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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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.

Psalm 74: Where are you,God?

Why does it seem that God is silent in the midst of the most difficult trials and tribulations of our lives? The silence can puncture the ear drums of the most spiritual person. The pain eats away at your faith like acid as you begin to feel hopeless and helpless. You are stranded in a spiritual traffic jam until it clears, if it ever clears.

One popular saying concerning God’s silence is “The teacher is always quiet during the test.” While well-meaning, this saying doesn’t bring immediate comfort during the test because we simply do not know how long this test is going to be nor do we know if there is another part to it, which can sink us further into the depths of despair. I have been there and I know you probably have been there too.

In Psalm 74, the psalmist wrote about the destruction of the first Temple while questioning God. Essentially, the psalmist asks such questions as, “Where are you, God?” “Are you seeing this?” “Do you care about what’s going on here?”

The Old Testament tells us that the Jews are God’s chosen people, Jerusalem was the place where the Temple was to be built and God’s presence would dwell in said Temple. However, all of this came into question as the Babylonians laid waste to the Temple in 586 B.C.

“O God, why have you rejected us forever? Why does your anger smolder against the sheep of your pasture? Remember the nation  you purchased long ago, the people of your inheritance, whom you redeemed-Mount Zion, where you dwelt.” (Psalm 74:1-2, NIV).

The psalmist goes on to describe the destruction:

“Turn your steps toward these everlasting ruins, all this destruction the enemy has brought on the sanctuary. Your foes roared in the place where you met with us; they set up their standards as signs. They behaved like men wielding axes to cut through a thicket of trees.” (Psalms 74:3-5, NIV).

The destruction is detailed- the paneling is smashed and the sanctuary has been burned to the ground. The psalmist once again makes note of God’s silence during this time and asks Him if He’s going to do something about it:

“We are given no signs from God; no prophets are left, and none of us knows how long this will be. How long will the enemy mock you, God? Will the foe revile your name forever? Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand? Take it from the folds of your garment and destroy them!” (Psalm 74:9-11, NIV).

These words portray such raw emotion. How many times have we pleaded with God to give us wisdom in a situation, asking for a sign? How many times have you prayed for God to remove sickness from your child or yourself? How many tears in the night must be shed before action is taken? When your last hope has nothing to say, where do you go? The psalmist is literally pleading with God to take His hands out of His pockets and do something about it.

Like the other Psalms, the writer reflects on some of God’s deeds (verses 12-17), and ends with another plea for God to intervene (verses 18-23). The Psalm does not end on a happy note nor does it make a declaration of faith. The Temple has been destroyed. God’s dwelling place has been burned to the ground. The treasures have been seized and are now in possession of a foreign king in a foreign land. For the Israelites, the story doesn’t end well, as they face seventy years of exile in Babylon (modern day Iraq). After the exile, the Temple would be rebuilt during the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, but it did not match the splendor and majesty of the first Temple.

Just as the destruction of the Temple and exile marked major turning points in the history of the Jewish people, so to we experience such turning points in our lives. There are events that take place where we may never fully recover; part of us will always be missing. Sometimes there are no answers. When we go through trials, we must be realistic about what we are facing- it’s going to be tough, but you will get through it, somehow.

 

Peace through Music

 

Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent. - Victor Hugo

There is something about music that resonates in the collective soul of humanity. For millennia, music has been used to sing praises to God, tell stories of epic victories, songs of nature, songs of love, to bring awareness of social causes, or just simply for entertainment purposes. Just as there are billions of people on the planet, not everyone will agree on the same music, as it is a fine-tuned individual preference based on what sounds pleasant to the ears.

In recent months, I have rediscovered my love for classical music. The music has brought healing to my heart and spirit. Throughout the course of my life, I have had to fight constant battles against depression and anxiety. There would be times that I would feel so overwhelmed by the everyday events of life, that I would get anxious and the tension would rise. It would feel as if a panic attack was coming.  I would put on my earbuds and close my eyes and I would allow the classical or instrumental praise music to help me refocus on what I had to do. There is just a timeless, serene quality to a symphony or sonata that can bring such joy to the heart and mind. (Along with music, we can tap into the power of prayer and even breathing exercises, but I will focus on music).

The Bible states Saul was the first king of Israel. However, due to Saul’s continuous disobedience, God rejected Saul and anointed David as the next king. Maybe it was the weight of God’s rejection or the realization of his personal failings, Saul became a tortured man.

“Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him.” (1 Samuel 16:14, NIV).

Briefly, I believe the above verse means that God had removed His protection, grace and anointing from Saul and Saul was left to deal with the fallout of his sins. God had allowed Saul to reap what he had sown.

Saul’s attendants knew what was going on with him and they sought permission to find a harp player, who could bring comfort to Saul. The harp player ended up being David, who earlier in 1 Samuel 16, unbeknownst to Saul, anointed the next king of Israel.

“And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, that David took a harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.” (1 Samuel 16:23, KJV).

David’s harp playing would bring temporary healing to Saul’s spirit, but this verse also serves as a pivot point between Saul’s steady decline and David’s meteoric rise. Through music, David was able to bring praise to God and bring healing to the pain of others, much like how a hymn or worship song in church can touch a broken heart. David’s musical ability not only gave him audience with the king, but his praises of God would give him strength for the next challenge. In 1 Samuel 17, we come across the famous story of David defeating Goliath. David praised God before he went into battle. There are other instances in The Bible where music and praise won the battle.

*Jehoshaphat sent out the choir before he sent the soldiers to fight three invading armies. (2 Chronicles 20).

*When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the people sang “Hosanna!” before Jesus went into the temple and confronted the corruption.

*Paul and Silas were praising God at midnight while chained up in the jail at Philippi before they were miraculously freed.

Music is one of the ways we are to build up our spirits.

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” (Colossians 3:16, KJV).

You may not be able to read music or play an instrument, but there is a song in you. Just as David acknowledged God’s deliverance from the bear and the lion before facing the giant, you too have a song of deliverance. Allow the music to dwell in you and give you strength to rebuild your spirit. God bless you.

 

Strengthen the Feeble Knees

When the human body is in perfect health, it is a divine feat of engineering. All of your body’s systems- neurological, nervous, skeletal, muscular, internal organs, among other biological wonders functioning at their peak-a perfect balance. Imagine for a moment that you have a sore foot. Your natural tendency is to compensate for the pain and discomfort. You shift your weight to the other foot, but you have possibly started a chain reaction. Before the end of the day, the pain could follow to the ankles, knees, hips, or back. The human body is also subject to age and along with it wear and tear, when our bodies no longer function as they did in their prime.

However, our existence is more than this daily aging body, as we are also soulful and spiritual beings. All three parts of our being can also be in harmony or disunity. Physical pain can cause emotional distress and emotional distress can cause us spiritual distress. Though  the kind of body we are born with, rather it be strong or sickly, is out of our control, our emotional and spiritual bodies are well within our control. That is why we need to exercise and strengthen our spiritual muscles.

“Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are fearful-hearted, ‘Be strong, do not fear! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God; He will come and save you.'”(Isaiah 35:3-4, NKJV).

The writer of Hebrews quotes this verse after discussing how we are to run the race and a warning about disobedience (12:12). This verse is one of many that shows us the ideal balance of our spiritual lives- we are to strengthen ourselves (the hands and knees) by coming to God in faith, repentance, prayer, obedience, applying God’s word to our lives. We also have a responsibility to encourage those whose faith is not as strong. We must build up ourselves so that we may build up others.  If we have secured our foundation, then we are truly able to help someone secure theirs. As we have made our peace with God, let us as best as we can be at peace with everyone. I believe the entire family of God needs to sit at the table. Now more than ever, spiritual unity is needed. Let us focus on what we have in common- Christ and go from there. God bless you all.

Of Snakes and Spiritual Growth

“Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?” – Indiana Jones, Raiders of the Lost Ark  

Few creatures on earth can induce such a terror-stricken state of panic as snakes. No matter the size or species of the snake, people can be absolutely terrified of them. I have no particular fear of snakes, but I can understand people who have a fear of snakes, as many, many species are venomous and can kill with a single bite, while others constrict the breath out of their prey.  That sounds like something out of a nightmare.

Snakes have been portrayed in a negative light since time immortal. The Bible describes how the serpent mislead Eve in the Garden of Eden. In the Book of Revelation, John refers to Satan as “that old serpent” (Revelation 12:9 and 20:2).  God sent snakes to bite and kill rebellious Israelites. After the surviving Israelites repented, God instructed Moses to make a serpent statue for people to look up at and be healed (Numbers 21).

In Greek mythology, Medusa had a head full of snakes and anyone who looked at her turned to stone. Snakes have also been portrayed as hypnotizing and deceitful, such as Kaa in The Jungle Book.  Snakes have also been portrayed as wise, which gives background to Jesus’ statement of being “wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” (Matthew 10:16).

Unlike humans and other animals, snakes grow throughout their entire lives. So, it is conceivable in the right environment, a snake can grow to be in excess of twenty-to-thirty feet long. However, a snake’s skin does not grow along with its body and it becomes necessary for the snake to shed its skin (which also helps it remove parasites from its skin). If a snake does not shed its skin properly, it could die.

I know this seems like a rather odd topic, but there is a spiritual principle involved. As snakes are always growing, so should we always be growing in our spiritual lives. As we go about our lives and our relationship with God, we too develop some parasites on ourselves- sin, bad habits, false doctrine, a religious spirit, bitterness, unresolved anger, the traumatic experiences we cannot shake off- whatever it is.  Anything that is not helping us grow is hindering our development and possibly suffocating the life out of us.

From time to time, we have to shed some of our “skin” in order to grow into God has called us to be- bad relationships, forgiving others, asking for forgiveness, etc.   We may have been comfortable in our old skin, i.e. our old life, but we cannot stay there. That clothes no longer fit. Could you imagine a thirty-year-old person trying to fit into pants they wore when they were three? You are not the same person you were yesterday, last year, or twenty years ago- you have come along way and you have a long way to go. Keep growing and God bless you.