Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Earthly Things versus Heavenly Things: Jesus talks with Nicodemus

"Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Jesus by night and said to him, 'Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.' Jesus answered and said to him, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." - John 3:1-3

Jesus' discussion with the Pharisee Nicodemus in John chapter 3 is a landmark passage in the New Testament, and one of the most familiar stories in the entire Bible. John 3:16 may be the most quoted scripture of all, with only Genesis 1:1 or parts of Psalm 23 giving it any real competition. As familiar as the story is, however, I've seen comparatively little attention given to what Jesus had to say in verses 5-8, after he declared "you must be born again":
"Nicodemus said to Him, 'How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?' Jesus answered, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
The statement Jesus makes here about the wind seems rather strange. What does that have to do with being 'born again'? The answer is given to us in two other portions of the same chapter, illustrating two pillars of biblical interpretation: 1) Understanding the full, immediate context of a scripture is essential, and 2) Always look for similar language used elsewhere in scripture, especially when employed by the same author, to get a complete picture of what is being said. Look first at verses 9-13 of John 3:
"Nicodemus said to Him, 'How can these things be?' Jesus answered and said to him, 'Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man."
Now skip down to the second half of the chapter (obviously, you'll want to read the whole chapter, but my focus here is on understanding the comments in verses 5-8). In the second half of the chapter, the apostle John tells us about an incident that took place involving John the Baptist and his disciples. John is confronted about the growing ministry of Jesus, likely because his disciples were concerned about him being overshadowed by Jesus. John answers them that this overshadowing is exactly what they should expect and what needs to happen: "He must increase but I must decrease."

I want to direct your attention to the verses that follow this discussion: that is, verses 31-36. At times, it's difficult to know where direct quotations end in scripture and this is an example of such an instance. At first, it may seem as if verses 31-36 continue John the Baptist's response to his disciples, but I believe they are actually commentary by the apostle John. Either way, they help explain what Jesus meant in verses 5-8:
“He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all. What He has seen and heard, of that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony. He who has received His testimony has set his seal to this, that God is true. For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand. He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” - John 3:31-36
Here are the key phrases from both passages I've quoted:
"The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 
"If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man." 
“He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all. What He has seen and heard, of that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony."
As with many of the teachings of Jesus, there are multiple layers to consider here. The words spirit and wind mean totally different things to us, but both are translated from the same Greek word: pnuema, which makes the comparison between "spirit" and "wind" all the more compelling in this discourse. In a way, you could say that one is a wind that proceeds from the Earth while the other is a 'wind' that proceeds from God out of heaven. Further, the words again (as in "born again") and above (as in "from above") are also the same Greek word: anothen. Used elsewhere, they would have entirely different applications (which would be determined by grammar and context), but here I believe the usage is comparative for the sake of illustration: to be "born again" is to be born "from above," for the Spirit, which makes the new birth possible, comes from above.

Bearing these things in mind, and connecting the phrases I quoted, here is one possible (admittedly loose) paraphrase of what Jesus meant by what he said to Nicodemus. I hope this will be of help to any of you who may have wondered about this:
"You hear the wind blow, but you cannot tell where it came from or where it's going because you cannot see it; it is hidden from you, and you cannot understand those who are born of the Spirit for the same reason. You are of the Earth; you think and speak of earthly things and in earthly ways because that is where you are from and what you know. But when I speak of the Spirit, I am not speaking of earthly things and earthly ways; I am speaking of heavenly things and heavenly ways, things which are as hidden from you as the wind you cannot see. Yet, I *have* spoken to you of earthly things, which you should have understood because you are of the Earth, and you did not believe me. Since you did not believe what I told you about your own realm, how will you believe what I tell you about heavenly things? You have never been there. No one has been there except me, for that is where I am from. 
"How can you be an esteemed teacher of God's people and not understand that there is a difference between earthly and heavenly things, and between earthly and heavenly ways? When I said, 'You must be born again,' you immediately thought I was speaking of earthly, physical birth, although that is absurd because you know that no one is born twice physically, so you should have known I was not speaking of a second, physical birth. You should have known it was a spiritual reference. You yourself admit that I am a teacher who has come from God. Does it make sense to you that God would send me from heaven to bring you an earthly message, and an absurd one at that?"

* Scripture citations are from the NASB.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

God and Time before Creation

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the Earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.” – Job 38:4

A question that arises frequently in discussions about God has to do with his eternal existence. It usually goes something like this: “If God has always existed, what was he doing in all that time before he created the universe and the world?”

This is an intriguing question on many levels, and I wish that I could provide a detailed answer to it. Unfortunately, the Bible is virtually silent on the matter.

The only thing we know with any certainty is that the Father and the Son shared a fellowship in which both were glorified. Jesus speaks of this in John 17:5, where he asks the Father to glorify him with the glory “which I had with you before the world was.” The Greek word translated “world” in this passage is kosmos. At times, kosmos is used in scripture to refer to what we might call “the world of man,” meaning human society at large, such as when the apostle John cautions us against “loving the world” in 1 John 2:15, but it can also refer to the entire created order, as it does in 1 Peter 1:20, where we’re told that Christ was known of the Father “before the foundation of the world.” I believe that this latter meaning is what is intended in John 17:5; Jesus was speaking of the relationship he enjoyed with the Father before creation.

Beyond this relationship between the Father and the Son, scripture tells us very little about what might have occurred in what some have chosen to call “eternity past.” Certain passages do seem to indicate that angels existed prior to the creation, however.

In Job 38:7, God says that when he created the Earth “all the morning stars sang together and the sons of God shouted for joy.” “The sons of God” is a term used elsewhere in scripture for angels (see Job 1:6; 2:1, and, likely, Genesis 6:2-4). Thus we know that angels definitely existed at least prior to the creation of the Earth. The apostle Paul, writing in Ephesians 3, provides a subtle hint that their creation took place even earlier, however:

“To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which he carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord…” – Ephesians 3:8-11a

If God is demonstrating something to the angels in regard to his eternal purposes, which he is carrying out in Christ (through whom, John tells us, everything was made that has been made), then it would make sense to me that the angels were probably present from the very beginning of the universe, when Christ began to carry out the Father’s “purposes.” This would make them witnesses of the entire creation/redemption process.

Jesus’ reference to “glory” in John 17:5 also lends credence to this interpretation. The word “glory” is translated from the Greek word doxa, which in the New Testament always refers to something held in a position of honor. For the Son to be held up in a position of honor with the Father “before the kosmos was” implies that others were present from whom the Son was differentiated and before whom he was exalted. Therefore, these others must also have existed “before the kosmos was.” Angels are the only other created beings who fit the bill here.

Beyond the question of what may have occurred before the existence of the universe, however, we should be careful in our use of the word ‘time’ in reference to it.

 ‘Time’ is a measurement of duration, of how long it takes something to happen. You could say that it’s the ‘space between events,’ and these events are defined by processes in the material, physical world around us. Nature is full of ‘clocks’: most notably, the familiar cycle of day and night, the monthly phases of the Moon, and Earth’s ‘yearly’ orbit around the Sun. All of our artificial clocks are based on these and other natural systems. For instance, atomic clocks—the most precise clocks currently in use—keep time based on the motion of atoms.

There are other, more subtle ways of ‘telling time’ as well. We tend not to give them any special thought because they are so commonplace and necessary in our conceptual scheme (the way in which we view and relate to our world) that we take them for granted. For instance, if you see an adult with a child, you know that those two people cannot be the same age because of the characteristics of the human aging process. By the same token, if you find a rusted-out car, you know that it wasn’t made yesterday. This is because you’re familiar with the fact that the processes that reduce a vehicle to that condition ‘take time.’

As physical beings, we need ‘clocks,’ both natural and artificial. They’re essential to how we understand and relate to our environment and to one another. This is why dreams can be so disorienting: they give us an illusion of the passage of time, a sense of events taking place, but they happen outside of the clearly-defined boundaries of time that are such a fundamental part of our makeup. In a dream, you may find yourself a child again, you may find yourself shifted from one location to another without any sensation of having traveled, or you may ‘experience’ things that appear to take place over years, only to wake up and find that you’ve been asleep for a mere hour or so.

It’s important to understand these things because when we ask what God was doing in ‘all that time’ before he created the universe, we’re making a subtle but crucial error in our reasoning: we’re extending time, which is based on the composition of the universe, back to a point when the universe did not exist. Before the universe existed, there were no physical processes occurring, and because time is a system of measurement based on physical processes, if there are no physical processes occurring then there is nothing to measure and therefore no time in any meaningful sense.

For this reason, time—at least ‘time’ as we understand it—did not exist prior to the creation of the universe. There were no days, no weeks, no years, and no ages. Consequently, to ask what God was doing ‘in all that time’ before he created the universe is to ask a self-contradictory question, as it assumes time before time existed. It’s rather similar to asking what someone was doing before they were born. Even the statement “God has always existed” makes this mistake. “Always” is a time reference, and there was no time before creation.

When we examine these matters in detail, it’s easy to see how this mistake is made. Physical time is so fundamental to our reality that we unconsciously impose it on God, but we must remember that God’s nature is fundamentally different than ours.

We are material beings living in a material reality. We are bound by natural law, which includes the passage of time. By contrast, God is an immaterial being, meaning that he is not ‘made’ of anything; this places him outside the confines of nature and, therefore, outside of time. As mentioned previously, it is incorrect to say that God “has always existed.” It is more correct to say that he simply “is,” which, interestingly enough, is how God chose to make himself known to the ancient Hebrews. The Hebrew name for God, Yahweh, is taken from the root word hayah, meaning “to be.”

“God said to Moses, ‘I AM who I AM; and he said, ‘Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” – Exodus 3:14

“Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I AM.’” – John 8:58

In Christian theology, we tend to think of “eternity” as something that is yet to come, such as the “eternal state” spoken of as following the Millennial Kingdom of Christ and the Last Judgment, but the reality is that we already exist in eternity; our material-based conceptual scheme prevents us from realizing it, however. We speak of “past,” “present,” and “future” as though they are actual, physical locations, when the truth of the matter is that they are merely concepts, and this results in unnecessary confusion.

For example, people often say that “We are in the present” in the same way they might say “I am in my house,” but we must realize that there is a great difference between these two ideas: my house is a limited, physical location that I can move in and out of at will, whereas I am continuously in the present. We can never move in the past or the future, as they do not exist beyond the conceptual realm. Five minutes “in the past” is really just what was present five minutes ago, whereas five minutes in the future is what will be present five minutes from now—or you could substitute “days,” “weeks,” “hours,” “years,” “eons,” etc., as you please. The only real difference here lies in how we measure events in relation to one another. “Past” and “future” are a necessary part of our conceptual scheme, but they are only concepts; they are not places that exist now and might be visited (with all due respect to Captain Kirk and others who have traveled there in fictional settings).

So, in a very real sense, while things change, time is arbitrary and only ‘now’ exists. This then is ‘eternity’: ‘now,’ a perpetual ‘present.’

Again, time is a system of measurement, and to measure something you need at least two points: a beginning and an end. The universe, the world, and each of us—all created things—at one point or another entered (or began to experience) ‘the now,’ if you will; we all have a beginning. The lone exception is God. As an immaterial, uncreated being (“who alone is immortal” – I Timothy 6:16), he had no beginning; thus, there is no way to measure his existence. He is ‘always’ in ‘the now.’ He IS ‘now.’ “I AM that I AM.”

This fact of God’s immaterial, eternal existence represents a conceptual scheme so radically different from ours that it will, in all likelihood, lie forever beyond our comprehension. However much it might tantalize us, our minds and our language are inadequate to do any more than merely scratch the surface of this profound a mystery. We can no more understand the totality of God’s existence than we could fit one hundred gallons of water into a ten-gallon bucket; the necessary capacity simply isn’t available.

What then can we say to all of this? How should we react to the fact that God transcends our understanding? We can rebel against it, as some do, and determine that we will not submit to anything we cannot comprehend and judge for ourselves (this was essentially the sin of Eden); or we can humble ourselves, acknowledge his supremacy, and submit to his guidance:

“Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations,
Before the mountains were born
Or you gave birth to the earth and the world,
Even from everlasting to everlasting, you are God.
You turn man back into dust
And say, ‘Return, O children of men.’
For a thousand years in your sight
Are like yesterday when it passes by,
Or as a watch in the night…
So teach us to number our days
That we may present to you a heart of wisdom.” – Psalm 90:1-4, 12

*Scriptures are taken from the NASB

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Bible and Homosexuality - Why Christians cannot condone Same-Sex Unions

(Note: While not explicit, this article contains some anatomical references that may make it unsuitable for younger readers. As they used to say on TV, "Parental discretion advised").

“For you know this with certainty, that no immoral or impure person…has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” – Ephesians 5:5

Over the last few decades, homosexuality has achieved unprecedented levels of exposure and acceptance in American society, culminating with the Supreme Court’s recent landmark decision requiring states to allow gays to marry. This changing state of affairs has brought about an equally unprecedented culture clash, one in which Christians find themselves on the defensive as homosexual and transgender advocacy groups—along with their media and political allies—argue that the Bible is outdated and that Christians need to change their views in order to conform to the times. Anything else, or so we’re told, is simply bigoted, hateful, and downright un-American. Some even argue that it is actually un-Christlike for Christians to oppose alternative sexual lifestyles and “marriage equality” because Jesus taught that we should love everyone.

To be sure, some Christians have been less than loving and tactful in their treatment of homosexuals and transgenders; but it must be stressed that, while they need not be belligerent about it, Christians who take their faith seriously cannot simply discard what the Bible has to say about sexuality. The issue runs much deeper than matters of casual opinion or one’s personal preference; indeed, it cuts to the heart of what the Bible reveals about the person of God, the nature of humanity, and how God and man relate to one another. These are critical issues that Christians cannot simply toss aside in an effort to be seen as nice; to do so would essentially render the entire Christian worldview arbitrary and strip the Bible of any claim to authority. For if God has spoken on a matter, who are we to overrule his commandments? Indeed, the very suggestion that we may alter the Bible as we see fit is to suggest that God has either not spoken or else may be safely ignored.

Neither conclusion is acceptable for the sincere Christian.

In this article, I will lay out a case for why the issue of sexuality goes far beyond a question of mere preferences, of likes and dislikes, and why those who lay claim to the name of Christ must affirm the traditional institution of marriage.

The Nature of God

A major barrier to our understanding when it comes to the Bible and the nature and character of God is our tendency to project human character traits onto him. This has led to an unfortunate perception of God—particularly in the media and popular culture—as a super-powerful human being, one prone to the same vices and personality quirks as are common to any of us, rather akin to the quarrelsome deities of Greek and Roman mythology. Because we are prone to acting based on our personal likes and dislikes, and often with less-than-honorable intentions, we assume that God must act in the same way—issuing edicts arbitrarily and, like some cosmic bully, persecuting those who fail to abide by his wishes simply because he’s bigger and stronger than us.

The essential first step in understanding God’s attitude toward sexuality—or, for that matter, anything we do—is to correct this misconception.

One of the first things the Bible teaches us about mankind is that we are made in the “image” of God (Genesis 1:26-27), meaning that our conscious existence—consisting of mind, will, and emotion—is modeled after him. In other words, we are reflections of him; the human personality is modeled on the divine personality. We can learn a great deal about God simply by reflecting on who we are, given that we are reflections of him.

This only follows to a point, however; for while our personalities are based on the divine personality, the image of God in us has been tarnished by the fall. Meanwhile, God remains incorruptible. We should, therefore, not transplant our own fallen motivations and character traits onto God when thinking on his nature and his dealings with us any more than we would pass judgment on a person based on their reflection in a broken mirror. We are the ones who fell, not God. He remains holy, pure, and undefiled. He does not act from wrong attitudes and motivations; indeed, he lacks even the capacity to do so.

The Order of Creation

The second thing we must understand is that all of nature is organized along certain lines and to definite ends under various natural laws. This is evident from the microscopic realm—for instance, in the properties and interactions of subatomic particles and the complexity of DNA—to the macroscopic realm—for instance, in the composition and motion of stars, planets, and galaxies. Everything relates to everything else in particular ways. The whole of creation functions as one vast “machine” of sorts, an intricately fine-tuned machine in which all things have their place and contribute in some way to the whole.

The Nature of Humanity

The Bible is clear that humanity is a special creation. As with the animals, man was made from the dust of the ground (Genesis, 2:19; Ecclesiastes 3:19-20) and became a “living soul” or “living being” (Hebrew – nephesh) upon receiving the “breath of life” (Hebrew – neshamah) from God, but man alone is specifically said to be made in the “image” of God. Again, man’s personhood is based upon God’s personhood. Human beings are distinct, formed according to particular criteria and set aside for certain special purposes in the order of creation. Our bodies are highly ordered, right down to the cellular level. Our organs, physical structure, and various systems (such as our glands) are interdependent to a great degree, and work together in very specific ways, as we only truly come to appreciate when something goes wrong.

This is also true beyond the physical level, however. We require certain conditions for optimal mental and emotional health, just as we do for physical health, and complications arising in the human personality can be every bit as real and potentially harmful as physical handicaps. We have all experienced this reality and seen it manifested in the lives of others, prominent examples including stress, anxiety, and depression. Furthermore, we were created to be social creatures, and it’s clear that we are designed to relate to one another in specific ways. Certain behaviors consistently result in conflict among human beings, whereas others reliably promote harmony and good will in our communities and success in our endeavors.

Now, as for how all of this relates to the issue of homosexuality in the Christian context…

The Creator’s Laws

Should we not consider that, rather than simply handing down edicts that suit his mood of the moment, perhaps our creator has given us certain directives that are in keeping with his creative intent and his knowledge of what we are and how we best function?

We tend to think of our persons and faculties—in both the mental and physical realms—as existing for us to do with as we please. With our minds, we think as we please, and with our bodies we do as we please. Sexuality is perhaps the foremost example of this tendency in human culture. The belief that one’s body—and, consequently, one’s sexuality—is one’s to do with as one pleases, is a natural outworking of this mindset. We resent interference in our affairs—including in our sexuality—because we believe that we are, or ought to be, free to do as we please with what we view as ours.

Within the Christian worldview, however, this perception does not reflect reality. If, indeed, we are special creations of God, set apart for specific purposes, then it makes perfect sense that God would instruct us in the proper place and use of our abilities—including our bodies and our sexuality—and that he would discourage our acting to contrary purposes, especially if, by engaging in forbidden practices, we do harm to ourselves, those around us, or the broader purposes of God in creation.

Think for a moment about commandments God gave outside of the issue of sexuality:

Why did God forbid murder? The answer seems self-evident. What sort of society would we have if we were free to go around killing one another as we please? What sort of misery and deprivation would this leave us in as a race? The prohibition against murder places a guideline on human relationships that protects our civilization and, with it, our quality of life and our potential to achieve. It also emphasizes the special place of man in creation, setting him apart from animals, and, after a fashion, likening him to God. To strike down a human in cold blood is, effectively, to strike at the very image of God himself:
“Surely, I will require your lifeblood; from every beast I will require it. And from every man, from every man’s brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God he made man.” – Genesis 9:5-6
Moving on, why did God forbid adultery? Because the human family is the core of human civilization, and the more unstable the family is the more unstable society at large will be—as I believe we are seeing demonstrated in our society today. Beyond this factor, however, think of the misery adultery causes in human relationships—the wounded, shattered lives it leaves behind—and the deleterious impact it has on our concept of commitment. The prohibition against adultery is effectively a prohibition against using people and then disposing of them when they are no longer convenient. Adultery cheapens men and women by reducing them to objects of physical pleasure, to be taken or left as we desire, and it devalues the institution of marriage by violating what is supposed to be an exclusive intimacy.

For a last example, why would God forbid “bearing false witness against your neighbor,” that is, testifying falsely against someone? What would become of our justice system if it were permissible to falsely accuse people or otherwise falsely witness against them? Without a dependable justice system—respected and upheld by all—we could easily fall into taking vengeance against one another. Think also of the price paid by those convicted and punished on the basis of false testimonies. What of their sufferings?

These are examples of how divine commandments act in our best interests, protecting our civilization, our quality of life, and our special status as beings made in the very image of God. Of course, it’s unlikely that many people would seriously argue with the benefits of observing these commandments (whether they actually do so or not), as they’re rather self-evidently in our best interest. No mentally healthy person wants to be murdered, cheated on, or falsely accused. Where sexuality is concerned, however, the common outlook is often far different, and for two primary reasons: 1) It involves our desire for pleasure; and 2) Unlike murder or bearing false witness, we fail to see any evident harm in the practice of “loving differently.”

To understand why the biblical prohibitions in this area make objective sense, we need to lay some additional groundwork.

Biblical Marriage, Sexuality, and Gender Identity

When it comes to marriage, sexuality, and gender the Bible makes some very clear statements regarding God’s creative intent:
God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it…” – Genesis 1:27 
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make a helper suitable for him”…So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which he had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. – Genesis 2:18, 21-24 
Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?” And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together let no man separate.” – Matthew 19:3-6
From these passages, we can quickly establish the following:

  1. God created two distinct genders: male and female.
  2. Men and women were created to be dedicated companions: the so-called “leave and cleave” principle.
  3. Man and woman were created in the context of a special type of intimacy, one that is unique in creation as far as we know. Eve was not created from the dust as Adam was; she was taken directly from his own body.
  4. God himself instituted marriage, and did so between one man and one woman.
  5. God’s blessing was given to the union of man and woman.
  6. God gave the commandments to “be fruitful and multiply” and to “fill” and “subdue” the earth to man and woman jointly, and within the context of a committed relationship.
  7. It is God’s intention that children should be raised by men and women in a family setting. Note the reference to a man “leaving his father and mother.”

Worldviews in Conflict

It should be readily apparent from what we’ve seen thus far that the biblical view of gender and sexuality is fundamentally incompatible with the homosexual and transgender agendas. The Bible says very plainly that God created two genders—male and female—and then brought them together, gave them his blessing, and entrusted them with raising children. Indeed, he actually gave the earth into their care. This is humanity—and sexuality—as God created it and intended it to function, and it is further reinforced by other passages of scripture that forbid departing from the created model:

You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination. Also you shall not have intercourse with any animal to be defiled by it; nor shall any woman stand before an animal to mate with it; it is a perversion. – Leviticus 18:22-23 
If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltiness is upon them...If there is a man who lies with an animal, he shall surely be put to death; you shall also kill the animal…If there is a woman who approaches any animal to mate with it, you shall kill the woman and the animal; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltiness is upon them. – Leviticus 20:13, 15-16 
For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural; and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their persons the due penalty of their error. – Romans 1:26-27 
Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. – 1 Corinthians 6:9-11
Note that, in Leviticus 18 and 20, God himself says that men should not lie with men “as one lies with a female.” This phraseology clearly shows that God views sexual intercourse as a thing that is naturally done between males and females—something that cannot be legitimately transferred to a same-sex context. Commenting in Romans, the apostle Paul hearkens back to this when he refers to same-sex unions as “unnatural” and states that engaging in them is “degrading.” The word translated “degrading” in the New American Standard Bible (“vile” in the King James Version) is taken from the Greek word atimia, which Vines Expository Dictionary defines as meaning “dishonor, ignominy, disgrace.”

The idea that sexual intercourse is only natural between males and females should be evident from their physiology alone. Male and female sexual systems are natural counterparts. Female anatomy is rather self-evidently designed to receive male anatomy, which can be demonstrated, if for no other reason, than by the fact that it is able to take the product of that union, generate new human life, and eventually bring that life forth. What could possibly be more natural for humans than the process that creates more humans?

This is decidedly not the case with same-sex unions, in spite of the claim made by some that “sex is sex.” Were it not for our culture’s desire to portray homosexuality as “normal,” the matter would be too self-evidently absurd to consider seriously. The anatomy alone makes this a ridiculous proposition. I have to blunt here—sex between two men cannot be the same as sex between a man and a woman unless we’re seriously prepared to argue that there is no difference between an anus and a vagina. The vagina is a sexual organ. It is more than just an orifice that facilitates sexual union; it is part of an anatomical system that is dedicated to reproduction, and once again, is a natural counterpart to male physiology. By contrast, the anus is a biological sewer pipe. Its sole purpose is to eliminate waste from the body. It isn’t designed to receive or facilitate anything else as a counterpart to itself.

Explain to me how something that our bodies are not designed to do can be either “natural” or the equivalent of something our bodies are designed to do. Males and females are natural counterparts; males and males are not; females and females are not.

Beyond this, however, the Bible tells us that same-sex acts are “degrading,” “dishonorable,” “ignominious,” and “disgraceful.” Homosexuals and transgenders may find this insulting, but the Bible simply views this as an objective fact; insults and name-calling are not in view here. Further, the Bible does not use this language merely in the context of how same-sex acts are viewed by others; it is plain from the text that homosexuals—both male and female—dishonor and disgrace themselves in the eyes of God.

Why is this?

First, it overthrows the creator’s intent. It takes something God made for a certain purpose, to be done in a certain way, and to which he gave his blessing, and substitutes another arrangement in its place, declaring the substitute equal to the original in spite of the glaring differences.

Second, it confuses and dishonors the genders. Much of what we hear from the homosexual community has to do with their desire to be accorded “respect,” “dignity,” and “worth;” yet, their practices actually strip them of their dignity in many ways.

In the order that God created, men and women have distinct sexual roles. When a man in a gay relationship allows another man to—and I’m being delicate here—treat him like a woman, he is effectively giving up his masculinity in the eyes of God. He dishonors both himself and what it means to be a man by taking on a feminine role. His lover also dishonors the masculine role, himself, and his partner because he is treating a man like a woman.

Furthermore—and this is more subtle but it is definitely consistent with the biblical model—both men are also dishonoring the female gender in their homosexual relationship. Why? Because women have a distinct sexual role reserved to them by God. When two men engage in a sexual relationship, they are usurping the feminine role and, in so doing, denigrating what it means to be a woman. They are saying that this act between them is just as good as being with a woman. They are comparing the vagina to the anus and pronouncing them equal. I would think women would find that insulting, having their own sexual system compared to an organ of waste elimination. But this is what homosexual men are doing. Do I need to remind the reader that homosexual men frequently refer to their partners as “my woman” (in addition to other terms I have no desire to use here)? Yet the feminist community—as sensitive as it is to so many perceived denigrations of women—has nothing to say on this.

This dishonoring of oneself and gender roles is also true in lesbian relationships, as the women involved are effectively casting off men, thereby surrendering their own God-given female role in sexuality, treating the male role as an undesirable thing, and equating female-female sex as equivalent to the male-female relationship.

There is also a strong connection between homosexuality and bondage/sado-masochism. I’ve seen pictures and video from a number of gay pride events where some homosexuals (almost always men) were leading others around with collars and leashes, as if they were pets. I fail to see anything dignifying about this.
Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. – I Corinthians 6:18
Third, homosexual relationships are degrading to both sexes because of the harm their practices often cause to the human body. Again, in their form of intercourse, gay men are effectively having sex with a biological sewer pipe. There are health risks associated with this and other common homosexual practices, where both men and women are concerned. Interested persons should see the following links for details (warning: these sites contain graphic descriptions of sexual acts):

Facts about Youth—Health Risks of the Homosexual Lifestyle
The Health Risks of Gay Sex

Jesus never condemned it!?

It has been argued by some that Jesus never condemned homosexuality, but this is misleading. Homosexuality is never mentioned in any of the gospel accounts, so we do not have any recorded instance of Jesus commenting on it either way. That said, however, we do have an instance in which Jesus addressed the institution of marriage. Refer back to the New Testament passage I quoted in which the Pharisees asked Jesus about divorce:
Some Pharisees came to Jesus and tested Him asking, “Is is lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all? And he answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?” – Matthew 19:3-5
It’s apparent here that, although he was not commenting specifically on homosexuality or transgenderism, Jesus upheld the creation of two distinct genders and the institution of marriage, including the implied sexual union that makes husbands and wives “one flesh.” The genders are inseparable from the roles they were created to play. So, by necessity, in the act of affirming the creation of two distinct genders, Jesus was also affirming their distinct sexual roles.

Other Forbidden Sexual Practices

It should be observed here that the Bible does not forbid only homosexual practices. Various other sexual practices are also forbidden, including certain acts between men and women. Forbidden practices include:

  • Bestiality (sex with animals) – Leviticus 18:23; 20:15-16
  • Incest (sex with close blood relatives) – Leviticus 18:6-9; 20:17, 19
  • Adultery (sex with another person’s spouse) – Leviticus 18:20; 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22
  • Sex with the spouse of one’s close relative – Leviticus 18:15-16; 20:11, 20-21
  • Sex during menstruation – Leviticus 18:19; 20:18
  • Lust (imagining sex with anyone who is not one’s spouse) – Matthew 5:27-28
  • Marrying a divorcee whose husband is still alive – Leviticus 21:7

In one way or another, all of these practices dishonor the body, expose one to harm, or else diminish marriage and gender roles.

Did God (or Nature) make Homosexuals ‘That Way’?

It is now commonly argued that Christians ought to respect the homosexual lifestyle because “God made them that way” or “They’re just born that way.” This is a point of view that has been creeping into the church of late, and has proven effective in allowing homosexuals to openly participate in churches (even as ministers) because it is perceived that they have no choice in the lifestyle they follow.

In response, I point back to the scriptures and other evidences we have already seen to the effect that God created only two genders and defined particular roles for them—the Bible declaring that anything that departs from these roles is “unnatural.” It is illogical—and there is absolutely no biblical evidence—to suggest that God somehow endows individuals with personalities that compel them to act in ways contrary to the design and laws he has laid down. This would create a contradiction in the character of God, making him the author of the very sins he condemns and punishes; in effect, a cosmic prankster, twisting his own creations into tormented caricatures—for instance, by giving a man the personality of a woman.

This is not at all consistent with the character of God as revealed in the Bible. The scriptures refer to homosexuality as a sin, and this designation implies that there is choice involved. Forgiveness is available through Jesus Christ, but this requires repentance—turning from sin—and repentance requires an act of the will. This would make no sense if choice were not involved. Indeed, the word translated “repent” in the New Testament is the Greek word metanoeo, which Vines tells us literally means “to perceive afterwards…hence signifies ‘to change one’s mind or purpose.’”

If God tells us that homosexuality requires repentance, then he is also telling us that an act of the will is involved in it, else no one could repent of it. While one may feel a compulsion to engage in homosexual acts, one need not necessarily act on those compulsions. Most people feel sinful compulsions on a regular basis, including urges to lie, cheat, steal, abuse drugs, damage property, hit someone they’re angry with, etc. Few suggest that anyone should indulge such compulsions, but, again, where sexuality is concerned, our standards tend to be much more relaxed.

The evidence suggests that homosexuality is a compulsion that can be overcome. It may be deeply engrained in the personality—and is often the result of abuse and strong anxiety issues in childhood—but God is able to heal and deliver those who are willing to come to him for his help, as many who have come out of homosexuality can testify. He understands our weaknesses and knows the things that drive us to do what we do. In some instances, it is due to a spiritual affliction and requires deliverance. Unfortunately, the gay lobby is actively resisting efforts to offer counseling to persons struggling with gender confusion and homosexual impulses.

One ex-homosexual, Dean Bailey, has called homosexuality “merely one of the many evidences of the broken, spiritual condition of our human race,” and believes that efforts are being made to make gender counseling illegal because homosexual activists fear “the breakdown and destruction of the inward lies that form the foundation of their own ‘gay identity,’ and everything that the ‘gay rights’ movement has been built upon.”

It is known that homosexuals tend to suffer from mental problems, including depression, at a higher rate than the general population (as even some within the gay community admit). Activists may argue that this is due to societal pressure to conform to traditional gender and sexual roles, but that is an assertion on their part that fails to account for many factors, including instances where gay men and women talk about how same-sex attraction first began in their lives. If they were “born gay,” it seems they should not be able to pinpoint any particular time when the attraction first began, but there is often a “defining moment” for them.

Nor does the science support what the gay activists are claiming.

Dr. John Diggs comments on this in reference to a study conducted in the Netherlands, where, as he says, the population has been “considerably more accepting of same-sex relationships than in other Western countries.” In spite of this atmosphere of open acceptance, Diggs notes that the study found that, compared to non-homosexual males (or at least those not engaging in same-sex relationships) “males who had any homosexual contact within [twelve months prior to the study] were much more likely to experience major depression, bipolar disorder, panic disorder, agoraphobia and obsessive compulsive disorder.” The study returned similar results for women, establishing that they “had higher rates of nearly all psychological pathologies measured in the study.” In their summary paper, the Dutch researchers concluded: “Psychiatric disorders were more prevalent among homosexually active people compared with heterosexually active people… The findings support the assumption that people with same-sex sexual behavior are at greater risk for psychiatric disorders.”

As for homosexuality being a product of nature, theories abound, but no proof has been offered in support of the so-called “gay gene” concept. As mentioned above, it makes no sense that gay people can identify particular moments where their “gay identity” began to form—to say nothing of specific steps in how it progressed—if they were simply “born gay.” As a recent homosexual writer for the Huffington Post put it, “There must be a reason why some men and women become homosexuals.” Interesting word choice there.

Psychiatrist Dr. John McHugh of John Hopkins University, who ran the university’s gender-reassignment program there until he became convinced it was not actually helping transgenders, has commented that “there are factors more influential than biology” in sexual orientation. He offers certain statistics in favor of this conclusion, such as the fact that men who are raised in a rural setting are “four times less likely to have homosexual relationships than [those] who grow up in a cosmopolitan area,” and how lesbians “are much more likely to be college educated. That’s not something that happens at conception.”

The Culture War

Once again, I’ve written this article in an effort, not to cast dispersions on homosexuals, but to explain why Christians cannot simply cast aside their beliefs to “catch up with the times,” and why we cannot consider homosexuality to be equal to the institution of heterosexual marriage. Asking us to do these things is tantamount to asking us to throw out the entire basis of our faith.

Yet, it may well be asked:
So what do we do? There are plenty of people in America today who are not Christians, do not accept the authority of the Bible, and do not believe in God. What right do Christians have to boss them around and make them live by Christian values?
Personally, while I hold deep convictions about these matters, I do not have a desire to dictate lifestyle choices to anyone. Nor do I want anyone dictating such choices to me. I follow the apostle Paul’s admonition to “so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18). Unfortunately, some Christians have been belligerent in their treatment of homosexuals, and this has created a cultural backlash that has defamed Christ and tarnished the gospel message. Christians need to do better in demonstrating the love of Christ in our society, including where homosexuals are concerned.

That said, however, there is also considerable intolerance on the other side of the issue. In fact, thanks to the media and various special interest groups—including the militant homosexual lobby—the term “tolerance” has taken on a different connotation than it had in times past. It used to be that to “tolerate” something was to put up with it, to allow it. Today, “tolerance” has taken on the connotation of embracing a thing, of actively celebrating it. Consequently, failure to openly accept and celebrate a thing is now perceived as “hatred” and “bigotry.”

Christians are now even being accused of hate crimes and violating the civil rights of homosexuals, such as in the recent cases where Christian bakers refused to bake cakes for gay weddings. The homosexual couples involved could easily have respected the convictions of these individuals, gone elsewhere, and found any number of other bakeries willing to service them, but instead they filed legal complaints in an effort to punish these Christians. Now, bolstered by their recent successes, gay rights activists are beginning to target the enrollment and hiring standards of Christian schools and churches as “discriminatory.”

As long as this sort of thing continues, and Christians are told that the exercise of their convictions amounts to hate, the animosity we’re seeing in our society will continue to grow. Live-and-let-live is a wonderful principle, but political advocacy groups are not usually interested in it. They thrive on controversy, and they’re not above stirring it up where it does not already exist; it’s how they write their ticket to continued relevance. It’s also how they seek to direct the dialogue in a culture, right down to determining how words are used—words such as “tolerance,” for instance.

To my fellow Christians, I would say that the admonition to love one’s neighbor as oneself has not been rescinded, and the gospel must remain primary in all we do. Jesus didn’t found a political movement. Christians can be politically active, but our primary calling is to continue the Lord’s mission in his absence. Our political activities must be secondary to this mission and should always be tailored in light of it. I hope that the items I’ve laid out here will prove of value to you as you engage with homosexuals—and I assure you that you’re going to, more and more in the days to come.

* All scriptures are taken from the NASB.
* Image copyright notice: The Gutenberg Bible, the first printed Bible, by NYC Wanderer (Kevin Eng). No changes.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Is the Doctrine of Imminence Biblical?

The doctrine of imminence - meaning that Jesus could return for his church at any moment - is very popular today, but is it biblical?

In this video, I examine pre-tribulationist arguments in defense of imminence as offered by Renald Showers, Thomas Ice, and John Walvoord. The following points are addressed from the scriptures in detail:

Part One: Are there any biblical events that must precede the rapture of the church?

Part Two: The Prophecy of Peter's Martyrdom

Part Three: Did James teach imminence in chapter 5 of his epistle when he declared "The coming of the Lord is near" and "the judge is standing right at the door"?

Part Four: Does the early Christian saying "Maranatha!" imply imminence? What does the term mean and why does Paul use it in 1 Corinthians 16?

Part Five: Was the church at Thessalonica expecting an imminent rapture?

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Bible, Science, and Pseudoscience

Pseudoscience has an iron grip on large parts of the Christian community. The people in these various camps will find it next to impossible to engage with intelligent, educated people to any real degree. They'll be laughed off, and they're deluded enough to think they're being persecuted for the Lord's sake. Meanwhile, they accuse Christians who reject their interpretations of being "compromisers" and agents of deception.

I well remember the time when a lady tried telling me that dinosaur bones were a satanic deception. She was completely serious and was actually angry that I believed otherwise. I was a small child at the time, and remember that I just nodded compliantly in response, hoping to put some much-needed space between me and the big, angry lady as quickly as possible.

The Bible is not a science book. It was written to, and by, ancient peoples who didn't know even a fraction of what we know today, and it often employs poetic language that should not be interpreted literally or as some kind of scientific commentary.

For instance, Psalm 104:5 says that God "set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved." Some have taken this to mean that the modern understanding that the Earth rotates on its axis and orbits the Sun must be false (another alleged NASA hoax). It must be remembered, however, that the psalmist did not understand the "earth" in the sense that we do, that is, of its being a planet. The term is probably better translated "land," as this is what the ancients knew (and, often in scripture, "the land" refers to the limited area in which particular events are taking place, rather than all land everywhere). To the ancients' way of thinking, the land, the sky, and the sea all had their designated "places" in the scope of creation. That's what the psalmist is talking about here: how all things are subject to the order God has established in creation rather than being in some kind of chaotic flux. This certainly conforms to what we have learned by the scientific method (and particularly so within the lifetime of human beings), but it should not be taken as an exhaustive commentary on the composition of our planet.

Even those passages where God himself speaks of what he has made should not be taken as necessarily literal or precise. God used simple terms to communicate with people of simple understanding, and he often used poetic comparisons, just as we do today when explaining things to children. When my six-year-old son tells me, "Look, Daddy! The sun's going down!", I don't subject him to a lesson in cosmology. He has some growing up to do before we get into all of that, just as the human race has had some growing up to do in terms of its understanding of the universe.

* Image courtesy of NASA.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Cure for Broken Relationships

It's tragic to see so many marriages falling apart, including Christian marriages. In many instances, this is attributable to stubbornness and selfishness on the part of one or both spouses. In other instances, it seems to be the result of years of unresolved frustration and anger that give rise to bitterness. In the latter case, things tend to come to a head quickly, with one spouse abruptly storming out on the other, who is then left bewildered and broken. Where children are involved, it's all the more tragic.

What's the remedy for this? Counseling? Therapy? Medication?

The answer became more fully apparent to me some time back while I was praying for a Christian couple that was in turmoil. This was one of the rare instances in which the Spirit actually answered me, and he did so as he almost always does - by interrupting me, which I suppose is his way of letting me know that what I'm hearing is not my own thought. He said, very simply, "I can't help them if they won't yield to me."

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are all essential to establishing and maintaining the harmonious relationships that God intended us to have with one another, and all are called "fruits of the Spirit" in scripture (Galatians 5:22-23). They are manifestations of the transformative work of God in our character, and they can only be developed in us as we learn to yield to him rather than indulging our own desires, which typically manifest as lust, anger, stubbornness, selfishness, unforgiveness, bitterness, vengeance, and the like - all the things that typically destroy relationships.

If you're facing turmoil in a relationship today, it may well be that - contrary to conventional wisdom - marriage counseling should not be your first step toward reconciliation, at least not for the Christian. As I see the teaching of scripture, the first step may well be to spend time apart for awhile, seeking God individually, repenting of selfishness and learning to hear his voice and yield to his gentle prompting. Ephesians 4:3 refers to a "unity of the Spirit" that results in "the bond of peace." If you are both focused on him and yielded to him, the Spirit will naturally facilitate peace between you. Counseling tends to focus on working out your animosities, which shifts your attention to yourself and will likely cause you to become defensive. By giving control over to the Spirit of God first, you learn to see things (including one another) through his eyes, and the old complaints and battles will be far easier to overcome because pride and selfishness will no longer be in the way.

What, then, if your spouse is not interested in yielding to the Spirit of God? The hard truth there is that reconciliation may not be possible. As painful as this may be, regardless of what your spouse may choose to do, remain focused on the Lord, yielding to the Spirit rather than to succumbing to despair. The Spirit is not only capable of producing a unity that results in peace between persons, but also between us and our Lord, and it is this peace that the Bible tells us "surpasses all comprehension" and is able to "guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus."

When the peace of the living God has hold of you, there is nothing you cannot endure. Jesus was able to face the specter of the cross, in spite of being abandoned by his closest friends, simply because he knew "I am not alone, because the Father is with me" (John 16:33).

Your Father will be with you, too. Look to him and yield to his Spirit, cultivating the bond of peace that unity with him results in, no matter how even those closest to you may wound and betray you.

* Scriptures taken from the NASB

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Matthew 24 and the Rapture Debate, Part Two: The Rapture as a 'Mystery' revealed by Paul

The second video in my series on Matthew 24 and the rapture debate focuses on the pre-tribulationist argument that the coming of Matthew 24:29-31 cannot be the rapture because Jesus was relying on Old Testament prophecies for his teaching and the rapture is a New Testament "mystery" never revealed in the Old Testament.

Most pre-tribulationists that I've heard who hold to this belief argue that Paul first revealed the rapture in 1 Corinthians 15. I break this position down in two ways: 1) Examining what a biblical "mystery" is and how the rapture fits in with that, and 2) Demonstrating why the 1 Corinthians 15 argument ends up unraveling.