The Problems of Evil, Suffering, and Belief

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The problems of evil and suffering have long been used critics of The Bible to argue against the existence of an Omnipotent, or all-powerful God. In recent years, I have become very skeptical of the mental gymnastics required to ignore this problem. If we were to be intellectually honest with ourselves, I believe we would have some major doubts about our religious worldviews.

I know many times I have accepted my suffering as “part of God’s plan,” because “God has something great” for me. If no one had an explanation, then the standard responses are, “God’s ways are above our ways,” or “We’ll have all of the answers when we get to heaven.” I’m sorry, but that is no longer good enough for me. The story of Adam and Eve’s fall in the Garden of Eden is not a sufficient explanation when examined logically.

Besides being Omnipotent, Christians believe God to be Omniscient,or all-knowing. If God, with one glance of his eyes can see across all history and time, then why do we have the Garden of Eden story?

*God creates the angel Lucifer knowing that he will lead a rebellion and will be cast out of heaven with one-third of the angels.

*God creates a paradise, but with the proviso of a forbidden tree, which will keep Adam and Eve in perpetual ignorance if they stay away from it.

*So if Lucifer wasn’t created and the forbidden tree wasn’t put in the garden, then the talking snake would not have convinced Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, which caused the fall of humanity.

*The all-powerful God could have dealt with sin and Satan right then and there, restored everything, hence there would have been no need for a worldwide flood, the sacrifice of Christ, or the need for a Second Coming of Christ to finally vanquish Satan and his minions.

*The idea that my suffering, your suffering, and the suffering of untold billions is due solely to the fact a talking snake convinced two people to eat a piece of fruit does not hold up upon further review. If your great-grandfather robbed a bank in 1925, decades before you were born and the police show up at your door to arrest you for your great-grandfather’s crime and throw you in prison, that would be ludicrious.

Let’s take another biblical example of innocent people suffering because of one person’s actions. If you are a reader of The Bible, no doubt you are familiar with the Exodus story of Moses leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. Moses, on behalf of God, goes before Pharaoh to “Let my people go.”

However, Pharaoh refuses and God sends plagues on Egypt, which included the Nile River turning to blood, flies, boils, darkness, etc, which culminated with the death of every first born child in the land of Egypt. On the surface of the story, Pharaoh seems to be a very stubborn person who will allow innocent people to suffer over the fate of slaves. However, The Bible states in Exodus 4:21, 7:3, 9:12,11:9, and 14:8, that it was God who hardened Pharaoh’s heart, which brought on the plagues, which brought on the suffering of Egyptians not involved with Moses or Pharaoh. Why didn’t God just deal directly with Pharaoh? In fact the Exodus story doesn’t mention any direct punishment Pharaoh received due to his actions against God’s people, but innocent people suffered because of the stubbornness God put on Pharaoh.

Isaiah 45:7 states, “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.” (KJV).

Isaiah 45:7 is a verse used by theologians and apologists to describe evil as “natural evil,” such as earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, volcanic eruptions, and the like. God can use this kind of “evil” for his purpose to bring healing to a community or country, for which the disaster can be used “for his glory.” I believe this begs the question, why does God have to use suffering in order for people to pay attention to him? Why did God allow Job to suffer so much, yet give him no explanation? It was God, after all, who put the limits on Job’s suffering. If God is all-powerful, then can’t he simply manifest himself in a definitive way?

I am not belittling anyone’s faith and I am not saying you should or shouldn’t believe in God. However, if we are to base our lives and possible eternities on beliefs laid out in ancient texts, can we still apply logic and reason to what we believe? Is it still viable in our modern world to question the advances of science and society in order to hold onto a book that insists the world was created in six days, slavery is allowed, women are to be treated as property, and genocide is encouraged? We must examine the heart of these issues and what we believe. We have been given the gifts of logic, reason, free thought, and common sense let us use them to the best of our abilities. I will leave you with a quote from the 4th/3rd Century BC Greek philosopher Epicurus:

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. If he is able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

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Jesus Crosses Social Barriers

“Now he had to go through Samaria,” John 4:4 (NIV).

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Have you ever tried to avoid driving on a certain stretch of road or try to bypass traffic in a particular city? What if going through said stretch of road or city was the shortest, most direct route to your destination? Would you still avoid it? Is there some long-standing bias or bad memory associated with the road or city?

During biblical times, the average person walked everywhere or they may have rode a donkey, camel, or perhaps a horse. When there are great distances involved, especially while traveling on foot, you would want to walk the shortest route possible. In one instance, Jesus took the shortest route and crossed a major social barrier.

Jesus and his disciples were traveling from Judea to Galilee and went through Samaria, which was the shortest route. “Now he had to go through Samaria,” seems like a pretty innocuous statement for a 21st Century reader, but in Jesus’ time, Samaria was controversial among the Jews of Israel. In fact, many Jews tried to go places by avoiding Samaria all together.

The controversy dates back to the Old Testament. Samaria was the capital of the northern Kingdom of Israel, while Jerusalem remained the capital of the southern Kingdom of Judea.  The Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom in 722 BC and deported many of the Jews. The Assyrians brought in Gentiles (non-Jews) to settle the land. These Gentiles intermarried with the remaining Jews, which created a “mixed race,” which the Jews of Judea did not recognize the Samaritan as “authentic Jews” for lack of a better term. The Samaritan Jews also believed Mount Gerizim was the holy site for sacrifice, not the Temple in Jerusalem, and recognized only the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) as Scripture.

Understanding the conflict between the Jews and the Samaritans gives a different context to Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, which probably would have angered many in his Jewish audience that a Samaritan would be hero of the story.

I will not go through the entire story of Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well (John 4:4-42), but I want to discuss some of the highlights. We live in such a divisive time, where people only read and listen to what confirms their confirmation bias, from which they do not budge. Let us take a look at the barriers Jesus crosses in this story:

-Jesus goes directly into what many consider “hostile territory.”

-Jesus, a Jew, speaks with people who are Samaritans.

-Jesus, a man, ministers to a woman.

-Jesus does not condemn the Samaritan woman for her past.

-Jesus does not debate doctrine, cast judgment, or threaten anyone with hell.

-Jesus brings a message of hope for all people, regardless of their background.

-Jesus breaks down the barriers of  institutional racism.

After Jesus ministers to the woman, she goes back and brings people of the town to see Jesus. Jesus and the disciples end up staying in Samaria for two days and many Samaritans come to faith in Christ.

I recognize that during my more fundamentalist days, I was a very divisive Christian. I have seen the error of my ways and I am now trying to break down these man made barriers. I believe the church and all of society can benefit from this example of Christ. Just because someone isn’t the same skin color as you, believes a different political philosophy, goes to a different church, or lives a lifestyle you don’t agree with, that doesn’t make them bad people. Everybody is just like you, in search of love and acceptance, which we need to provide. There is no need to condemn anyone for their past, because we all have a past. Let’s quit treating each other like dogs and rubbing our noses in each other’s mess. If we as Christians want to be more like Jesus, we need to be tearing down these superficial barriers instead of building  higher and higher walls.

 

 

Time Well Spent

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I have a music streaming app on my smartphone which keeps track of the time I spent the previous month listening to music. When I receive this notification, it gives me pause as I think about the amount of time I spent listening to the music I enjoy. What if our lives had an app that could keep track of all of our habits? What if this app could keep track of everything we do in life? This app could keep track of such things as:

-The amount of time we spend complaining about the current presidential administration.

-The amount of time we spend arguing with friends and strangers on social media.

-The amount of time we spend putting off important tasks.

-The amount of time we spend in anxiety, fear, or depression concerning the past, present, or future.

Believe me, I have my days when I’m not the most productive person. I know the struggles you face- you work a full-time job, there’s family obligations, bills to pay, the car broke down, you’re trying to get in shape, and you have to go to sleep at some point. You’re just as fatigued when you wake up as you were when you went to bed. Rest and lesiure are important, as I too spend some down time trying to relax and drown out the noise of the world.

Henry David Thoreau spent two years living in a cabin on Walden Pond in an effort to live a better, simpler life:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life…”1

Walden was first published in 1854, I wonder what would Thoreau say about life in 2018? Thoreau also discussed the need to simplify our lives:

“Our life is frittered away by detail…Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb nail.”2

When it comes to how we spend our time, Thoreau echoes the sentiment of Stoic philosopher Lucius Seneca, who lived 1800 years before. Seneca challenged the general notion that “Life is short.”

“It is not that we have so little time but that we lose so much. Life is long enough and our alloted portion generous enough for our most ambitious projects if we invest it all carefully. But when it is squandered through luxury and indifference, and spent for no good end, we realize it has gone, under the pressure of the ultimate necessity, before we were aware it was going. So it is: the life we receive is not short,but we make it so; we are not ill provided but use what we have wastefully.”3

One of the tenants of Stoicism I admire is the thought of living each day like it was your last. This doesn’t mean living in debauchery and unbridled hedonism, but giving careful thought to everything you do. We do not understand that we are given a certain amount of time to live, yet we plan as if we will live forever, a point Seneca makes so eloquently:

“It is because you live as if you would live forever; the thought of human frailty never enters your head, you never notice how much of your time is already spent. You squander it as though your store were full to overflowing, when in fact the very day of which you make a present to someone or something may be your last.”4

The life of Jesus Christ overlaps that of Seneca, and Jesus in Luke 12:16-21 told the Parable of the Rich Fool. In this parable, there was a rich man who was satisfied with the fruits of his labors and decided to tear down his barns and build bigger barns for his crops. The rich man then decided to rest on his ambition and “eat,drink, and be merry.” However, the rich man was unaware that he was going to die that night, not getting the chance of basking in his accomplishments.

James also warns us about presumptive conduct: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.’” (James 4:13-15, NKJV).

Thus, we must be mindful of how we spend this life, for it is the only one we get. Give consideration to all that you do and say, simplify, and focus your energy to what will build up yourself and others. You do not have time to dwell on toxic thoughts, relationships, and people. Don’t spent the next twenty,thirty, or forty years on trying to build for a future life, live the life you have now. God bless you.

1Henry David Thoreau, Walden and Civil Disobedience, Introduction and notes by Jonathan Levin. New York: Barnes & Noble (2003): 74.

2 Ibid, 75.

3 Moses Hadas, The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca. New York: W.W.Norton & Company (1958): 48.

4Ibid, 50-51.

Live for the Present, not the End

I used to be fascinated by the end of the world, the apocalypse, the end of days, whatever name you want to call it. I’ve poured over Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 24 (which is also found in Luke 21 and Mark 13); the Book of Revelation, and scoured the prophets as well. I read the first twelve books of the left behind series, anticipated the four blood moons of 2014-2015, sneered at the date setting, and I was an avid watcher of end times teachers. For good measure, I tried to see how current events such as 9/11, the War on Terror, the rise of ISIS and certain world leaders fit into the prophetic timeline.

What I’ve learned: waiting for the end only hampers living in the present. As a Christian I know Jesus and other New Testament writers told us to watch for the signs, but I believe we should be more diligent in teaching and showing God’s grace to the world around us. Don’t let this present moment pass you by as you wait for a heaven that’s a lifetime away.

Apocalyptic teaching, of course is not unique to Christianity, as many religions, cults, sects, and cultures modern and ancient have anticipated some cosmic cataclysm to generate rebirth or to rewrite the wrongs and social ills of their respective societies. In an age of scientific understanding we know that eclipses, meteors, planetary alignments, earthquakes, tsunamis, and so on are all naturally occurring phenomena. In the past ages that had little or no scientific understanding, such events were attributed to the judgment of God or the gods upon society. Since many of our religions are based on these ancient texts and modes of thinking, we as a society still have these thoughts in a technologically advanced Twenty-First Century.

I believe we must take a more reasoned and logical approach in understanding the world around us. I’m not putting down anyone’s beliefs or discounting any sacred teaching, I’m just advocating that while we are “waiting for the end,” we make our current world the best it can be. A prime example is that we cannot trash our planet in the hopes of living on Mars or Jupiter, as those ideas may remain the dreams of science fiction.

As a church, we cannot find ourselves again on the wrong side of history when it comes to such things as civil rights, taking care of the less fortunate, the environment, and being the light of the world as Jesus said we should be. We have real issues that we must address. I have said in many blog posts before, I have no particular political affiliation-I’m not a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian or anything like that. However, within the last forty years or so, many American Evangelical Christians have aligned themselves with political parties  who are against many of Jesus’ teachings- taking care of the sick, giving to the poor, elevating the status of women, recognizing those who have a different perceived social status, and just simply showing compassion to your fellow man, woman, and child. Many oppose how their tax dollars are spent, especially when it comes to social programs such as welfare, Obamacare, and other programs, yet fail to realize that the government has simply stepped in to fill the leadership void because a large majority of the church has been waiting for the imminent end of the world.

Let’s put aside the religious and political hostility and examine what is in our own hearts, casting the judgment on ourselves and not on our neighbors. To paraphrase Jesus, we have to stop picking the sawdust out of everyone’s eyes while we walk around with a two-by-four stuck  in our eyes. Let us love those who are different than us and step outside of our comfort zone. Two thousand years or more have passed since the end time discourses. I know the counter arguments about how the world had to catch up to God’s vision or  God’s measurement of time is different than ours, but we can find reason to rejoice in the present. We still have time to show love to our neighbors and try to have a little heaven on earth.

The Bible and Slavery

“Only the educated are free.”- Epictetus

I am currently reading Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, the first of three autobiographies concerning the former American slave, who escaped to freedom and became an outspoken abolitionist concerning the anti-slavery movement leading up to the American Civil War.

Douglass in heart-wrenching detail describes not only his treatment as a slave, but the horrendous treatment of African-American slaves at the hands of the white, Southern slave owners. How one human being could treat another human in such a vile and despicable manner is beyond me. Moreover, what has drawn my attention was Douglass’ comments concerning how the so-called “Christian” slave owners were much harsher in their treatment of their slaves, using their so-called righteousness as a cloak for maliciousness.

Maybe it’s me getting older or the fact I am taking a more reasoned approach to my beliefs, but I find the hypocrisy of religion to be appalling. Just as these slaveowners used The Bible to justifying owing and degrading another person, this same book has been used to persecute religious minorities, oppress women, and is the basis for the right-wing church to justify their collective homophobia. My politics take no title such as Republican, Democrat, Fundamentalist, Socialist, or anything of the sort. It is difficult for me to write this post, as I know how some will perceive it, but I cannot control your opinions or perceptions. I am not out to “convert” anyone or change your mind, I am simply putting forth what The Bible says concerning slavery. For the sake of space and time, I will list ahandful of scrptures and cite other verses concerning this subject.

The Bible states the Israelites were slaves in Egypt for over 400 years and they cried out to God to deliver them. God sent Moses and the rest, as they say, is history. With all of the harsh treatment the Israelites received at the hands of the Egyptians, one would think they would not want to treat their fellow man as such. However, God, in the Law lays out the treatment of slaves, both Hebrew and Gentile.

“If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything. If he comes alone, he is to go free alone; but if he has a wife when he comes, she is to go with him. If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to her master, and only the man shall go free.

“But if the servant declares, ‘I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free,’then his master must take him before the judges. He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life.

“If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as male servants do. If she does not please the master who has selected her for himself, he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners, because he has broken faith with her. If he selects her for his son, he must grant her the rights of a daughter. If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights. If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money.” (Exodus 21:2-11, NIV). Exodus also gives guidelines concerning the beating of slaves: “Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.” (Exodus 21:20-21, NIV).

*See also: Exodus 21:26-27, Exodus 21:31-32, Exodus 23:12, Leviticus 19:20-22, Leviticus 25:44-46, Deuteronomy 23:15-16.

At this point, one may argue, “Well, that’s the Old Testament.”

It is an interesting fact to note that no New Testament writer, the Apostles, or even the Lord Jesus himself never in any way condemn the practice of slavery. Slaves are commanded to obey their masters as they would obey Christ:

“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free. And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.” (Ephesians 6:5-9, NIV).

*See also: Colossians 3:22, Colossians 4:1, 1 Timothy 6:1-2, Titus 2:9-10, 1 Peter 2:18-19.

At this point there would be some doing what Iwould call “apologetic mental gymnastics” and down play the use of the terms slave and master and apply these Scriptures to the modern day employer/employee relationship, which is not analagous to one human owning another human. Elsewhere in the New Testament, slavery is spoken of in the metaphorical sense in that we are slaves to sin, from which Christ set us free.

The purpose of this post is not to rekindle hard feelings from events that happened centuries ago. Rather, I want to examine what I call “biblical difficulties” and how a non-Christian would respond to the Bible. The Bible’s support of slavery is one of the largest and most justified criticisms of Scripture. More importantly, I want to take deeper look at the book that so many people, including myself, hold dear and find out if it is truly relevant for our day and age. Why didn’t God or Jesus just come out and ban slavery? Why didn’t the early church fathers abolish it? Why did some American churches allow for such atrocities committed against our fellow people? I believe the soul searching question we must answer is “If your faith is not helping you become a better person to all, is it a faith worth having?” If your faith spews hatred and disrespect, should you go along with it? Can you continue to justify belief in any holy book that justifies discrimination or hatred against anyone?

Book Review- Deceptions and Myths of the Bible

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I was looking through the bargin section of my favorite bookstore several years ago and came across a copy of Lloyd M. Graham’s Deceptions and Myths of the Bible. The book was only a few dollars, so I bought it on a lark because it sounded interesting. However, ended up neglected on the bookshelf until I finished reading it this week.

The book jacket states this of the author: “Lloyd M. Graham is a psuedonym. Because of his controversial writings, he does not want his identity revealed. He is a biblical scholar and student of mythology.”

Deceptions and Myths of the Bible is supposed to be an in-depth look at the origins of the Bible, Judaism, and Christianity, yet the “biblical scholar” does not list a bibliography of his sources,which puts his credibility in doubt at the start.

Graham’s basic premise is that the power hungry priestly classes cobbled together the Bible from the mythologies of ancient cultures, including India, Babylon, Persia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome and passed off this mythological stew to the widely ignorant masses as “the word of God.” In his criticsim, Graham also incorporates New Age terminology, occult symbology, misapplies the meaning of evolution and the term “involution.” What is supposed to be serious scholarship is thinly disguised venemous and vitrolic speech aimed at the Jews, the Catholic church, and religion in general.

If you have studied any type of biblical literary criticism or read the arguments that the Bible was stolen from pagan sources, you will recognize many of Graham’s arguments. For example, he points out that the story of Jesus has parallels to Osiris, Krishna, Mithra, and others. The same goes for Noah and the flood, Moses, Adam and Eve, and so on and so forth. If this is a topic that interest you, then there are much better scholars out there to explore.

Overall I did not find Graham’s case compelling. Though he does quote some people in the book, the lack of a bibliography as I said, hinders Graham’s credibility. Why did Graham not fully list his sources? Is he trying to hide something while trying to uncover something else? I believe it is healthy to examine what we believe and why we believe it, but Deceptions and Myths of the Bible would not be the place I would start.

Es $

Upon Further Review…

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” -Socrates

In recent years, I have done a lot of what I would call “mid-life reflection,” where I have pondered the direction of my life. I have also taken a hard look at what I believe and why I believe it. Does what I believe stand up to critical examination, logic, reason, and common sense? Am I willing to let go of certain beliefs if they no longer stand up to scrutiny? Can I be intellectually honest enough with myself to admit to such a finding?

To paraphrase the great Jedi masters, I have not fallen to “the dark side,” but I do allow myself to play “devil’s advocate.” Let’s take my Christian faith for example. I was born in the United States, more specifically Indiana, where Christianity is the dominant religion. Indiana coincidentally, tends to more fundamental in its faith, which by default leads people to being more politically and socially conservative. However, what if I was born in Thailand? More than likely I would have become a Buddhist, because Buddhism is the dominant religion and culture in Thailand. Same goes for India, where people practice Hinduism, or what if I was born in Saudi Arabia, where people follow the teachings of Islam?

The question becomes is our faith simply a by-product of what we are born into and therefore accept without question because it’s the norm? Also, if we believe to hold onto the one true faith, why do we react so harshly to criticism? Why has religion been the source of so much bloodshed throughout the history of the planet? Much worse than an unexamined life are the consequences of unexamined ideas and the people who follow along. We must temper what we believe with reason and not give blind allegiance to people of any religious, social, or political group, because we can find ourselves disillusioned when we place faith in man.

Examining your values and beliefs doesn’t have to wait until all hell breaks loose, but it can be a daily exercise to cleanse our minds and spirits. I intend this year to go deeper into my reflection without fear of asking the hard questions. I also intend to examine the common responses, or in most cases, cliches that all of us say because we feel compelled to say something. I want to explore deeper subjects and go beyond the surface. If faith is an ocean, I intend to explore the Mariana Trench. I am going to take a reasoned, philosophical, and verifiable approach to faith. I hope you come along for the journey. God bless.