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God, Guns and an Evil World

On June 6th, 2013 Chris Zawahri killed his father and brother in their own house. After setting that home and corpses inside ablaze the 23 year old walked the sun-drenched streets of Santa Monica, California with a .44-caliber handgun that had been in his family for years, and Santa Monica Shooting - Students - USA Today Imagesan AR-15 type rifle, clad in body armor and an intent that can only be described as evil.[1] He opened fire randomly at passing cars, wounding drivers, eventually taking one woman hostage while carjacking her.[2] Mr. Zawahri made his way to Santa Monica College where the shooting continued. Reports are starting to shed light on this very scary and dark event, one that took the life of at least five, two of the victims a father and daughter.  During a time when most college campuses are preparing to celebrate a graduating class, this years celebration will also be a memorial.[3]

On December 14th, 2012 a young man took his mother’s Bushmaster riffle and while she was sleeping pulled the trigger at point-blank range, killing her instantly. From there the young man drove to a nearby elementary school in the Sandy Hook community of Newtown,Sandy Hook Shooting - Angels - Episcopal Digital Network Connecticut armed with that Bushmaster XM-15 rifle, a Glock 20 SF handgun, a SIG Sauer handgun, and a loaded shotgun.[4] He entered the school around 9:35 AM by blasting his way with the high-powered rifle through the locked front doors. Once inside Sandy Hook elementary school 21-year-old Adam Lanza went from classroom to classroom, murdering any and all he saw. When this tragic day was over 27 people lay dead in that school including Mr. Lanza who took his own life, along with six faculty members and 20 children, most of which were kindergarteners.[5]

These events have intensified a debate that’s been raging for years.[6] The debate as reported by blog sites and major media outlets has mainly focused on gun control legislation and the availability of medical help for the mentally ill.[7] But are the answers we are really looking for wrapped up in these and the other topics that rule the media’s attention? Some have been writing in recognition of another topic all together, something much more pervasive. While still treated peripherally these events have reminded us that we are surrounded by evil. And as such other questions have been asked, questions that are usually for the theologically minded and relegated to the “Religion” section of the paper, if included at all. “Where was God?” and “How could God allow such a thing to happen?” are two of the more popular. When events such as the most recent ones in Santa Monica and Newtown take place we are often left wondering these and other questions. Often in the midst of tragedies people have difficulty understanding them in context of the existence of God, for many these questions serve as an objection to God’s existence. In fact this is one of the most popular objections to God, known as “The Problem of Evil.” Dr. Keith Yandell writes, “The existence of evil is the most influential consideration against the existence of God.”[8] Below I hope to explore the problem of evil by first discussing the existence of evil. The problem itself is actually made up of two sub-problems, the intellectual problem of evil and the emotional problem of evil. For our purposes here we will only be discussing the intellectual problem of evil. At the conclusion of our discussion we will see that this problem is not a problem for the theist at all and it is quite the opposite actually.

Evil - 123rf

“The fact is that there is evil in the world…”[9] This is something that is clear to us all; it’s considered brute or basic knowledge. The events discussed above serve as evidence that evil exists. We often ignore evil, having become desensitized to it; that is until a man murders 26 innocent people, most of them children or he walks the streets of a wealthy suburb randomly shooting innocent human beings. Then we are jostled and shaken, as if being awakened from a sleep or trance to a cruel truth. Evil exists. Greg Stier, a contributor to the Christian Post writes, “What happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School was at a level of malevolence beyond any earthly explanation or solution.”[10] About the Sandy Hook shooting Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy said, “Evil visited this community today.”[11]

Sam Harris, outspoken critic of religion and prolific atheistic author gives his own example of what evil is in a Huffington Post article,

Somewhere in the world a man has abducted a little girl. Soon he will rape, torture, and kill her. If an atrocity of this kind is not occurring at precisely this moment, it will happen in a few hours, or days at most. Such is the confidence we can draw from the statistical laws that govern the lives of six billion human beings.[12]

Atheist William Rowe, professor emeritus of philosophy at Purdue affirms the existence of evil, “Intense human and animal suffering, for example, occurs daily and in great plentitude in our world. Such suffering is a clear case of evil.”[13] In that same publication Paul Draper, who is quite well regarded in the area of the evidential argument of evil and also at Purdue equates evil with pain and defines it as “physical or mental suffering of any sort.”[14] The Psalmists writes “Evils have encompassed me without number.”[15] Jeremiah pleads, “Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed?”[16] And Saint Paul tells us “the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now.”[17]

It is evidentially clear that evil exists but what exactly is “evil”? The dictionary definition of evil is “morally reprehensible, sinful, wicked.” We will use this definition as we explore the problem of evil. At this point it is important to note that the burden of proof here in the logical problem of evil rests on the skeptic being that this argument is supposed to be a positive argument for the non-existence of God. It is up to the skeptic to lay out an argument that concludes with “Therefore, God does not exist.”[18] With that let us examine the most often used argument against God.

The Intellectual Problem of Evil

Yandell plainly explains the intellectual problem as such, “That there is evil seems to many a feature of the world that God would not have allowed. Thus they argue that since evil does exist, God does not.”[19] The intellectual problem of evil itself has two lines of argumentation.The Problem of Evil The first is the logical argument from evil, which asserts that it is logically impossible for God and evil to exist. The second way the intellectual problem of evil is expressed is known as the evidential argument of evil and tries to show that it is highly improbable that God and evil exist. We will begin by exploring the first of these, the logical argument from evil.

The Logical Argument from Evil

The logical Argument is usually presented in the following format:

O1. An omnipotent God exists.

O2. An omniscient God exists.

O3. An omnibenevolent God exists.

E4. However, evil exists.

G. Therefore God does not exist.[20]

This problem as stated relies on the notion that it is logically impossible for an all-powerful, all knowing and all-loving God to exist while evil also exists. The skeptic reasons that either God is not O1, O2 and/or O3, given that evil exists, or evil would not exist. Since evil clearly exists (as we have seen), God, as according to traditional monotheism, does not exist.

But why think that O1, O2 and O3 are inconsistent with the existence of evil? This is where the skeptic must own the burden of proof; it is up to them to show that there is a contradiction between them. But there is no explicit contradiction here; that is, one statement is not the opposite of the others. In order for this argument to follow logically the skeptic must bring to the table at least two hidden assumptions,

O4. If God is O1, He can create any world He wants.

O5. If God were O3, He would prefer a world without evil.[21]

In light of these two hidden assumption the argument is that an all powerful and all-loving God could and would want to create a world without suffering. Therefore, it follows that because there is suffering in the world (E4) God does not exist (G). However, for this argument to follow logically the atheist must now show that O4 and/or O5 are necessarily true, a task they cannot accomplish.[22] In order for the skeptic to show O4 and/or O5 to be necessarily true there must not be any logical exceptions to them. In other words to show either or both of the premises false all one must do is provide a possible scenario that would show that God, while being all-powerful could not create any world he wants.

Is O4 (if God is omnipotent he can create any world He wants.) necessarily true? Not in a world in which God created people with free will! It would be logically impossible to create a free people and then force them to do or not to do anything against that free will. This would be the equivalent of having a married bachelor or a four-sided triangle. God, in his omnipotence cannot create illogical impossibilities. On this very subject William Lane Craig writes,

If people have free will, they may refuse to do what God desires. So there will be any number of possible worlds that God cannot create because the people in them wouldn’t cooperate with God’s desires. In fact, for all we know, it’s possible that in any world of free persons with as much good as this world there wouldn’t also be as much suffering. This conjecture need not be true or even probable, but so long as it’s even logically possible it shows that it is not necessarily true that God can create any world that He wants.[23]

In light of this it is clear that O4 is not necessarily true. What about O5, “If God were all-loving, He would prefer a world without suffering.” Is this necessarily true? This premise is easier to navigate for the simple reason that we can all imagine situations in which the allowance of suffering or evil can bring about a greater good. Garret DeWeese rightly points out that when answering this question we are not attempting to show what God’s actual reasons are for allowing evil, this would be equivalent to claiming to be omniscient. We are only showing that there are possible reasons for God to allow evil while remaining all loving and it would seem quite simple to imagine a world in which God could have reasons for allowing evil.[24]

If you are a parent then you have real-life experiences where allowing pain or suffering (evil) accomplishes a greater good, and done so out of love. I have two little girls and a third on the way; just yesterday we brought our youngest to the doctor where blood needed to be drawn, this caused pain to Phoebe but the results from the blood work will hopefully give the doctors clues as to what might help her. Out of our love we allowed our daughter to experience an evil in the hopes of a greater good being accomplished. Similarly God could have perfectly good reasons for allowing evil while loving us perfectly!

The free will defense can also be applied to O5. Given free will it may simply be impossible for an all-loving God to eliminate evil. As a point of fact the free will defense has been astonishingly successful throughout the history of philosophy. So much so that philosophers no longer believe the logical problem of evil exists. “No one can disprove God’s existence by the logical problem of evil.”[25] In conclusion, the skeptic simply cannot stand under the weight of the burden of proof assumed by his hidden assumptions. “It’s widely admitted by both atheist and Christian philosophers alike that the logical version of the problem suffering [evil] has failed.”[26]

The Evidential Argument from Evil

We have seen that the logical argument from evil for atheism fails but the evidential argument from evil is another challenge to theism within the larger context of the intellection problem of evil. The evidential argument from evil, unlike the logical argument, does not contend that there is a logical contradiction between the existence of God and evil. Instead the argument tries to prove that it is improbable that God would exist in light of the evil in the world. William Rowe expresses the evidential argument from evil as,

1. There exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without therefore losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad.

2. An omniscient, wholly good being would prevent the occurrence of any intense suffering it could, unless it could not do so without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.

3. There does not exist an omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good being.[27]

In his discussion of this argument Rowe uses an example of a fawn burned in a forest fire stated by natural causes (an example of natural evil). In this example the fawn not only dies but also suffers for five days without anyone ever knowing. Rowe concludes that this is an example of a sentient being suffering unnecessarily without any good that could offset that suffering. As a result it is more probable than not that God does not exist.[28]

Rowe's Problem of Evil - Wikipedia

Simply put Rowe says that [1] it would seem that there is no justifying reason for God to permit certain evils. [2] Therefore, it is “probably true” that there is no justifying reason for God to permit certain evils. He follows that if [2] is correct then it is probably true that the God of traditional monotheism does not exist. This reasoning seems true; if you or I search exhaustively for a reason to justify a certain evil and come up with nothing, it would be logical to conclude that there is more likely than not any justification for the evil done.

However Rowe does not go unchallenged. Dr. Gregory Ganssle of the Rivendell Institute approaches Rowe from the position that Rowe’s “grounds are insufficient for thinking that it is probably true that there is no justifying reason for God to allow the particular evil.”[29] This objection is based upon the notion that going from “seems” to “probably true” is a weak inference, and quite a jump in reasoning.

In order to see how Rowe’s argument breaks down we have to understand what kind of inference he is asking us to make. For example, “It seems as though there is no B-52 bomber in my dining room, therefore, probably there is no B-52 in my dining room,” is an example of a strong inference. It is reasonable for me to look up from my computer and see that there is no B-52 in my dining room, and then infer that there probably isn’t one. However not all inferences are equal. For example, “It seems as though there are no radio waves in my dining room, therefore, there probably are no radio waves in my dining room,” is a weak inference. Anyone can see the difference between these two examples; one is more reasonable than the other.

Ganssle uses the statement, “If there were a X, we would probably know it.” to test whether an inference is strong or weak.[30] The weaker the inference the less likely it is to be true. Going back to our examples, replace the “X” with “B-52 bomber” results in a statement that is true because we would see it. Replacing the “X” with “radio waves” we get a false statement because even if there were radio waves in this room we would not see them.

So, is God’s allowing some certain evil event akin to a B-52 or a radio wave? The statement we must test as true or not is, “If God had a justifying reason to allow a particular case of evil, we would probably know what it is.”[31] When phrased like this it is clear that we should know God’s justification for certain evil events, but there are other events that we would not and should not know God’s justification for. To claim otherwise would be to claim to be omniscient. Remember, we are not trying to ascertain the actual reasons for God to allow an evil event but instead we are trying to determine whether it is reasonable to think that there are justifiable reasons for God to allow that evil event.

Looking at most evils in the world it would be fair to conclude that there are justifiable reasons for God to allow them. In other words often times good can come from evil, even if we aren’t privy to that good in the midst of the evil. This can be said about most evils; good can and often does come from them. Greg Koukl, in his article A Good Reason for Evil says,

“It’s not good to promote evil itself, but one of the things about God is that He’s capable of taking a bad thing and making good come out of it. Mercy is one example of that. Without sin there would be no mercy. That’s true of a numbr of good things: bearing up under suffering, dealing with injustice, acts of heroism, forgiveness, long-suffering. These are all virtues that cannot be experienced in a world with no sin and evil.”[32]

But what about an event like the Santa Monica shooting? Or the shooting at the elementary school in Sandy Hook, CT? As far as I can tell there is no good reason for God to have allowed those people to die in this manner. However, this does not mean that it is more likely than not that God does not have a justifiable reason. Actually I would conclude that if God exists there should be certain parts of reality that we would not understand due to them being beyond our grasp. If God exists I would expect a certain amount of mystery in any number of life’s experiences. In sum Ganssle writes,

The fact that there is mysterious evil is just what we would expect if there were a God… If this is about what we should expect, it cannot be counted as evidence against God’s existence. So even though it might seem, at first glance, that there are no good reasons to allow certain evils we see, this does not provide strong evidence that these evils are really unjustified. The evidential argument from evil, then, does not make it likely that God does not exist.[33]

Contrary to what the skeptic thinks it has become clear that instead of providing evidence against God’s existence, evidential argument from evil actually provides evidence for His existence. The fact that we cannot find justifiable reasons for God to allow all the evil in the world is exactly what we should expect if there were an omniscient, omnibenevolent, omnipotent and omnipresent deity.

Conclusion

Above we have explored only one of the arguments employed by atheists and other skeptics to prove that God does not exist. We have seen that their arguments fail for a number of reasons and for these reasons and others too it is “dubious that the existence of evil is in fact evidence against the existence of God.”[34]As a matter of fact we have seen that their arguments actually point to the existence of a Being that is consistent with traditional monotheism.

With that we have also seen that no matter the merits of the argument or the debate that is had, evil is real. Many times, and often in theThoreau Quote wake of tremendous evils such as public shootings it becomes clear that many do not take seriously the fact that evil is all around us. Going further and from a survey of headlines by major media outlets and what our politicians have to say about such events many do not take seriously the fact that there is only one solution to evil, and more legislation on this or less legislation on that with more social programs is not it. The solution is found nowhere but in God. It is becoming clear that the further away from God we move the more frequent these evil’s will become. Henry David Thoreau is credited with saying “For every thousand hacking at the leaves of evil one strikes at the root.” Throughout human history there has only been one person who has been successful at striking the root of evil and that is Jesus Christ. And that we will have to discuss at a later time.


[1] Robin Abcarian, Jessica Garrison, Martha Grove (June 10, 2013). “Santa Monica Shooter’s background steeped in trauma, violence”. LA Times (http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-0611-santa-monica-shooting-20130611,0,1490078.story)

[2] John Bacon (June 10, 2013). “Santa Monica shootings claim fifth victim”. USA Today (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/06/09/santa-monica-shooting-john-zawahri/2405015/)

[3] (June 11, 2013). “Santa Monica College To Celebrate Graduation, Remember Shooting Victims In Dual Ceremony”. CBSLA (http://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2013/06/11/santa-monica-college-to-celebrate-graduation-remember-shooting-victims-in-dual-ceremony/)

[4] Steve Almasy (December 19, 2012). “Newtown shooter’s guns: What we know”. (http://edition.cnn.com/2012/12/18/us/connecticut-lanza-guns/index.html accessed Dec. 19. 2012)

[5] Richard Esposito, Candace Smith, Christina NG (December 14, 2012). “20 Children Died in Newtown, Conn., School Massacre”. AP. ABC News. (http://abcnews.go.com/US/twenty-children-died-newtown-connecticut-school-shooting/story?id=17973836#.UOIAHEKhosk accessed on Dec. 17, 2012).

[6] James Barron (December 14, 2012). “Nation Reels After Gunman Massacres 20 Children at School in Connecticut.” The New York Times. (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/15/nyregion/shooting-reported-at-connecticut-elementary-school.html?_r=0 accessed Dec. 17, 2012).

[7] CNN Editorial Staff (December 14, 2012). “After school shooting, how do we stop the violence?” CNN. (http://edition.cnn.com/2012/12/14/us/school-shooting-violence-irpt/index.html accessed Dec. 17, 2012)

[8] Keith E. Yandell. Philosophy of Religion: A contempary introduction (New York: Routledge, 2004), 124 -125.

[9] Keith E. Yandell. 125. [Just: Ibid., 125]

[10] Greg Stier (December 27, 2012). “Gun Control Is Not the Answer.” The Christian Post Online. (http://www.christianpost.com/news/gun-control-is-not-the-answer-87291/ accessed Dec. 19, 2012)

[11] Susan Candiotti, Chelsea Carter (December 15, 2012). “‘Why? Why?’: 26 dead in elementary school massacre.” CNN. (http://edition.cnn.com/2012/12/14/us/connecticut-school-shooting/index.html accessed Dec. 17, 2012).

[12] Sam Harris (October 6, 2005). “There is No God (And You Know It.” Huffington Post. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sam-harris/there-is-no-god-and-you-k_b_8459.html? accessed on Dec. 13, 2012).

[13] William L. Rowe, “The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism,” In Philosophy of Religion: A Reader Guide, ed. William Lane Craig (Rutgers University Press: New Brunswick, NJ, 2002), 318.

[14] Ibid, Paul Draper, “Pain and Pleasure: An Evidential Problem for Theists,” 329.

[15] Psalm 40:12, RSV.

[16] Jeremiah 15:8, RSV.

[17] Romans 8:22, RSV.

[18] William Lane Craig, On Guard: Defending your faith with reason and precision (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2010), 153.

[19] Yandell, Philosophy of Religion, 125.

[20] Garrett DeWeese, “Solving the Problem of Evil.” Biola University recorded lecture series.

[21] Craig, On Guard, 155.

[22] Necessarily true statements are statements that cannot be untrue in any situation. Logical truths are widely agreed to by necessarily true statements across religious and philosophical spectrums.

[23] Craig, On Guard, 156.

[24] DeWeese, “Solving the Problem of Evil” Biola Lecture series.

[25] DeWeese, “Answering the Problem of Evil.” Biola lecture series.

[26] Craig, On Guard, 157.

[27] William L. Rowe, “The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism,” In Philosophy of Religion: A Reader Guide, ed. William Lane Craig (Rutgers University Press: New Brunswick, NJ, 2002), 318.

[28] Ibid, 320-322.

[29] Gregory Ganssle, A Reasonable God: Engaging the New Face of Atheism (Waco, Texas: Baylor University Press, 2009), 157.

[30] Ibid, 158.

[31] Ibid, 158.

[33] Ibid, 159.

[34] Yandell, Philosophy of Religion, 161.

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Kalam Cosmological Argument – Kalam made simpler

Let’s engage one of the best arguments there is for the existence of God. It’s called the Kalam Cosmological argument. Before we look at the argument itself it’s important to note a few things.

  1. This argument is based soundly on the notion that it is impossible to have an infinite number of past events.
  2. This argument is also based upon sound logical reasoning and as such in order to refute the argument one would have to show one of the premises false or that the conclusion does not follow.
  3. The main goal of this argument is to show that there is a first cause, not to prove the existence of the Christian God. This is important to understand.
  4. I believe this argument is the best argument to start with when addressing a skeptic because it lays a foundation for other arguments and eventually for the God of the Bible.

Let’s dive in shall we. The argument is quite straightforward and easy to memorize. It consists of three simple steps or two premises and a conclusion.

  1. Whatever begins to exist requires a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist
  3. Therefore the universe has a cause.

Simple right? Now let’s look at each step and check its validity.

1. Whatever begins to exist requires a cause:

First and foremost, to deny this premise is to deny a fundamental metaphysical principle and go against the fact that matter can neither be created nor destroyed and science in general. Something cannot come out of nothing. This should be completely obvious to everyone. Nothing comes from nothing. If this weren’t true we would see things appearing in front of us constantly. In fact Craig would say that it’s so obvious that the premise stands on its own. However you may encounter one argument to this premise and that is “Who created God then?” But this is an illogical question because God is necessarily uncaused.

2. The universe began to exist:

I mentioned earlier that this argument is soundly based upon the idea that it’s impossible to have an actual infinite number of past events; here’s why. Today is built on yesterday and yesterday on the day before and the day before on the day before that, etc. Each day is a single thing and knowing that we are here today would imply that a finite number of days have passed one by one. If there are an infinite number of days in the past we would never be able to reach this point in time because there is always one more day at the beginning or, more so, there would be an infinite number of points between and two points in time.

A string or recent scientific discoveries also imply that the universe had a beginning.

  1. The expansion of the universe suggests that the it is not infinite because if you trace this expansion back in time we witness the universe getting more and more dense until it reaches a singular point from which the universe begins to expand.
  2. We witness this expansion of the universe by viewing the distances between galaxies growing, the red shifting of light from cosmic object and what’s called cosmic background radiation.
  3. General Relativity does not permit for an infinite universe. This eventually led to Big Bang theory.
  4. The second law of thermodynamics suggests that in a closed system everything moves towards equilibrium. Basically this means that after certain amount of time the universe will slow down and die what I’ve heard referred to as a “heat death.” Since we are still here we know that hasn’t happened yet so, the universe cannot be infinitely old.

3. The universe had a cause: From the two premises above it is only logical to conclude that the universe had a cause. But what was this cause. Before the universe there was nothing: no time, space or matter. So the cause must be non-temporal (eternal), non-physical, and non-material. So what could satisfy these requirements?

Because there are only two kinds of things that are non-material the cause can only be one of two possible things, an abstract object like a number or a mind. We know that abstract objects don’t cause anything. Minds do however. It is here that we can conclude that a non-physical, non-temporal, and immaterial creator must have been the cause of all we see and experience. By very definition this is God.

This is a very simple argument to memorize but one that can also lead you to some very complicated areas of study. For more information I highly recomend William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith. Dr. Craig is also has a plethora of information on his website at http://www.reasonablefaith.org/

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Are Mormons Christian? The Great Apostasy, a dividing doctrine

The Great Apostasy and a Restored Church

Apostasy: the abandonment or renunciation of a belief or principle.[1] 

Introduction

At first glance there are a number of views shared by the Evangelical Church and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. However, once many of these views are explored it becomes clear that there are actually many differences as well. Herein we will explore one very major difference, the Mormon belief that the New Testament documents have been tampered with, leading to a falling away of the church early in Christian history and in the belief that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, through the “prophet” Joseph Smith is a restoration of the one true church. It’s our aim to first understand what it is that the Latter-Day Saint believes and why. From there we will review biblical scriptures, putting those claims to the test. We will close by looking at the historical reliability of the biblical narrative and what textual criticism says about them in the hopes of addressing a major issue of difference between the Mormon Church and orthodox Christianity. As a result we should be able to come to a conclusion on whether the early church fell away and if the New Testament documents can even be trusted.

The Mormon Belief One – The Apostate Church

The Mormon belief that the Christian Church was witness to a total apostasy finds its foundation in 1 Nephi 13 where we read that the New Testament documents were tampered with.

And after they go forth by the hand of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, from the Jews unto the Gentiles, thou seest the formation of that great and abominable church, which is most abominable above all other churches; for behold, they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away.

And all this have they done that they might pervert the right ways of the Lord, that they might blind the eyes and harden the hearts of the children of men.

Wherefore, thou seest that after the book hath gone first through the hands of the great and abominable church, that there are many plain and precious things taken away from the book, which is the book of the Lamb of God.[2]

In examination of this passage Dr. Kent P. Jackson, the associate dean of professors at Brigham Young University, long time teacher of Ancient Scripture and Latter-Day Saint writes that contrary to what many believe, this passage from the Book of Mormon does not represent monks or medieval scribes as the ones intentionally removing portions of scripture so to further their own personal agendas.[3] No, according to Dr. Jackson what was written in 1 Nephi should be interpreted as a corruption of the text very early in Christian history. It should be believed that if a corruption took place it would have had to have happened prior to the Bible being spread throughout the Near East and later the world. He goes further and explains that since there is evidence in early Christian writing that the biblical text was being circulated as early as the second century then the apostasy or falling away had to occur even earlier in the Church, most likely in the first and second centuries. Though no specific time period is referenced Dr. Jackson concludes, “The Early Church died from internal, self-inflicted wounds brought about by the introduction of alien ideas that gained widespread acceptance at the expense of the pure doctrine of Christ.”[4]

Jackson isn’t the only scholar who believes this falling away happened early in Church history. Dr. James Talmage, a Mormon scholar and apologist, in his book The Great Apostasy writes that “a general apostasy developed during and after the apostolic period…”[5] Dr. Talmage goes further than Dr. Jackson writing that “the primitive Church lost its power, authority and grace as a divine institution, and degenerated into an earthly organization only.”[6] Due to this total apostasy, history witnessed what Talmage and Jackson describes as revolts against the church. Listing among these revolts “the revival of learning,” the Reformation, and even the rise of the Church of England. All of which he considers proofs not only that the Church had lost its way but also that there was a need for a restoration.[7]

Mormon Belief Two – A Needed Restoration

In the introduction to the publication History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which is by Mormons considered to be an official history of the LDS Church, we read, “Nothing less than a complete apostasy from the Christian religion would warrant the establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.”[8] Out of the idea that the Christian Church had been corrupted through apostasy flows the call for a restoration of the true church. This claim and later call was of the utmost importance. This is a statement that Evangelicals should be able to agree with: if the current Church is not following the original principles and precepts of Christ, as the Latter-Day Saints posit, then it should be our most pressing concern to get back that which was lost. As such we must now look at the origins of this doctrine and it’s validity. To do this we turn to Joseph Smith himself and his History of the Church.

In Joseph Smith – History I, found in the Pearl of Great Price we read the account of Mr. Smith’s life and general experiences with different religious sects during his early adult life.[9]  He recalls a time of great excitement, one in which he attended several meetings of different Christian denominations, eventually becoming partial to the Methodists though he did not join with them do to “great confusion and strife among the different denominations.”[10] As a result of these inter-denominational “strifes” young smith was left questioning which way was the right way. In his struggles he secluded himself in the local woods to pray for guidance. And in Chapter 15 of his History we read what is known as Joseph Smith’s First Vision, laying the groundwork for the foundation for the formation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the one true and restored church according to its members. Smith records, “I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me… When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages… standing above me in the air”[11] Smith explains that these two “personages” were God the Father and Jesus Christ. Composing himself Mr. Smith then asks “which of all the sects was right” and which one he should join? The response he claims to have received is of the utmost importance to this discussion. Smith writes,

“I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: ‘they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but the deny the power thereof.’ He again forbade me to join with any of them.”[12]

It is due to this “vision” that Joseph Smith felt the need for a restoration and it in large part served as the catalyst for Smith to further investigate spiritual things and eventually write The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, restoring what he thought to be a church in apostasy.

Similar to what we looked at by Talmage above, B.H. Roberts in his A Comprehensive History of the Church writes that the society surrounding him at the time provided “an emphatic confirmation of what Joseph Smith in substance promulgated a century ago” in that first vision.[13] Roberts goes on to point to a growing agitation within the Roman Catholic Church brought on by the modernist movement, and with it the “readjusting the Christian attitude towards modern knowledge… [and] a clear call for the rejuvenation of Roman Catholicism… harmonizing [the church’s] teachings with the thought of [the current] age.”[14] Roberts argues that this modernist call for readjustment presupposes something gone wrong, a deadness or something out of synch with modern truth.

Roberts further supports the claim that what Smith saw on that night in the woods was a revelation of the truth from God by pointing to the culture within American colleges during the century that followed. He describes an article written in a popular magazine, The Cosmopolitan Magazine, concluding that there was a unified “voice from the American colleges condemning all the churches.”[15] He goes on to express the notion that the colleges also thought that the church was not only wrong in the present time but had been for centuries. Dr. Roberts concludes that the mere recognition of these things is an admission that the claims of Joseph Smith are correct, that all the church were wrong and an abomination to God and that the Mormon Church is the one restoration of the one true church.

With the passage of time the claims of apostasy and a falling away have not become fewer. Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints have been consistent in the defense of this as well as the position that the Latter-Day Saints are the only pure church. Take the following statements into account as we head into the next phase of our journey.

  • “The Christian world, so called, are heathens as to their knowledge of the salvation of God.”[16]
  • “All other churches are entirely destitute of all authority from God: and any person who receives Baptism or the Lord’s Supper from their hands will highly offend God, for he looks upon them as the most corrupt of all people.”[17]
  • “In the process of what we call the Apostasy, the tangible, personal God described in the Old and New Testaments was replaced by the abstract, incomprehensible deity defined by compromise with the speculative principle of Greek philosophy.”[18]
  • “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has taught since its beginning that there was an apostasy of the Church that was founded by Jesus during his earthly ministry and led by the apostles after his ascension. This is a fundamental belief of our religion: if there had not been an apostasy, there would have been no need for a restoration.”[19]

It is quite clear that Joseph Smith and his fellow Latter-Day Saints believed that the church was standing in apostasy, having fallen so far from the original teachings of Christ to warrant the label “abominable church.” It’s also clear that the Mormons believe their church to be the restoration to that which became corrupted. In defense of these positions LDS members refer to a number of scriptures from the New Testament as proof texts. As such let us now turn our attention to the word of God and begin our examination of their claims.

Claiming Apostasy and Restoration from Scripture:

Smith has been compared to the likes of Christopher Columbus, not in search for a new world but on a quest for an ancient and lost truth.[20] The search resulting in what Smith and fellow Latter-Day Saints claim to be a restoration. As Columbus used celestial navigation and a compass in search of a new land, Smith and his predecessors used Scripture as a guide and proof to their claims. It is here that we will examine the claims made and begin to offer a rebuttal, if possible, with the end goal of forming a conclusion on the Mormon claims put forth above. Below we will examine two of central scriptures used in support first of a complete apostasy and then a restoration.

Acts 20:29-30 – Apostasy Foretold

Andrew Skinner, dean of religious education at Brigham Young University and well known author writes,

We affirm that the Apostasy and the Restoration occurred just as foretold… Supported by scripture and the words of prophets, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches unequivocally that there was an apostasy from the Lord’s one and only true church following the deaths of Christ’s early Apostles.[21]

In that article Dr. Skinner refers to Saint Paul’s words in Acts 20:29-31 as “the most pointed and succinct description in all of scripture of how the great apostasy of the early Church came about.”[22] Let’s look at the passage together,

For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears. [23]

Mormon scholars agree that Paul’s words here are of the utmost importance and point to the knowledge of the apostles that apostasy would take place and greatly affect their work. Kent Jackson tells his audience that Paul here, and other New Testament passages, that are where one must begin in order to start to understand what occurred in the early church.[24] Jackson and other Mormon scholars render Paul’s words as a prophecy that an apostasy would not only occur but had in fact already begun. Their reading of these two verses provides a basis for the belief that false teachers (the wolves) would infiltrate the church, devouring all members of the Christian church (the sheep); not one would be spared. As a commentary on this very verse Talmage tells his readers “it is evident that the church was literally driven from the earth… But the Lord in His mercy provided for the re-establishment of His Church in the last days, and for the last time… This restoration was effected by the Lord through the Prophet Joseph Smith.”[25]

But is Paul foretelling a complete falling away; an apostasy as Latter-Day Saints suggest? According to Robert Bowman, the manager of Apologetics and Interfaith Evangelism at the North American Mission Board, the answer is no. In his article LDS Apostles and Prophets: What Did the New Testament Apostles Say?  Bowman writes that while, yes, the New Testament prophets and writers repeatedly warned of coming false prophets  they “never once expressed concern about the church losing its way,” nor do they allude to or predict a “top-down worldwide church polity after the departure of the apostles.”[26]

It would seem that Mormon scholars have misapplied Paul’s words in Acts. When the biblical authors wrote the letters of the New Testament they did so with intent and purpose to a specific audience. It has been suggested that perhaps this is where some Latter-Day scholars err in their application of Acts 20:29-31. Paul wrote Acts to address a very specific group of people, the church in Ephesus. Actually it’s even more specific than that, he is writing to the leadership of the church, the elders.[27] You see, Paul was issuing a warning, but not to all churches present and future. He was issuing a very direct warning to the elders of the Ephesian church.

In support of this view and in the hopes of correcting the misapplication of Acts 20 by Latter-Day Saints we can turn to the late F.F. Bruce, the world renowned biblical scholar and expert in the New Testament. In his famous commentary on Acts, Bruce explains what Paul most likely meant when issuing this warning,

That this development did in fact take place at Ephesus is evident from the Pastoral Epistles and from the letter to the Ephesian church in Rev. 2:1ff. The Pastoral Epistles tell of a general revolt against Paul’s teaching throughout the province of Asia, and John is bidden to reproach the Christians of Ephesus for having abandoned their first love. Foreseeing these trends, then, Pal urges the Ephesian elders to be watchful.[28]

 

It is quite obvious, as Bruce tells us and from a general reading of this scripture in context that Paul’s words here cannot, and should not be thought to mean that the Christian church as a whole would turn its back on the Gospel message completely. If, as the LDS Church propagates, Paul meant that a great, universal, and complete apostasy would occur he would not have also written, “Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.”(Emphasis mine)[29]

As my hermeneutics professor in seminary, Ben Shin says, it’s all about context, context, context. It can rightly be concluded that, at least in this instance, the belief of a great apostasy is founded to be based on a passage of scripture taken out of context. As such it can be logically concluded that the use of Acts 20 to support the notion of a great apostasy is due to an inaccurate rendering of Paul’s words.

Acts 3:20-21 – Restoration Foretold[30]

As we have explored, the Latter-Day Saints believe that due to the great apostasy there is a need to reestablish God’s truths and the gospel as a whole to all people. And, as we have seen, that belief can be explained by the taking of a verse out of context. But is the claim of a future restoration accurate according to the biblical text? On the LDS website under the “Scriptures” section there is a list of additional verses referencing support that “the gospel of Jesus Christ was lost from the earth through the apostasy… That apostasy made necessary the restoration of the gospel.”[31] Acts 3:20-21 is listed as a primary proof text of this claim.

Before we look at the text it is important to understand that the Mormons consider the restoration of the gospel started by Joseph Smith’s First Vision as vital to millions of people worldwide (and in the world not seen).[32] As such, we should approach this subject with respect and honesty.

Now, let us read Acts 3:20-21 together: “[A]nd that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.”[33] From an initial reading it can seem that Paul is telling us that there will be a restoration following a time of apostasy. LeGrand Richards, former president of the LDS Church, member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, a prominent missionary and author writes of this passage:

“When looking for the second coming of the Christ as herein promised, we much realize that he will not come before there is a “restitution [restoration] of all things.” It is obvious that there cannot be a restitution of that which has not been taken away. Therefore, this scripture is another very plain prediction of apostasy – the taking of the gospel from earth – with a promise of the complete restoration of all things spoken by all the holy prophets since the world began.”[34]

Again, at first glimpse this seems to be an accurate statement. After all, why would there be a need for a restitution of something that hasn’t been removed? And here the restitution spoken of, according the Mr. Richards and his LDS brothers and sisters, is the gospel. The event that is of such importance here is the coming of the original gospel message by way of the one true church, restored by and through the Latter-Day prophet Joseph Smith. Dr. Jackson writes, “The Book of Mormon stands as an ending of the restoration of the gospel through the Prophet Joseph Smith, held up to the world as evidence of God’s love for his children today.”[35]

As we saw in Acts 20 though, sometimes first impressions are not truth revealing. So let’s look now again at Acts 3. There are a number of interpretations of this passage. The more popular of which is outlined well by Ron Rhodes in his Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Mormons while discussing this passage. Rhodes explains that the phrase “restitution of all things” more than likely refers to the restoration of Israel. To come to this conclusion we again have to think of the context in which Paul is writing Acts. His audience is the “men of Israel” and he tells his readers about the fulfillment of all the earlier prophecies. Rhodes offers good insight by way of Dr. Craig Keener, an academic professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary, who writes “that Jewish people expected Israel’s restoration; this was a central message of the Old Testament prophets… and Peter seems to have it in view here.”[36]

Though there are other renderings of meaning, such as the “restitution of all things” carries a more general meaning referring to judgment day, we can be sure of what Acts 3:20-21 cannot mean. Again, context, context, context; nowhere in the surrounding text is there any mention of a total apostasy in which the entire church will lose its way. This is true also when looking at the larger context of not only the New Testament but the entire biblical narrative, as Keener alludes to. The accepted Mormon rendering of Acts 3:20-21 simply reads something into the text that isn’t there. Rhodes points out that the Latter-Day Saints are guilty of eisogesis (reading meaning into a text) instead of practicing exegesis (drawing the meaning out of the text). He writes, “By allowing the text to speak for itself, a person would never come to the conclusion that Acts 3:20-21 is referring to a complete apostasy” and restoration of the church.[37] He then offers Matthew 16:18 as an example of the conflict that would arise if this were not so. “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”[38] In claiming that the entire Christian church fell into apostasy and was in need of a restoration the Mormon is in direct conflict with the words and teachings of Jesus.

Similarly Ephesians 3:21 reads, “to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”[39] What is the need for a restoration if the church never falls away as we see here? Look at the claims of Peter in 1 Peter 1:25, quoting Isaiah 40:8 that “’the word of the Lord endures forever.’ And this is the word which was preached to you.”[40] There is only one way to interpret this passage, which is the Word of the Lord truly “endures” throughout all of history. Peter is unequivocally claiming that what he and the other apostles are teaching is the true word of God.

Historical Reliability of the Biblical Narrative

Mormons, when confronted with their conclusions drawn from scripture,  often claim that the biblical narrative, specifically the New Testament has been corrupted as according to 1 Nephi 13:26-28.  But is this true? Kent Jackson thinks so and says that following the death of the apostles the “doctrinal unity which the Twelve were guardians had dissolved, and groups with every diverse teaching… were competing for power in the Christian community.”[41] Kent Brown, professor of ancient scripture and the director of ancient studies at Brigham Young University writes that what was witnessed in the late first century is a “church full of dissensions.”[42] The result is a corrupted text. However, what does the historical evidence say?

 

It would seem that the accuracy of the biblical record actually stands in direct conflict with the idea that there was an early apostasy as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints claims. In fact there is a “continuous line of historical evidence from as early as A.D. 95-100 showing that the Christian community considered the writings of Jesus’ apostles the supreme doctrinal standard.”[43] We can be confident that by the late first and early second century there was all but universal agreement among Christian groups world-wide regarding the inspiration and accuracy of at least 20 of the New Testament books. By the end of the 4th century there was universal recognition of all 27 books of the New Testament.

The early believers viewed the apostolic writing as sacred. Much of this is actually due to the fact that the witnesses and apostles were dying or dead. Instead of this providing an opportunity for apostasy to creep in, it motivated the early church to make sure an accurate account of the events were recorded.

We are able to conclude that the New Testament is accurate and reliable because we can compare a multitude of manuscripts. This is a line of argument all but ignored by Mormon scholars. Between the second and fifteenth centuries, the time the falling away is claimed to have happened by the LDS, 5,366 partial and complete New Testament manuscript were reproduced.[44]  Compared to each other we see amazing accuracy and likeness. If there were deliberate changes being made by a variety of decenter there would be a large number of discrepancies between the texts, especially if the changes began early on.

Even more amazing is time that transpired between the original writings and the first copies. We have most of the New Testament manuscripts dated within 200 years of the events. We have some books dating to within 100 years of the events. And we have one fragment that comes within a generation. There simply was not enough time for heresy to creep in and gain footing.

Also, compared to any other ancient text the New Testament stands in a class of it’s own. “Not only are there thousands more manuscripts and portions of the New Testament than other ancient books, but the oldest New Testament manuscript portions are centuries earlier,” resulting in the ability to reconstruct them with a greater degree of accuracy than any other ancient book.[45] If one is to doubt the authenticity of the New Testament documents then one must also doubt all ancient writing. Something no group, Latter-Day Saints included, is too willing to do. (The chart above was taken from http://carm.org/manuscript-evidence)

Textual Criticism      

The process used in determining to what degree any ancient document corresponds to its original is called textual criticism.  Lower criticism deals the authenticity of the text. Textual critics try to recreate the original texts of the lost document by comparing copies of the writings, in this case the ancient New Testament documents. The results? We can be confident “that the Bible has not only been preserved in the largest number of manuscripts of any book from the ancient world, but that it also contains fewer errors in transmission.”[46] Of these errors only 10 percent affect the meaning of the passage, none effecting Christian doctrine.

In light of these evidences and the work of textual critics we can be certain that what we’re reading today, “line for line, word for word, and even letter for letter”, is the “Word of God as originally written.”[47] What’s more is that we can be sure that the Mormon position that the texts were corrupted early in Church history is not an accurate one, eliminating the need of a restored church due to the fact that church history as been so well preserved. It also becomes clear that nowhere in the thousands of manuscripts and copies do we see anything close to resembling what Joseph Smith and his Mormon followers believe to be the restored church.

Conclusion

            In conclusion and after careful examination of both the evidence and the claims to apostasy and a restoration propagated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints it has become clear that the Mormon church is mistaken. We’ve seen that the proof texts from Scripture and the historicity of the Bible support the orthodox, Evangelical view that what we read today is what the Apostles wrote; no central doctrines have been removed or added. As such we can be sure that the Church is not apostate and therefore there is no need for a restoration of any kind. However, this is not to say the claims of the Latter-Day Saints should be dismissed with a cavalier attitude. Claims such as the ones investigated above pose a very real challenge to orthodoxy and as Saints we are called to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks… But do this with gentleness and respect,” and our prayers should echo that of the Psalmist, “Teach me Your way, O Lord, that I may walk and live in Your truth; direct and unite my heart to fear and honor Your name.”[48]

        

[1] Soanes, Catherine, Angus Stevenson, ed. 2004. Concise Oxford English Dictionary (Eleventh Edition). Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press. 61.

[2] Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 13:26-28.

[3] Jackson, Kent P. From Apostasy to Restoration (Salt Lake City: Desert News Press: 2010, Kindle e-book) locations 319-366.

[4] Jackson. 354

[5] Talmage, James E. The Great Apostasy: Considered in the Light of Scriptural and Secular History (Salt Lake City, Desert News Press, 1968). Preface.

[6] Ibid

[7] Jackson, Kent. From Apostasy to Restoration. Chapter 7 and Talmage, James E. The Great Apostasy. Chapter 10

[8] Roberts, B.H., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints – Period I. Salt Lake City, UT: Desert News, 1902. XLII As accessed online at http://books.google.com/books?id=EylEIEiOmZAC&pg on 12/01/2011)

[9] It is recommended that the reader here break and read all of Joseph Smith – History, found in the Pearl of Great Price in order to place discussion in context. It can be found at: http://lds.org/scriptures/pgp/js-h/1.1-26?lang=eng#0

[10] Pearl of Great Price: Joseph Smith – History Ch. 8

[11] Ibid 16-17

[12] Ibid 19-20

[13] Roberts, B.H. A Comprehensive History of the Church: Century One (Salt Lake City: Desert News Press, 1930). 62.

[14] Ibid, 62-63.

[15] Ibid, 65.

[16] Young, Brigham. Journal of Discourses (London: Latter-Day Saints Book Depot, 1854-1856). 8:171.

[17] Pratt, Orson, The Seer. Washington DC: NP, 1853-54. 255.

[18] Oaks, Dallin H. “Apostasy and the Restoration.” Ensign Magazine, May 1995. 85.

[19] Jackson, Kent. From Apostasy to Restoration. 138.

[20] Bennion, Lynn M. and J.A. Washburn. History or the Restored Church (Salt Lake City, Desert News Press for Desert Sunday School Union Board, 1960). 11.

[21] Skinner, Andrew C. “Apostacy, Resotration, and Lessons in Fiath.” Ensign Magazine December 1995. p. 1 http://lds.org/ensign/print/1995/12/apostasy-restoration-and-lessons-in-faith?lang=eng&clang=eng (accessed November 28, 2011)

[22] Ibid. p. 1

[23] The New King James Version. 1982 (Ac 20:29–31). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[24] Jackson, Kent. From Apostasy to Restoration. 173.

[25] Talmage, James Edward. The Articles of Faith (Salt Lake City, Desert News Press, 1899). 206-207.

[26] Bowman, Robert M. “LDS Apostles and Prophets: What Did the New Testament Apostles Say?” 4Truth.net: New Religions and Cults section. http://www.4truth.net/fourtruthpbnew.aspx?pageid=8589952803 (accessed October 29, 2011)

[27] See Acts 20:17.

[28] Bruce, F.F. The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Book of Acts (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988). 417.

[29] The Holy Bible: King James Version. 2009 (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version.) (Eph 3:21). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[30] It should be noted that if it is shown that the belief of an all-encompassing and great apostasy is be false then there would be no reason to examine the Mormon claim that there is a need for a restoration. No apostasy equals no restoration. But due to the limits of this paper, specifically the time and space we will only be looking at two scriptures from Acts, there are more examples referenced by Mormon apologists and scholars.

[32] Jackson, Kent. From Apostasy to Restoration. 1202

[33] The New King James Version. 1982 (Ac 3:20–21). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[34] LeGrand, Richard. A Marvelous Work and a Wonder (Salt Lake City, Desert Book Company, 1973). 35

[35] Jackson, Kent. From Apostasy to Restoration

[36] Rhodes, Ron. Reasoning from the Scriptures. 44. Referring to Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary (Downers Grove, IL, InterVarsity Press, 1993). 332

[37] Rhodes, Ron. Reasoning from the Scriptures. 45.

[38] The New King James Version. 1982 (Mt 16:18). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[39] Ibid (Eph 3:21).

[40] New American Standard Bible : 1995 update. 1995 (1 Pe 1:25). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[41] Jackson, Kent. From Apostasy to Restoration. 154

[42] Brown, S. Kent. “Whither the Early Church.” Ensign Magazine (October 1988) 7-10. http://lds.org/ensign/1988/10/whither-the-early-church?lang=eng (accessed October 27, 2011)

[43] Wilson, Luke P. “Lost Books and Latter-Day Revelation.” Christian Research Institute Online. http://www.equip.org/articles/lost-books-and-latter-day-revelation (accessed November 7, 2011)

[44] N. Geisler and W. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible. (Chicago, Moody Press, 1986). 385

[45] Ibid 405

[46] Ibid 489

[47] Ibid 489

[48] 1 Peter 3:15; Psalm 86:11

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God and Evil

I am writing this in response to an article written by my mother on her blog site.  She expressed deep sorrow and fear.  Her heart being broken by the tragedies of a fallen world.  I’m writing this because I was touched by her writings and believe that I am obligated to try and answer what plagues so many of us in today’s society.  This may be the single most popular obstacle to the belief in God in today’s world and to be honest, right now, while I write these words I too have the same question.  How can God allow so much evil, pain and suffering in the world?

 

The fact of the matter is that when individuals in our postmodern and increasingly secular world, America in particular, are faced with tragedy whether by way of sickness, war, accidents, natural disasters, etc. the question of “WHY” enters our minds.  This is especially true if the event involves the death of people who we feel should, in one way or another, be “immune” to such suffering and/or loss of life.   It’s during times of loss and the lamenting over this question we see so many people turn from God.  They turn to themselves, they turn to other religions, they turn to their own interpretation of Christ and God, to a New Age faith.  There is little doubt that everyone reading this can relate to what I am saying.

 

However, turning from God or trying to find answers outside of God is not the solution to this “WHY” either.  Instead we should try and figure out the true existence of God and from there we can then search for the answers to the question so many of us share.  Maybe there is a purpose for God allowing evil to entire our lives!  Maybe pain and loss somehow have a place in the puzzle of life!

 

Me, my thoughts on the question of evil are as follows.  I believe that Christianity is the only solution to the problem.  As a Christian I believe that evil in the world doesn’t present evidence against the existence of God but actually speaks to the power of my faith.

 

Let’s go a little deeper.  Evil.  Evil effects our thoughts on God two ways.  The first is the intellectual problem of evil and deals with the co-existence of God and evil.  The second is the emotional problem which speaks to dealing with the emotional dislike of God in the presence and permission of suffering and pain and how to work past these feelings.

 

The intellectual problem of evil!!  Many will say that if there is evil then logically there can not be God.  Since just by turning on the evening news we plainly see that there is evil then there can not, in turn, be God.  Right?  Well, actually wrong and here’s why.

 

God and evil in no way contradict each other as some would assume or argue.  To argue against the existence of God on the premise of the existence of evil one must show that the two contradict each other.  No philosopher has ever argued this point of view with any success.  Take a look online, Google it!!

 

Unfortunately it doesn’t stop there.  There is a secondary response by nonbelievers basically saying that because there is so much evil and suffering in the world it is highly unlikely that a moral God would permit it.  This leads to the notion that there is no God at all.  Enter the probabilistic problem of evil.

 

I will briefly address this problem, though it deserves much more.  First and foremost we in no way could ever know what God is thinking and are in no position to understand if He has morally just reasons to allow suffering and evil.  God is not limited by space, time or intelligence.  He is all powerful and all knowing and as a result He has seen the history of the world and knows the outcomes to every event before they happen.  In other words, He has a plan!  Maybe in order to reach His ultimate goal He has to allow for pain and suffering.  You see, what may seem a pointless, pain-filled and tragic event to you and I may and probably does look much differant to God.  God looks at a much bigger picture!!  Example:  Let’s look at science!  I love science, especially theoretical science.  One of the most interesting theories I have ever read about is the Chaos Theory.  Have you heard of it?  Simply put it states that there are tiny macroscopic systems like insect populations or weather patterns that are super sensitive to the tiniest change.  So sensitive that the flutter of a butterfly can set in motion forces that result in a hurricane some 3000 miles away.  Also known as the Butterfly Effect.  Now apply this same thought to our problem at hand.  The terrible and brutal murder of a loved one could, in some way, set in motion a flutter in history that when the end result is seen might justify God’s allowance of that horrible event.  When looking at the whole of history and God’s providence it is impossible for us to speculate as to the probability that God has morally just reasons to allow pain, suffering and evil in the world.

 

If that does nothing for you try this one on.  Maybe God’s chief purpose isn’t to make us happy!  For some reason we all seem to think that if God exists then he must be there to make us happy.  Unfortunately from a Christian view this is false, we are not God’s little pet’s and he is not there to create the best possible environment for us to live in.  Our end in this world is not happiness but the knowledge of God.  It’s the knowledge of God that brings endless fulfillment.  God may allow horrible things to happen that have nothing to do with the happiness of His people but they may be justified in producing the knowledge of God.  I had the hardest time grasping this one but in the end it makes sense.  Through the event paired with our freewill responses God leads people to Him.  Our response to these events is the important part to God.

 

I also believe that it is the alienation of God that has resulted in much of the evils in the world.  It seems the further away from God our society moves the darker it gets.  For some reason we seem to be rebelling against God.  Instead we should be seeking Him.  The Bible clearly says that God has given mankind to the sin it has chosen.  He does not interfere with man’s freewill and sin, letting it run it’s course.  This is for two purposes.  It heightens our moral responsibility before God while at the same time heightening our wickedness and need of forgiveness!

 

There are a few other doctrines of the Christian faith that seem to explain why there is evil in the world.  Fully seeking Jesus Christ, staying faithful in times of pain and suffering promises me eternal life.  Through my trials and tribulations here on Earth I am coming closer to God and will be rewarded with endless eternal happiness I can’t even begin to describe!!  We can take a look at the apostle Paul, who lived and stayed faithful to God through more pain and suffering than most of us can imagine.  He wrote “That is why we never give up.  Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day.  For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long.  Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!  So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen.  For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.”  (2 Cor. 4: 16-18 NLT)

(For now I’m not going to delve into the subject of objective moral values and the existence of God, that is a whole new entry but very relevant to the existence of evil.  Stay tuned!)

 

Finally, to know God fills us with so much good, hope, pleasure, and joy that no amount of evil or wrong doing can touch it!  No matter how much pain or suffering someone goes through, if they know God they will say He is good, incomparably good!

 

We’re almost done so please hang in there.  Let’s now take a look at the emotional problem with evil.  Many people have a problem with God and evil in the world because they… well… they just don’t like the idea of a God that permits bad things therefore pushing God out of their lives.  This is an emotional problem, while not as debated as the intellectual problem it is still worth mentioning for sure.

 

The Bible and my Christian faith tell me that God is loving and burdens our suffering along with us.  Jesus Christ is proof of this.  Jesus endured more pain and suffering than any of us can imagine.  Keep in mind he was guilty of no crime, therefore innocent!  Because of His love for us He endured hours of torture, public humiliation and death on a Roman cross with hands and feet nailed.

 

I think of it this way.  We are here on this Earth for what amounts to a blink of a cosmic eye.  Our pain and times of trouble isn’t even permanent throughout our entire lives and even if it is once in heaven we are free.  God came to us here on Earth in the form of man, incarnate.  He was tortured and killed to forgive us our sins, not his.  God’s pain is eternal, he must burden that for ever.  That is love.  When I try and comprehend His sacrifice and love for you and I the problem of worldly evil seems to vanish.  The problem isn’t God allowing evil but of ourselves allowing evil.  The question that we are now faced with isn’t how can God justify Himself to us but how will we justify our immorality to Him!!!

 

It’s almost funny, evil is a huge objection to belief in God but God is the only solution to the evil in this world.  With out God, Jesus Christ, we are lost and hopeless.  Left to look forward to a death only after enduring years of unredeemed suffering.  God is the only answer, the only redeemer of sin, the only way to everlasting joy and happiness so great that not a pain in the world can compare!!

     

      “Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.  Becasue of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of underserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.

      “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.  And this hope will not lead to disappointment.  For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our heart with his love.”  (Romans 5: 1-5 NLT)

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Who’s My King?

 

That’s My King – SM Lockridge

The Bible says my King is the King of the Jews. He’s the King of Israel. He’s the King of Righteousness. He’s the King of the Ages. He’s the King of Heaven. He’s the King of Glory. He’s the King of kings and He is the Lord of lords.

Now that’s my King.

David said, “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth His handiwork.” My King is a sovereign King , no means of measure can define His limitless love. No farseeing telescope can bring into visibility the coastline of His shoreless supply. No barrier can hinder Him from pouring out His blessings. He’s enduringly strong. He’s entirely sincere. He’s eternally steadfast. He’s immortally graceful. He’s imperially powerful. He’s impartially merciful.

That’s my King!

He’s the greatest phenomenon that has ever crossed the horizon of this world. He’s God’s Son. He’s the sinner’s Savior. He’s the centerpiece of civilization. He stands alone in himself. He’s august and He’s unique. He’s unparalleled, He’s unprecedented. He’s supreme, He’s preeminent. He is the loftiest idea in literature. He’s the highest personality in philosophy. He is the supreme problem in higher criticism. He’s the fundamental doctrine of true theology. He is the core and the necessity for spiritual religion.

That’s my king!

He’s the miracle of the age. He’s the superlative of everything good that you choose to call Him. He’s the only one able to supply all of our needs simultaneously. He’s the only one qualified to be an all-sufficient Savior.

I wonder if you know him today?

He supplies strength for the weak. He’s available for the tempted and the tried. He sympathizes and He saves. He strengthens and sustains. He guards and He guides. He heals the sick. He cleansed the lepers. He forgives sinners. He discharges debtors. He delivers the captive. He defends the feeble. He blesses the young. He serves the unfortunate. He regards the aged. He rewards the diligent. And He beautifies the meek.

I wonder if you know Him? Well, that’s my King!

He is the key, He’s the key to knowledge. He’s the wellspring of wisdom. He’s the doorway of deliverance. He’s the pathway of peace. He’s the roadway of righteousness. He’s the highway of holiness. He’s the gateway of glory. He’s the master of the mighty. He’s the captain of the conqueror. He’s the head of the heroes. He’s the leader of the legislators. He’s the over seer of the over comers. He’s the governor of governors. He’s the Prince of princess, the King of kings and He’s the Lord of lords.

That’s my king. Do you know Him?

Well, His office is manifold. His promise is sure. His life is matchless. His goodness is limitless. His mercy is everlasting. His love never changes. His Word is enough. His grace is sufficient. His reign is righteous and His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

Well, I wish I could describe Him to you, but He’s indescribable. Yes He is ! He’s God. He’s indescribable, yes, He’s indescribable. He’s incomprehensible. He’s invincible. He’s irresistible. I’m trying to tell you, the heaven of heavens can not contain him. Let alone a man explain him.

Well, you can’t get Him out of your mind. You can’t get Him off of your hand. You can’t outlive Him, and you can’t live without Him.

Well, the Pharisees couldn’t stand Him, but they found out they couldn’t stop Him. Pilate couldn’t find any fault in Him. The witnesses couldn’t get their testimonies to agree. Herod couldn’t kill Him. Death couldn’t handle Him and the grave couldn’t hold Him.

THAT’S MY KING !

He always has been and He always will be. I’m talking about he had no predecessor and He’ll have no successor. There was nobody before him and there’ll be nobody after him. You can’t impeach him and He’s not going to resign.

That’s my king! Praise the Lord!!

And Thine is the Kingdom the power and the glory and the glory is all His forever and ever and ever and ever. How long is that… and ever and ever. And when you get through all the forevers then,

Amen !

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I believe…

What Are My Beliefs?

 

My cousin Beth posted a comment to my last entry asking what it is I believe.  I have been trying to write an answer to my beliefs for some time now.  It seems that each time I sit down to write, the words fly out the end of my figures like fireflies.  Before I know it three complete pages of my thoughts and reasons for them are staring back at me from the computer screen.  And I’m not even close to half way done.  So, in order to post something fairly brief and to the point I am going to try and relate my core beliefs.  For now there will be no defense of these beliefs, just plainly stated opinions on my faith.

 

I believe that there is an eternal, personal, all-powerful God.  God is self-existent.  God created and up holds the universe and everything in it.  The universe had a beginning (probably The Big Bang) and therefore a creator.  God is and has been forever.  God has a personality and is personal and therefore answers my prayers.  God is not a force or some cosmic energy.  God is not nature or the universe itself.  God is a singular loving, caring being.  We humans are made in the likeness of God.  This means God has feelings and laughs and cries and loves us all, no matter what!!  This also means that we have a uniqueness, value and dignity. 

 

The grand miracle at the very heart of my belief system is the fact that God came to us here on earth in human form as Jesus Christ.  It is through his miracles and his resurrection from the dead in particular that bear witness.

 

I believe in the bible and in her gospels.  In his letter to the Romans Paul wrote “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16).  It is through God that we can be free of our guilt.  Not everyone goes to heaven.  The bible humbles me!  More people should read and be humbled by the bible.

 

I believe science affirms my beliefs!  I believe that if science did not affirm my beliefs then all serous scientists would be atheists.  Bill Phillips and Francis Collins are only three among many credible men of science who are Christians.  Galileo, Kepler, Pascal, Newton, Pasteur were all believers.  Their belief in God served as their inspiration not hindrance to their science. Yes, Galileo was a man of God.  He firmly believed in the scriptures both before and after the Inquisition.  (This is when I get off course!  I have to remember this is not a defense of my faith!!)  Science will never answer the “why question” we all share, why are we here?

 

There is a reason for my being!!  I have a purpose to fulfill!!!  Eternity starts here and now, continuing into heaven.  We should be actively trying to bring heaven to Earth while we are living instead of actively living to get to heaven when we die.

 

Most of all I believe God is good!!  He has done more for me than I can ever do for him but that’s okay because the only thing He wants is my faithful belief. 

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