possession, and I put a spreading mold in a house in that land, the owner of the house must go and tell the priest, ‘I have seen something that looks like a defiling mold in my house.’ (Leviticus 14:33-35)

Putting a mold in a house? What is God up to? Is he is doing something evil?

We often hear “God is not the author of evil” as a blanket statement and ironclad rule. Today, let’s examine that.

We do know that Satan had to get God’s permission to afflict Job. So if the devil needs to ask permission, then obviously God could say “No.”  But then, why did God ever say “Yes”? Because doesn’t saying yes make God responsible for the evil?

Some try to solve this problem by backing off a bit and saying God “allows” evil…But that begs some additional questions ….

For example, does God “allow” stuff that is not part of his plan? If yes, then he is not omnipotent. But if no, then it means that evil is part of his plan. But if that’s true then, once again, it looks like God is the author of evil.

Here’s how I try to sort that out: God does ordain evil which can temporarily seem nothing but bad. But the key word is temporary. Because from a long term or eternal perspective God always uses that temporary evil to achieve something good in his long run plans. This means that God never ordains evil whose end result remains evil with nothing good coming out of it.

So God ordains evil as a passing step towards what will bring him even greater glory.

Now I can try to explain why God put the mold in the house. Because verse 35 says that the owner of the house must go and tell the priest, ‘I have seen something that looks like a defiling mold in my house.’ So, God has given a test for the owner —- he is tempted to cover it up because now the house is required to be torn down if the mold persists. Does the owner respond in obedience and report the mold?  Or disobey and keep quiet to nervously hold onto his property?

Now, an example from my own life. It’s when I receive a bill with a bogus charge on it. I have whined and whined when that happens. I am not proud of my history of being all ticked off about it and then yelling on the phone when the help desk refused to fix the error.

I had said I would never yell again, ever. But a few months ago it happened again! Why did I blow it? It’s because I did not see that somehow God did ordain it – allowing the phony charge to test me and to grow me. After all, God could have stopped the bill but he did not.

Reflecting on that, now I know ahead of time that I will again get a bogus bill and again get a help desk person who refuses to fix it. Will I yell or will I say OK Lord I know you have sent this evil as a test and this time I will pass the test to your glory?

Sure, getting fake charges on a bill is annoying. But just think of the biggest example of fake charges in history. God ordained that wicked people to crucify his only Son on fake charges!  But God ordained this wickedness to bring the greatest good in the history of the planet— a redeemed people called Christians who have eternal life and bring God’s good news to the world! And when he ordains that I get fake charges, God means it to shape me into being a better ambassador of his good news.