Monday, August 26, 2013

Are our sins not forgiven after becoming a Christian? A conversation with a friend

Hebrews 10:26, 27
Tough words.

I'm in Denver through Wednesday. Just read this this morning. Author seems to imply that sins after accepting Christ aren't covered by His sacrifice. I don't have study materials or more time at the moment. I am teaching this Sunday and thought I would do a highlight of Hebrews, since that is what I have been reading.  Can you help me with these two verses, please?

Thanks!
In Christ,
Christian Friend



Hey brother!

Thanks for the question. I hope your trip in Denver is great. J

24 And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works, 25 not abandoning our own meetings, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and even more so because you see the day drawing near. 26 For if we deliberately keep on sinning after receiving the knowledge of the truth, no further sacrifice for sins is left for us, 27 but only a certain fearful expectation of judgment and a fury of fire that will consume God's enemies. 28 Someone who rejected the law of Moses was put to death without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much greater punishment do you think that person deserves who has contempt for the Son of God, and profanes the blood of the covenant that made him holy, and insults the Spirit of grace? (Heb 10:24-29 NET)

In context the author is speaking of the need for Christians to gather together in order to keep one accountable to “love and good works” (i.e., ethical, Christian actions). He then moves to remind them that if they don’t keep “spurning each other” in their church meetings, then they run the risk of continually sinning, which, of course, means a person will not be saved. The translation here (NET) is good. The Greek in v. 26 speaks of a person “willingly sinning” after receiving the gospel who has not received the atoning death of Jesus. To keep on sinning after becoming a disciple is tantamount to having “contempt for the Son of God,” “profaning the blood” of Jesus, and “insulting the Spirit of grace” (v. 29).

New Testament authors were quite adamant about this point: disciples of Jesus are to cease sinning. Paul (Rom 6; 8:2; 1 Cor 15:34), this author of Hebrews, John the Elder (1 Jn 2:1-2; 3:8), and Peter (1 Pet 2:24) all emphasize the fact that Christians are to cease sinning. It is a constant assumption in the NT that only pagans without the Spirit keep sinning (e.g., 2 Pet 2:14). So, the author of Hebrews fits nicely into a widely-held view among first century Christians that a Christian is one who does not continue in sin.

Can a Christian sin? Of course. This is why there are individual cases mentioned in the NT. The early Christians believed that if a person was committing a particular sin, then that person should be approached and helped to stop (Matt 18:15f; Gal 6:1-2; 1 Cor 5:4-5; 1 Jn 2:1-2). However, for a person to continue in sin, especially after having been encouraged/supported to stop sinning, then that person (according to the NT), is not a Christian. When that happened in Corinth (1 Cor 5:-45), Paul told them to kick the guy out of the church (“hand him over to Satan”).

(Now, maybe a good lunch conversation would be to reconcile the fact that we are told to offer “infinite” forgiveness to other humans who have offended us (Matt 18:21-35), while the early Christians didn’t believe God offered us infinite forgiveness if we were to keep on sinning toward Him.)

So . . . I need your help to stop sinning brother!



Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Is God to blame for evil? A conversation with a former student

Hey Dr. Pendergrass! I've been reading the links you put up and watching the videos you've posted, and I have a 2 questions that I can't find any good answers to, and I was wondering if you could give me point me to some material to read up on them.
1) Why does the Former Christian God avoid negative responsibility if He has the power to stop evil (omnipotence) and chooses not to? My thinking so far is that God allows evil to exist because of the free-will God gives humans, and He is not the causal agent of evil. Still, it seems that even in the Bible God intervenes at certain points to stop evil either through direct intervention (Saul on the road to Damascus to stop the massacre) or through humans, so why not do that in every case? A few answers I've heard are that 1) God allows evil and suffering so that some good can come of it that would be impossible to produce otherwise and we just don't know how it works, and 2) evil and suffering allow for virtues such as long-suffering and courage to exist because without anything to suffer long or to be courageous about, those virtues would cease to exist. Still, it seems that answer 1 is just a cop out and even inappropriate to say in some cases and that answer 2 isn't a good answer either because in the original and perfect creation, there was no need for those virtues so doing something which gets rid of them is not bad. Honestly, I don't see why Atheists don't use the problem of evil to argue against a good God rather than the existence of God all together. The former seems much more persuasive to me, at least at this point.
2) Is there any Biblical basis that "God has a plan for each of us," and if so, what does that even mean? Jeremiah 29:11 seems pretty clear to me that it is specifically addressed to the exiles in Babylon, and I find it difficult to believe that it can be applied directly to every Former Christian and possibly every human being. One answer I've heard is that God doesn't have a specific plan for our lives, but that His "plan" is for people to grow their relationship with God in every circumstance and obey His commandments to develop morally good characters. However, in Dr. Craig's video on failure in a Former Christian's life, he specifically argues against that saying that God's sovereignty to carry out His will through the free actions of humans and His promise to "make straight our path" suggests that God does have a specific will for our lives. I'm not sure if Dr. Craig's answer is correct (at the moment I am taking the safe bet and agreeing with him), but I am not understanding it very well.

MY RESPONSE IN BLUE
1) Why does the Former Christian God avoid negative responsibility if He has the power to stop evil (omnipotence) and chooses not to? My thinking so far is that God allows evil to exist because of the free-will God gives humans, and He is not the causal agent of evil. Negative responsibility is for when someone should have done something moral but didn’t. If I saw my child drowning but did nothing to help, I’d be morally culpable for not helping. Why? Because I have the moral duty to do so. But this is not the case for God saving every human at all times.
It’s important to remember that moral values (good/bad) and moral duties (right/wrong) are not the same. Or, to use the terms I taught y’all: ethical rules (duties) have various “weights.” So, it’s always good to be honest, preserve human life, serve others, etc. These are moral values that don’t change. However, sometimes we do not have the moral duty to tell the truth when another moral value is at stake (e.g., lying to save your family’s life). That is, moral duties—what to do in that situation—changes depending on the situation and the person. Another example: It’s a moral value to take care of children/preserve human life. Yet, it’s my moral duty to take care of my children; it’s not your moral duty to take care of my children.
This is key (and William Lane Craig helped me see this): we have no reason to assume that God has the same moral duties as humans do. E.g., humans are told never to kill innocent human life. God is under no such moral obligation, no more than I’m under moral obligation not to slash my truck’s tires. I can give/take away whenever and whatever I want from something I own. God is the author of human life; He “owns” us and is under no obligation to make certain we survive beyond one more breath. Life is simply a gift.
He is not under the same moral duties/obligations that we are, even though He does possess the same moral values that humans do. And since He is a perfectly moral Being, we can know for certain that whatever He does is perfectly moral, even if we don’t (completely) know the reasons or ultimate consequences of God’s choices.
Moreover, God is under no obligation whatsoever to preserve us from the consequences of free-willed evil choices. He has no negative responsibility for what a free-will moral agent does with his/her choices. Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson hold no negative responsibility for all of the murders that have taken place because of a Smith and Wesson fire arm.
Saying it like this might “sound” like God is some dispassionate robot letting us do our own thing, crossing his arms, saying, “I’m not to blame!” Yet, the Bible makes it clear that God hates—HATES—all the crap that humans do to each other (like I hate to see my kids fight). God is not dispassionate; He’s hurt and apparently angry (so-to-say) that humans do such evil. He’s been shouting, “Stop!!” for centuries.
Why does free will matter so much? Presumably it’s because God values moral autonomy (remember that He is morally autonomous too!). This is intuitively convincing to me. I value freedom too (as I mention in my book), and see that while I might be safe in a snuggly padded cell all my life, I’d rather be in the “real world,” able to be hurt by others in the process. No matter how safe I’d be in the cell, it’s much better to be free than guaranteed safe. Such it is with genuine moral freedom. And of course, like I said in class, genuine freedom is the only way to freely love and be loved (and freely loving others is certainly the greatest moral value that exists! As Paul says several times in the New Testament).
Still, it seems that even in the Bible God intervenes at certain points to stop evil either through direct intervention (Saul on the road to Damascus to stop the massacre) or through humans, so why not do that in every case? You’re asking why there aren’t more miracles. Because (1) constant miracles rob us of natural/logical consequences, and God designed the universe to run on consequences; (2) constant miracles would no longer be miracles (i.e., special); (3) God genuinely wants humans to develop moral character and act like Jesus in every event. Miraculous interventions, like with Saul/Paul, are very, very rare and are, of course, miracles. They are to help change the course of history to achieve the desired results that God wants. Remember that He’s the boss: working every free-willed and miraculous event, like the Christ-event!, to one main desired outcome of history. As Lewis said, sometimes you give up your chess pieces and placement in order to set up the board the way you want it. You can’t give up pieces all the time or you’d lose.
A few answers I've heard are that 1) God allows evil and suffering so that some good can come of it that would be impossible to produce otherwise and we just don't know how it works, and 2) evil and suffering allow for virtues such as long-suffering and courage to exist because without anything to suffer long or to be courageous about, those virtues would cease to exist. I think I gave y’all about five or six reasons in class from the Bible for possible outcomes of evil/suffering. I’ve already covered evil: evil is a by-product of allowing for genuine, free-willed moral autonomy, which is a central moral value in God’s character (who is also a free-willed Being). Why suffering? It can be punishment for sin, a “testing” of our faith, the results of nature, the results of someone’s evil choices, the ability to develop/mature moral values in a person’s character, etc.
Still, it seems that answer 1 is just a cop out and even inappropriate to say in some cases I’m not sure why this is a “cop out,” nor why it’s “inappropriate to say.” If I told my child that I caused them to hurt by giving them a shot that immunized them from smallpox, would they be justified in calling my reason a “cop out?” It seems to me that making us genuine free-willed moral agents is a genuine moral value and simply awesome.
If what you mean by “inappropriate” is “not the pastoral thing to say in disaster,” I completely concur. But, that’s a different issue. We’re discussing the logical/theological aspects of evil/suffering, not what to say to a person who is experiencing grief. I’d be happy to chat about that if you’d like, but in short, I don’t recommend discussing the “value of suffering” with a person as they go through it because that’s not what they need at that moment. J
and that answer 2 isn't a good answer either because in the original and perfect creation, there was no need for those virtues so doing something which gets rid of them is not bad. I’m not sure what you mean here about “original and perfect creation.” Apparently, one of the very first things the first moral autonomous being did with his/her free will was to disobey a moral duty. So, as long as there’s been humans, there has been a need for virtues/duties.
Honestly, I don't see why Atheists don't use the problem of evil to argue against a good God rather than the existence of God all together. The former seems much more persuasive to me, at least at this point. I would absolutely agree if “good God” implied something like, “a God who disallows evil and suffering in the world.” But, I just see no logical or theological reason to assume that “good” should be defined that way for God as I’ve already (tried to) explained. I really don’t. Now, I don’t like suffering and evil. I just don’t see why God’s “goodness” is impugned if humans are genuine free-willed moral agents and acts of nature cause suffering. Though, I guess God could have designed the universe such that tornadoes don’t occur. . . I don’t know. J Though, the real problem, in my experience, is the suffering that is caused from a human’s evil choices. And, I don’t get why people (not you) incessantly blame God for people’s choices. I don’t get it. Again, no one is OUTRAGED at or ceases to believe in the existence of Smith and Wesson, no matter how many times their guns are used to murder people. Again, the moral character of the human persons, Smith and Wesson, nor their existence, is ever called into question. They are simply not to blame for what a human chooses to do. The same guns can be used to kill animals to feed the starving . . .
2) Is there any Biblical basis that "God has a plan for each of us," and if so, what does that even mean? Jeremiah 29:11 seems pretty clear to me that it is specifically addressed to the exiles in Babylon, and I find it difficult to believe that it can be applied directly to every Christian and possibly every human being.
You’re right about Jer. 29:11. In my view, the Bible demonstrates that God has two kinds of desires: (1) what humans should be and (2) what humans should do. What humans should be is clear: like Jesus. This is the essence of virtue ethics. We should value the same things Jesus valued and implement His teachings. What humans should do is typically clear: with rare exception, humans should simply put into practice the teachings of the Bible, especially those of Jesus. If God wants a person to do something special, He lets them know. That’s it. There’s no ambiguity. We’ll receive an angel, dream, etc. if He wants us to do something different than work on our “Jesus character” in normal life. There is no reason to think that God gives a rip about what toilet paper to use, etc., as long as we’re applying His teachings. So, we should be good stewards, give to the poor, not be greedy, etc. But, it is irrelevant if I buy a red shirt vs. blue shirt.
One answer I've heard is that God doesn't have a specific plan for our lives, but that His "plan" is for people to grow their relationship with God in every circumstance and obey His commandments to develop morally good characters. However, in Dr. Craig's video on failure in a Christian's life, he specifically argues against that saying that God's sovereignty to carry out His will through the free actions of humans and His promise to "make straight our path" suggests that God does have a specific will for our lives. I'm not sure if Dr. Craig's answer is correct (at the moment I am taking the safe bet and agreeing with him), but I am not understanding it very well. I also found this point unconvincing/confusing! He created a false alternative: God can be mostly concerned with our character forming and work within us/inspire us so that out free-willed choices bring about the consequences that God wants. Furthermore, I see no reason (along with nearly all OT scholars) to read the Psalms as promises of God. It’s a psalmist declaring how delighted he is that he has the Torah and that following it helps us succeed in life. We shouldn’t read the Psalms as “God’s guarantees for life.” Their poems/songs, and that’s all. They’re great and rich, but not God’s promises for life.
OK. I’m sleepy now. J If you want, let me know what you think,
Dr. P

FROM STUDENT

On question 1, the analogy about God's possible negative responsibility I was thinking of would be more like if a robber was holding a gun to an innocent person and someone else with the ability to stop the murder did not stop it. Practically, I suppose this would be God's decision not to use His power to stop all cases of evil. However, I guess I was making the assumptions that A) I knew better than God what moral was taking precedent in the circumstance (free will v "innocent" human life) and B) God might not have the same order of importance for moral values. My only concern about assumption A is that saying "God always does what is moral, therefore He is moral" seems like it is assuming the conclusion (that God is perfectly moral) when God's morality is what is in question. On B, I have never heard that point made before, but it seems like a pretty powerful argument. It makes sense that since we are His property, in a sense, and He has the moral authority to do what He wants with us. Another assumption I was making was that His choice to create free-willed moral agents somehow gives us the irrevocable right to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Typical American...   

On question 2, I agree with your critique of Dr. Craig's point. Even though I still have no idea how God is able to accomplish all His goals through free-willed human choices, I agree that God's inspiration to choose certain actions over others is a great way to both accomplish His means and respect the free-will of His creation. Also, I almost find it disturbing that I have never thought of Psalms as humans' praises and prayers to God instead of God's promises to humans. Just thinking back at how poorly I've read the Bible over the years gives me the chills.


MY RESPONSE

I didn’t meant to suggest circular reasoning. I said that because we know that God is perfectly moral He will always make the moral choice (not the other way around). We know God is perfectly moral because (1) He is the greatest conceivable being (called “Perfect Being Theology” as made famous by Anselm), and the greatest conceivable being would be perfectly moral; and (2) the Bible demonstrates that God is perfectly moral.

Good point about your two assumptions (A and B). That’s right: God has no moral duty to preserve human life at all times (no more than I have the moral duty to preserve my truck tires at all costs). Instead, God considers it MORE valuable to have genuinely free moral agents who can do genuine good and genuine evil. And this is also why God will punish those who choose to do evil (i.e., it doesn’t go unnoticed).

Good points about being American and proper exegesis of the Psalms! :) Brother, I’ve gotten the “chills” over my ignorance for years!

Keep up the great thinking!
DP


Thursday, August 8, 2013

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