Category Archives: Wrestling with the Bible
Should the Bible be burned or revered? Is it an archaic book in need of burial or is it God’s life giving words relevant for the human today? It’s a wrestling match!
Well, that was interesting. A comedian writes a book on the reality of hell, and he is not joking, but yet the book itself is full of jokes. Wait, what? Exactly.
So, what is going on here? People, and especially Christian people of late, don’t like the idea of hell – it’s too harsh, too off putting, too out of touch with reality, too unbelievable. Thor Ramsey quotes social critic and comedian Bill Hicks to capture the incredulity of an actual place called hell:
“Christianity is such an odd religion. The whole image is eternal suffering awaits anyone who questions God’s infinite love. Believe or die. Thank you for all those options.”
This skepticism of hell has not just dripped into the church, it has poured in like a flood. Notable Christian celebrity Rob Bell basically says the same thing in his book:
“God loves us. God offers us everlasting life by grace, freely through no merit on our part. Unless you do not respond the right way. Then God will torture you forever. In Hell. Huh?”
Thor Ramsey is not about to go along with this drifting tide of “envangellyfish” as he calls them. If hell becomes only a metaphor, or a temporary holding tank that eventually dissolves into heavenly bliss for all, or morphs into annihilationism, then all is lost. According to our funny-boned author, the entire Christian story becomes meaningless. It’s kind of a big deal, so Thor cracks jokes and quotes Bible verses and makes his case that a punishing eternal hell is very real, very terrible, and to be avoided at all costs – through faith in Jesus.
“If Hell freezes over… the loss of eternal punishment as it is taught in the Bible will result in the shrinkage of God’s attributes and in the end, a smaller God. We will suffer the loss of the fear of God, the loss of a holy God, the loss of a just God, the loss of an extravagantly loving God, and the loss of God’s wisdom in the cross. We can’t afford to lose the attributes of God. Otherwise we have a meaningless gospel. But the greatest loss whenever Scripture is minimized is the loss of knowing the self-revealed God of this universe.”
Does Thor have a point? I think so. Below are my observations:
- Jesus’ death is evacuated of meaning if hell doesn’t exist: “It’s the difference between Jesus dying for you or just giving up His seat on the bus for you.” If there is no real danger, if our souls are not in peril of damnation, then what was Jesus thinking? If we are all going to end up in heaven anyway, or if some of us will just be snuffed out into non-existence, then the story doesn’t really make sense anymore. Jesus’ sacrifice is not something to put our ultimate hope in, instead we just kind of feel sorry for the guy. Thor wants us to be convinced that if it wasn’t for Jesus, we’d be toast!
- God hates sinners in addition to their sin — He has his Bible verses to back it up, and clearly it’s not a stretch to see that God does not send sinners to hell because He loves them, so I get it. Even still, it’s difficult for me to imagine a conversation with one of my not-yet-believing friends starting off with the line “Currently, God hates you.” But that’s not what Thor is suggesting – or is it? He does manage to say “This means that God can simultaneously seek a sinner’s best interests (Love) while opposing the sinner’s primary motivations in life (Hate) And I understand that, at least to a certain degree, earthly relationships have this dynamic as well.
- The unpleasant thought of God’s wrath — God is justified in being upset with us, not in a freak out, fly off the handle way, but in a consistent, unmoving, non-reactionary opposition to all that stands against His holiness. After pointing out bunches of sins which reveal just how much we don’t measure up, he makes a very accurate statement “The problem is that we don’t really believe we deserve God’s wrath” And that is true – our culture teaches us that we are superheroes and victims at the same time. We get all the credit for the good, and readily have someone to blame for the bad. And so it seems to be going with our Theology.
- The blame game for all eternity — “In our refusal to love God and instead embrace sin, we never quite see sin as an infinite evil. We usually think of our sins as minor hijinks. Hitler deserves hell, but not us. It’s always the other guy. Those “evildoers” – they deserve hell. Not us ‘sinners’”. And this is the genius of C.S. Lewis’ master work The Great Divorce: through one unsettling story after another, he reveals how hell is inhabited by increasingly self-absorbed, utterly miserable people who are experts in blaming others for all eternity.
This book is blunt and rough, even with all the jokes. What’s Thor’s message in a nutshell? God is perfectly righteous – we are not. Hell is real. We need Jesus desperately. We must repent and follow Him. There are eternal consequences if we don’t.
Thor makes a blood-earnest call for Christian leaders to forsake the notions of a “Santa Claus” God who is always happy, always gushing with love and good gifts, regardless of what we believe or do. Santa Claus is not the God of the Bible. Thor wants to reawaken us to the God who is a consuming fire, who will not be a party to any wickedness, but who loves us so deeply that He was willing to sacrifice all for our salvation.
You also will command nations you do not know, and peoples unknown to you will come running to obey, (Is 55:5)
The carrot is misplaced.
Isaiah continually says if you follow God you will essentially rule the world. You be able to dominate other nations and of course, if you don’t follow God other nations will dominate you.
My issue is I don’t give a rip about dominating other nations. I don’t even want to do that I just want to live in peace. The carrot for an ancient warrior tribe on the verge of extinction from many different fronts, would, I guess, be domination. But that means nothing to me as a peaceloving, free, and largely protected Canadian! — In fact, all this “world domination” talk is objectionable to my ears.
I have little doubt that colonialists probably had these verses emblazoned on their ships as they went around on world conquest in the name of Jesus. So how do I love this?
- How does this become a source of encouragement to me?
- How does this help me understand God better and have a full appreciation for him?
- What would this sound like if I was to translate into Canadian language?
”If you follow God you will win the Stanley Cup, If you don’t you’ll be stuck in perpetual mediocrity like the Vancouver Canucks, or even worse your team will be relegated to the AHL. You’ll have no control over your players, the NHL will own you, picking up your best players whenever they want! Look, if you don’t obey God it’s everlasting “B “league for you.”
Ok, I understand now 👍
I am the Lord, and there is no other.
I create the light and make the darkness.
I send good times and bad times.
I, the Lord, am the one who does these things (Is 45:6-7)
There is nothing that enters into our world that escapes Gods notice. If God was not willing to allow something it would not happen. Both the good and the bad have God’s all seeing eye on them. Nothing is hidden from God. So how is it then that a good God can allow bad things to happen?
We believe that God redeems even the bad things. So when we must walk through these dark valleys, we firmly hang on to the idea that some how, some way God will bring good out of it. The best example of this is the cross of Christ. Incredible evil allowed by the hand of God upon himself! All for an incredibly redemptive and wonderful purpose.
This explanation will be unsatisfactory to many, and in the deep moments of pain and sorrow it will always be better to simply cry with the crying rather than attempt to drive home any theological truth about God.
Speaking of God. what other options are there?
- Remove God entirely and be comforted by blind chance, dumb luck, and the unforgiving nature of planet earth. Where the greatest comfort we could offer is “it sucks to be you” — Hardly.
- Reduce God to the point where he has no knowledge in any real sense of the future, thus he becomes a weakly divine cheerleader as powerless against the forces of evil as you or I, but at least sympathetic. No thanks.
Ultimately regardless of my doubts I must come to see God as good even when he allows suffering to enter into my life. I refuse a negative judgement upon God recognizing that I don’t know everything but am trusting that he does. That is faith.
What is the goal for the follower of Jesus? Are we looking for happiness, wealth, a home in heaven, eternal riches, a good reputation, a mansion, a good life now, what?
David tells us we follow Jesus because we long to be with God. It’s fundamentally a relationship that we are seeking with the creator of the universe. All we want is to know that we love and are loved by God. From this relationship springs true life, true love, true joy. Oneness with the creator makes life as it should be. We long for God, to be tucked in safely beside him forever. God is not the means to a selfish end he is the end himself.
Let the godly strike me!
It will be a kindness! If they correct me, it is soothing medicine. Don’t let me refuse it. (Psalm 141:5)
In the previous verse we learn that the natural tendency for all humans is to “drift towards evil” like a log drifting towards Niagara Falls. David tells us that as humans we find ourselves prefering the “delicacies of sin”. We devour the chocolate cake before us, refusing to consider that it is laced with poison. This is why David is rejoicing when other godly men and women have the courage to smack him in the mouth and say “don’t eat that cake!” Christianity was never meant to be private or solitary. We are a community of faith that supports each other in our efforts to live lives pleasing to God. Instead of being filled with resentment when concerned family members within the community call us to repentance we should celebrate. It is only pride that keeps us from listening to the corrections of another and that’s the worst poison of all!
This book combines two stories into one.
Chris (the son) — He is gay, that’s not cool by his Asian American parents. There is a nasty blow up. He moves out, gets into the gay club party scene, discovers drugs, excels at selling them. Life is perfect for him, money, power, drugs, gay sex and complete acceptance. All of that ends, with an arrest, incarceration and an HIV diagnosis. In prison he finds a Bible in a trash can, reads it, and accepts Jesus as his saviour. He also finds a man to help him grow in his new found faith. The man tells Chris to become a minister when he gets out of prison. At first this idea sounds preposterous, but Chris’ prison ministry grows and he wonders if maybe…but what about the whole gay thing? The chaplain at the prison says “not a problem” and gives Chris a book teaching that Christianity was for gay love and not against it. However, the more Chris studied his Bible the more he discovered the opposite to be true. The chaplains book ended up in the trash can.
Chris did get out of prison and he did become an internationally respected conference speaker, and theology professor at a Christian university. In fact, I purchased his book at a conference he recently spoke at. From all points he seems to be doing well. He is reconciled to his family, he has joy and a transcendent purpose now. But what about his same sex attraction? Christopher will tell you that he remains gay, however, he has become content to resist those attractions and remain celibate. He believes that celibacy is a legitimate option for human beings and that he as a person is in no way incomplete, unfulfilled or somehow deficient just because he is not sexually active. His allegiance to Jesus and God’s Word have led him to deny himself in this area. Self denial, of course, is a major tenet of Christianity so he doesn’t feel as though he is different than any other Christian. Chris thinks it’s unhelpful and unhealthy for humans to be identified primarily by their sexual orientation. Chris does not want his identity to be “homosexual” or “heterosexual” His identity is that he is a child of God. He is also emphatic that singleness is not a curse or a burden. There is only one thing Chris can’t live without, that is God. Everything else can go. For so many years, Chris was a prisoner to his need for popularity, dance music, sex and drugs. Liberation came when he tore those idols down and began to follow the God who is love. Ironically, true freedom came for Chris while he was in prison.
Angela (the mom) — She is Chinese, locked into an honour/shame culture. The ultimate shame was Chris’ coming out. That despair combined with a lifeless marriage brought Angela to the brink of suicide, but she did not go through with it. Instead, by means of a series of incredible providences she discovered Jesus. Her life changed. Now, because of Jesus she could forgive her husband, because of Jesus she could love her son regardless of his attractions or his actions. Before Jesus, Angela manipulated her husband and children through guilt, shame and “drama” now as she oriented her life around Jesus, she began to practice sacrificial love instead. Her husband was compelled by the change and became a Christian as well. With healing on the home front, Angela set to work in prayer and love for her son whose life was clearly spiralling out of control. Chris was very hard on his parents when he was doing and dealing drugs, but Angela relentlessly stuck to her plan of love and prayer. Eventually Chris came to the same faith that had changed her life so much. Now she serves as his travel and ministry partner.
What did I learn?
- I think Chris is right on when he questions our cultures assumption that a healthy and fulfilled life must have sex in it.
- A lot about the gay clubbing/party lifestyle, drugs, and prison life. Probably more than I wanted to know.
- The power of a faithful passionate prayer life. Angela’s story helps us see that prayer is not a pointless exercise rather it’s a vital means through which God draws people to himself.
- Singleness is not a curse, it’s a gift.
- Even though, Chris enjoyed the power, popularity, and exhilaration of his pre-Christian lifestyle, it all came at an increasingly terrible cost. Life was solely focused on himself, his needs, his wants, his attractions. This self focus made it impossible for any real relationships to last. This natural turn inward that we all have actually shrivels up our lives. In the end Chris turned his allegiance from himself to Jesus. This shift in devotion liberated Chris to serve Jesus by loving and serving others above himself. The result for Chris has been the exponential growth of joy, peace, and purpose in his life, the abundance of which far exceeds any benefits his previous life afforded him.
If you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. (James 3:14-17)
It sneaks in quietly through an unlocked back door. A tiny little thought, a tinge of resentment and a pinch of disgust.
He seems to be more successful than I. He is better than me at something, people are noticing him and not me. I don’t like him for this fact.
I need to be number one. I need to be the one that people talk about. I need to be the one that people are the most impressed with. I need to restore my preeminence, but I need to do it in subtle ways or I might be unmasked and shamed.
What’s my plan? At first nearly imperceptible boasts about myself followed by subtle, soft & gentle lies about my competitor. I mask my demonic plans with humour and sarcasm. “Just kidding” is a favourite camouflage of mine. Slowly I build myself up and tear him down. I am the champion again.
This is the devil’s wisdom that destroys our world. God’s wisdom pursues peace and rejoices in the successes of others with a pure heart.
God give me that pure heart.
He hasn’t disciplined them I Samuel 3:13
The Lord gives both death and life; he brings some down to the grave but raises others up. The Lord makes some poor and others rich; he brings some down and lifts others up. (I Samuel 2:6-7)
This is life. Complete with success and failure, triumph and defeat, good and bad, struggle and ease, life and death. For the Christian the overriding thought is that God is behind it all. God is to be praised when we succeed and God is to be trusted when we fail.
Dispense with the idea of God and what do you have? The very same problems and struggles only now you have no one to praise but yourself (and perhaps others who helped make you into what you are, if you are inclined to share credit). And you have no one to trust but yourself.
Which is the better plan? Neither eliminates suffering. However the benefit of the first plan over the second to me is obvious. The second has a greater likelihood of leading people down a path of pride, arrogance & self-righteousness. If my success is solely because of me and your failure is solely because of you. What’s to stop me from thinking I’m better than you? Nothing! So goes the world without God. We need God to help us deflect glory so we don’t swell. We need God to help us rise above absolute despair when the bottom falls out of our lives.
“Lord I need you, how I need you, every hour I need you, you’re my one defence my righteousness, oh God how I need you”
Bruce Ware is good for laying down the historical back story for how the Christian church came to affirm the Trinitarian position. Certainly it was a struggle, but it was always a struggle to make sense of what the Scriptures actually said. Faithfulness to the written text was the motivation for the doctrine even if the conclusions went beyond the capacity for full human understanding.
What the Scripture presents is monotheism, but yet at the same time, 3 unique persons emerge from the Bible all having the attributes of deity and the affirmation of deity from the biblical authors. If all three persons are equally God, then whats the difference between them?
The answer to that question is essentially what Bruce Ware’s book is all about.
For Ware the difference comes down to roles. God the Father’s role is that of supreme leader (not to be confused with the title currently given to North Korea’s dictator) He is the highest authority, the one deserving of ultimate praise, the grand architect of all things. Both Jesus and the Spirit acknowledge the Fathers authority even though they are equal in value to him.
God the Son’s role is that of submission. Jesus always yields to the will of the Father. It doesn’t mean that Jesus is inferior to God, only that to obey is divine. It’s not a bad thing to submit is Ware’s oft given refrain during this chapter. He has a reason for driving this point home.
God the Spirit’s role is that of assistant. Ware refers to the H.S.’s job as “the background role” of the Trinity. But certainly it is not unimportant, the Spirit’s work both points people to Jesus and also empowers those who follow Jesus.
The “so what” part of the book is the last chapter. What I liked about his conclusion is his presentation of the Trinitarian God as highly relational, interconnected and interdependent. For Ware this vision of God is also a vision of what we should be like. He takes a well timed swipe at the rugged independence of the western world, and urges us away from the “I did it my way” Long Ranger approach to life that America is famous for.
What I’m definitely iffy on is his efforts to put the members of the Trinity in their proper places. Order is all that seems to matter to Bruce Ware. Yes, they are all equal, But God is first place, Jesus is second place and the H.S. is third place. I don’t believe the Bible makes as many pains to bear this out as Bruce Ware thinks it does. But he has good reasons for pressing into Trinitarian order.
Which leads me to the second thing that I just can’t swallow. Ware seizes upon I Cor 11:3 — But there is one thing I want you to know: The head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God and then launches himself into the conversation about the role of men and women. Just like Jesus submits his will to God so to must the woman submit her will to the will of man. But that’s just the starting point, the conversation quickly moves to a Church polity discussion and I discover that because Jesus submits to the will of the Father, women should not be aloud to speak in church! Wait, what? But don’t worry women because men and women are positionally equal, just like Jesus and God are. It’s just that it’s your job to submit which means you need to keep your mouth closed in church. Yeah, it’s just too much for me. I don’t believe the wonder of the Trinity should be used as a maneuvering point to “keep women in their proper place.” I think a Trinitarian conversation could go in so many better directions, which is why I like Michael Reeves book Delighting in the Trinity a 100x more than Bruce Ware’s book