Children Are the Ultimate Victims of Identity and Gender Politics

kid-confused
I Don’t Know

“What’s going on in a world where, when children are married off as brides, conscripted as soldiers or forced to work in sweatshops, we rise in condemnation. Yet those who beat their breasts about such violations of human dignity advocate as rights unrestricted access to abortion, physician assisted suicide and gender-reassignment surgery? What’s going on? Confusion. We are reaping the harvest of a generation’s long societal worship of the idol of personal autonomy.”

When children as young as three years old are given the choice of their gender, and subsequently undergo surgery to mutilate their genitals, we have truly descended into cultural madness. See the full article here: The Age of Consent in a New Age.

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Answering Objections about the Problem of Evil and Suffering, Part 4

suffering childrenA Christian Answer to the Problem of Evil and Suffering

The Christian answer to the problem of evil and suffering begins with God himself. When we have a proper view of God, the apparent problems begin to melt away.

God’s Nature

First, God is the standard for his actions—whatever he does defines concepts of justice, goodness, love, and mercy. Too many times the supposed problem of the justice of God begins when we mistakenly believe that there is some standard of justice that stands above God and to which God’s actions must conform. Such a view reflects the philosophy of the ancient Greek philosopher, Plato. In reality, however, God is ultimate and his character sets the standard for what justice is. We can’t do all that God does, because of our limited knowledge and creatureliness, but God can do as he pleases and whatever he does is just.

Second, some people believe that God needs to justify certain actions recorded in Scripture. However, Scripture makes it clear that God does not need to defend his actions to us. He does not defend himself for giving Adam a wife who led him into sin (Gen. 3:12), or when he tells Abraham to sacrifice Isaac (Gen. 22), or when Job wants answers for his apparent unjust suffering (Job 23:1-7; 31:35ff; 40:4-42:6). God is the sovereign Almighty Lord who does what he pleases (Psalm 115:3; 135:6; Eccl. 8:3) and owes no one an explanation (Rom. 9:19-21).

Third, as fallen, finite, and created beings we cannot understand the reasons of a perfect, infinite, and uncreated God (Ezek. 18:25). Like a two-year old can’t understand the reasons a parent insists on a necessary medical procedure for the child, so we do not have the capacity to understand all that God ordains in this world. To assume that God does not have a good reason for something he allows is to presume that because we do not understand God’s reasons, He could not possibly have any.

Finally, God is not obligated to show kindness or mercy to anyone, or to deliver anyone from human evil or suffering (Exod. 33:19). Sometimes there is an underlying assumption in objections to God’s existence that fallen humans deserve mercy and a trouble-free life. In reality, fallen human beings deserve nothing but God’s wrath. The fact that God allows anyone to live and experience good in this life is purely by his own benevolent kindness.

God’s Reasons

An even better Christian answer is that God may have a perfectly good reason for allowing evil and suffering that we cannot know or comprehend. The standard atheistic view assumes that God could not possibly have a good reason for allowing evil and suffering, yet cannot prove that assertion in any way. The Christian answer says that with man’s limited understanding, he cannot possibly know whether or not God has good reasons for allowing suffering.

The Christian response to the standard atheistic view might look like this:

  1. Premise 1: If God were all-powerful, he would be able to prevent evil.
  2. Premise 2: If God were all-good, he would desire to prevent evil.
  3. Premise 3: But there is evil.
  4. Premise 4: God may have a morally sufficient reason for allowing evil that we don’t know about
  5. Conclusion: Therefore, God may allow evil for reasons we don’t know, and still be all-powerful, all-good

We understand this in real life. If you see a man standing over a child slicing open the child’s body with a sharp knife, you might assume that what he is doing is evil. But then if you see that the man is a doctor and is performing surgery, your view of the situation changes. You begin to see that the man is actually being good and merciful, even though he is causing pain to the child. In the same way, humans can only see the evil and suffering that God allows from a limited viewpoint. Only God knows the ultimate, eternal plan for evil and suffering that will end in good.

Taking Evil Seriously

Ultimately only the Christian worldview validates that suffering is genuine, yet not meaningless. Unlike worldviews that deny evil and suffering, the Bible fully acknowledges that such things truly exist. Further, the universal human longing to find meaning in suffering is fulfilled only in the Christian faith. Evil and suffering do have a purpose, and they are guided and limited by the all-powerful God of the Bible. Some worldviews, especially those that believe in the evolutionary progress of man tend to minimize evil so they can claim that the world is evolving into paradise.

God does not stand aloof from evil and suffering. Instead, he enters the creaturely experience by taking on humanity in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus experiences every kind of trial and temptation that can be experienced by human beings, yet without sinning (Heb. 4:14-16). He willingly subjected himself to the frustration and sorrow of life in a sin-cursed world, and grieved it passionately. God grieves over evil and suffering (John 11:35). In order to make sure that evil and suffering would not be the final chapter of the story of creation, God himself experienced the greatest suffering in order to ensure an end to suffering. Jesus suffered the ultimate evil and pain by taking our hell on the cross in order to offer redemption and rescue from sin and the curse.

Hope for Deliverance from Evil and Suffering

Ultimately only the Christian worldview has grounds to call evil what it is, to see evil as destructive and awful as it really is, and to provide hope for future judgment on those who perpetrate evil. The Bible tells us that God hates evil and has nothing to do with it (Hab. 1:12; Jam. 1:13-17). Evil is the enemy of God and all he has made. When God brings all things to an end, the devil, Death and Hell are cast into the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:10, 14). This speaks of the absolute end of death, evil, and suffering.

Non-Christian views minimize evil, fail to recognize it as such, or are unable to give distinctions between good and evil. The Christian worldview sees evil in all its complexity. First, evil is individual—there is evil in each individual. Second, evil is collective—societies can do evil, such as Nazi Germany, Communist Russia and China, or the murderous tyranny of ISIS in the Middle East. Finally, evil is structural—such as international sex slavery or government corruption. Christianity has a thorough view of evil that considers any failure to keep God’s commands as sinful, rebellious, and mutinous.

The Christian worldview, however, provides a decisive answer for good and evil. God ultimately overcame evil by the death of his Son, Jesus, who conquered the consequences of sin and death by his resurrection (John 16:33). He makes it possible for us to overcome evil by copying his example (Rom. 12:17-21; John 11:25). By Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross we are now victorious over sin and already enjoying the benefit (1 John 2:13-14; 4:4; 5:4).

Conclusion

The very difficult challenge of the problem of evil and suffering in the world is turned into a positive argument for the Christian God once we see the biblical answer to this objection in all its richness and complexity. Apart from the Christian faith, there is no meaning and purpose in suffering. Human evil will go unpunished and most people in the world are destined for a lifetime of hopeless victimization at the hands of others and cruel nature.

In the Christian worldview, however, we have answer, meaning, purpose, and most importantly, a loving, sovereign God who guides all things for his own glory and the good of his children. Rather than this objection being an insurmountable wall, it is a doorway into fruitful evangelistic and apologetic conversations.

Answering Objections about the Problem of Evil and Suffering, Part 2

suffering

The Problem Stated

Those who see an irreconcilable conflict between an all-powerful, all-loving God and evil and suffering in the world do so with several arguments. Some ask the thought-provoking question, “Couldn’t God have made a world in which evil and suffering don’t exist?” This is a troubling question, because the answer is certainly, “Yes.” As we will see later, this doesn’t mean that God is unjust, but this question does have a strong emotional impact.

Others argue, “I would never hurt my children needlessly, so why does God? If God is not even better than me, why should I worship him?” This is an argument by analogy. By comparing human parenting to the Creator God’s relation to the world, these people use a well-known experience to a deeply spiritual and philosophical problem. Certainly, a parent-child relationship ought to be marked by gentleness, kindness, and protection from harm. If God cannot even live up to basic human expectations, how can he be worshiped?

A more complete objection to God in the face of evil and suffering is the one proposed by 18th century Scottish philosopher, David Hume, whose argument has served as the standard atheistic objection to the existence of God. Hume argued:

  1. Premise 1: If God were all-powerful, he would be able to prevent evil.
  2. Premise 2: If God were all-good, he would desire to prevent evil.
  3. Conclusion: So if God were all-powerful and all-good, there would be no evil.
  4. Premise 3: But there is evil.
  5. Conclusion: Therefore there is no all-powerful, all-good God.

Hume’s argument can be very convincing at first glance. Many people have been swayed by it because it seems like air-tight logic. It also reflects the heart struggle of many people who have grappled with the very painful experience of suffering, either at the hands of wicked people, or in the brokenness of life in this world.

So, how do we contend with this argument? There are several ways to answer this challenge.

Challenging the Assumptions Behind Hume’s Argument

One thing that must be done when evaluating any argument is something we have covered several times in this study—challenge the presuppositions. In other words, we must examine the assumptions behind an argument to see if they are, in fact, true and sound. Several elements of this argument should be scrutinized.

  1. It is assumed that suffering is necessarily bad. Without stating why suffering is necessarily bad or a sign of disorder in the world, this argument assumes it. However, as we have seen in previous lessons, if the naturalistic worldview is true, suffering is a natural part of an evolutionary world, and shouldn’t be considered “bad.”

  2. It is assumed that people are basically good and innocent so that suffering is somehow unfair. The assumption here is that suffering violates an obligation by God to make life in this world only good. This is based on the assumption that man is basically good, worthy, and deserving, and therefore God is obligated to give us a life devoid of suffering.

  3. It is assumed that evil and suffering cannot result in good that will make it worthwhile. In combination with point #1, suffering is necessarily bad, and no amount of suffering can be good, regardless of what good might come out of suffering. At the same time, the unbeliever who uses this argument probably acknowledges the principle of suffering that results in good in other areas of life—an athlete who suffers pain and hardship in training to become good at her sport, someone who says no to spending and lives frugally so he can save money to buy a house, and so on.

  4. BUT, it is also assumed that at there is a distinction between good and evil. In addition to the first three assumptions, there are ethical and spiritual assumptions in this argument. By calling something evil, Hume is assuming that there is good that stands in contrast to evil.

  5. There is a standard by which to judge between good and evil. To distinguish a good act from an evil one, there must exist some kind of moral law that tells us the difference between good and evil, otherwise each person could decide for himself, and there would be no moral difference between kissing someone and killing them. Yet, most rational people intuitively know that there is a moral difference between the two acts. Whatever the standard is that differentiates good acts from evil ones, it must be objective and timeless to avoid relativism, which itself is a justification for the worst kinds of evil.

  6. The standard can be known and ought to compel people. If the standard that discerns good from evil has any usefulness, it must be knowable by people and ought to carry and ethical obligation for them to obey it. If the standard is not known, it is useless. If it is merely a suggestion and does not have the power to demand compliance, with punishment for non-compliance, it has no purpose. Acknowledging evil, therefore, assumes that there is a moral good that beings ought to follow.

  7. Finally, it is assumed that there is meaning to the events in the world and to the suffering of people. In other words, Hume’s objection to God assumes that there should not be contradictions in the world and that things should make sense. However, apart from God, there is no reason to assume that the world should make sense. If naturalism is true, the universe is guided by chance—random, blind, unthinking forces—and we should not expect there to be meaning, which only comes about in an intelligent universe.

It is clear, then, that this seemingly convincing argument against the existence of God is full of assumptions about the world that it cannot prove. It demands an explanation from God when it cannot even explain itself.

Hume’s argument is a philosophical one that is clearly flawed, yet it has the virtue of taking evil seriously. There are other approaches to evil and suffering that come from religion and philosophy that try to do away with either evil and suffering or the nature of God as all-powerful and all-loving. We will explore these in the next post.

 

Read Dystopias!

I often tell my students that the two most important books they can read outside the Bible are 1984 by George Orwell and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Both novels capture the outcome of opposing views of the world. Both show that regardless of political freedom or oppression, man will eliminate the need for God in society if possible. Both touch on the philosophical and theological roots of important questions, such as the nature of man, the nature of truth, the power of the state, the exalted place of “science,” and hopelessness of a world without God. Here’s a great summary of the message of both novels: http://highexistence.com/amusing-ourselves-to-death-huxley-vs-orwell/

The Failure of Philosophy and the SCOTUS Decision

nietzscheI was reading an interview with seven philosophers about the SCOTUS decision legalizing gay marriage in all 50 states, and in none of their short essays, save one, did the philosophers who responded actually apply any serious philosophy. Their answers are mostly opinion pieces lauding justice and dignity, with no attempt to define those terms philosophically, or to justify their importance. As K. Scott Oliphint says, Philosophy is largely well-articulated unbelief.

Only one philosopher, Cheshire Calhoun of Arizona State University, asks the right question. She notices that Justice Kennedy, in his majority opinion, referred several times to the “transcendent purpose of marriage.” As a non-Christian Calhoun questions where Kennedy gets the notion of the transcendent, and why that notion should be binding. The transcendent smacks of religion, and that cannot be tolerated, so she suggests that we do away with the concept and the vocabulary.

If any law is based on a concept of transcendence, there is a danger that transcendence may interfere with the next sexual taboo to fall, be it polygamy, incest, etc. Best to drop the language of transcendence, she advises, because it legitimizes marriage too much, and it’s high time we stopped considering marriage to be anything more than a misguided relic of the hateful past.

Calhoun is right about one thing. If there is a transcendent to which we can appeal, we are all in deep trouble. That transcendent may demand of us things we don’t want to do. It may hold the specter of future judgment. Like many of her philosophical peers, Calhoun is eager to jettison the notion. Also like many of her peers, she forgets the prescient words of one of her own comrades in the philosophical guild, albeit of a different century.

Friedrich Nietzsche’s parable of the madman confronts the hubris of those who discard the divine. He knew that ridding ourselves of the transcendent did not bring bondage, but a loss of the foundations of society, dignity, and rationality.

“Where has God gone?” he cried. “I shall tell you. We have killed him – you and I. We are his murderers. But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained the earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving now? Away from all suns? Are we not perpetually falling? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is it not more and more night coming on all the time? Must not lanterns be lit in the morning? Do we not hear anything yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we not smell anything yet of God’s decomposition? Gods too decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, murderers of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was the holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we need to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we not ourselves become gods simply to be worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whosoever shall be born after us – for the sake of this deed he shall be part of a higher history than all history hitherto.”

What Calhoun celebrates, the idolization of desire, will not only be the destruction of her trade, philosophy, but civilization as a whole, the very thing she thinks has been saved by SCOTUS’s decision. If desire reigns, there is no need for philosophy, because each one’s own peccadillos are all that matters. Philosophy’s task is rendered irrelevant. There is no more room for the questions of universal good and justice. Such questions themselves become as oppressive as a transcendent idea of marriage.

The concept of civilization, too, will have to be redefined or discarded, once the most deviant in society realize that the holy grail of hedonism, consent, is nothing more than a preference. If there is no transcendent, there can be no argument that consent should be the guiding ethic of sexual expression. Once consent is lost, it’s a quick fall to chaos and destruction.

Bible believers know what happens when everyone does what is right in his own eyes. The biblical book of Joshua recounts the horrors of life without restraint. As one Puritan divine prayed, “O God, it is amazing that men can talk so much about man’s creaturely power and goodness, when, if thou didst not hold us back every moment, we should be devils incarnate. This, by bitter experience, thou hast taught me concerning myself.”

While those in favor of the SCOTUS decision praise it for its grant of justice and dignity, they pull the rug out from their own feet. Do away with the transcendent God, and terms like mercy and justice become meaningless. Only by beginning with the triune God of Scripture can the genuine dignity and justice in the world be possible.

Resources for Learning Philosophy and Logic

logic copyOne of the unfortunate results of the incredible resurgence of apologetics in Christianity in the last two decades is the impression many apologists give that an extensive study of philosophy is necessary to effectively defend the faith. On the contrary, what most Christians lack when it comes to apologetics is a robust grasp of Christian theology. Many believers try to defend Christianity with only a minimal understanding of their own faith.

On the other hand, a little knowledge of philosophy, logic (and worldviews, for that matter) can certainly help a believer catch contradictions in the thinking of an unbeliever, and in his own thinking, too. There are many excellent resources to help someone get started. Many online resources also have the advantage of being graphically oriented to speed comprehension and increase memorability.

Here are some of the best resources:

An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments

Philographics

What’s Your Worldview?

Your Logical Fallacy Is

Visualistan Philosophy Infographic

Do you know of any others? Comment to add other graphic resources on Philosophy, logic and worldviews.

Faith and Reason: How Do They Work Together?

A common misconception among believers and unbelievers alike is that faith and reason are incompatible. Atheist Richard Dawkins arrives at this conclusion based on his definition of faith: “Believing in spite of evidence to the contrary.” Now, no person of faith can agree with such a definition. Dawkins is clearly fighting dirty with such a statement. On the other hand, some religious people defy reason by believing that faith requires irrationality, and that reason is unnecessary to religion.

So how do faith and reason work together?  In his book, Reasons for Faith: Philosophy in the Service of Theology (P&R, 2006), Westminster Seminary apologetics professor Scott Oliphint summarizes 17th century Swiss theologian Francis Turretin’s explanation:

First, it is reason’s task to judge the consistency and coherence of biblical truth. Not only so, but reason is to function as a judge of what is contradictory and what is not. At the same time we must remember that reason can only function this way after it has been restored and renewed by the Spirit of God. This does not mean that reason is the final arbiter of what is possible and what is impossible. God alone legislates such a thing.

Second, reason functions as a servant, never a master, to theology. Its proper place with respect to theology is to provide whatever tools what might be helpful to theology to carry out its own task. This means that the law of contradiction, and the use of that law, can never fully determine whether a particular Christian doctrine is true. That determination is left to revelation. What reason can do is help theology to organize, articulate, and expand its truths in such a way as to clarify their meaning.

Third, the law of contradiction’s service to theology is not in matters of interpretation per se, but rather in the organization and articulation of our interpretations. Interpretation of Scripture is given to us by way of other Scriptures. We do not need another external source in order to compare and bring together the truth as God has given it to us in his Word.

Given these points, Oliphint concludes 1) that regenerate reason is to judge of the consistency of doctrine, 2) that reason is never to take a magisterial role with respect to theology, and 3) reason is to help articulate and organize our interpretations of Scripture.

This summary helps us to see that reason is necessary to a sound faith, but also that reason is flawed and marred by sin, whereas Scripture is not. Our faith then should be in the Word of God, while at the same time, using our reason aright.

The Mystery of the Essence of God Contemplated

Reference to God’s incomprehensible essence also warns us against imagining what God is like, which would lead us inexorably down the road to idolatry. Recognizing God’s infinite and spiritual essence keeps us from thinking that God can be represented in imagery.

Paul Helm, John Calvin’s Ideas (Oxford, 2004), 20.

Here Paul Helm touches on Calvin’s view that the essence of God cannot be understood by the human mind. We can know about God all that he reveals about himself in his Word, but we can’t know more than that. As Helm notes later, the activities of God, which can be known, should not be confused with the essence of God, which cannot be known by the human mind. I often use the illustration (flawed, I know) that God is like Windows 7 and the human mind is like a calculator. A calculator simply does not have the capacity to run Windows 7. Likewise, we do not have the cognitive faculties to comprehend the essence of God, no matter how hard we try.

Calvin warned against philosophical speculation about the essence of God that goes beyond what Scripture has revealed:

Here, indeed, if anywhere in the secret mysteries of Scripture, we ought to play the philosopher soberly and with great moderation; let us use caution that neither our thoughts nor our speech go beyond the limits to which the Word of God itself extends. For how can the human mind measure off the measureless essence of God according to its own little measure, a mind as yet unable to establish for certain the nature of the sun’s body, though men’s eyes daily gaze upon it? Indeed, how can the mind by its own leading come to search out God’s essence when it cannot even get to its own? Let us then willingly leave to God the knowledge of himself. For, as Hilary says, he is the one fit witness to himself, and is not known except through himself. But we shall be “leaving it to him” if we conceive him to be as he reveals himself to us (Institutes 1.13.21).

What does this mean for us? We should worship God as he has revealed himself in Scripture, and not try to understand things for which we were never made (Deut. 29:29)!

Why is the Trinity Important to Apologetics?

Why is the Trinity important to apologetics? Well, what happens when unitarianism (the view that God is merely one) is substituted for Trinitarianism? One result is that the God so defined tends to lose definition and the marks of personality. In the early centuries of the Christian era, the Gnostics, the Arians, and the Neoplatonists worshipped a non-Trinitarian God. That God was a pure oneness, with no plurality of any kind. But one what? A unity of what?…

Anti-Trinitarianism always has that effect. It leads to a “wholly other” God, rather than a God who is transcendent in the biblical sense. Paradoxically, at the same time, it leads to a God who is relative to the world, rather than the sovereign Lord of Scripture. It leads to a blank “One” rather than the absolute personality of the Bible. It makes the Creator-creature distinction a difference in degree rather than a difference of being.

John Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God (P&R, 1994), 47-48.

Understanding Postmodernism

Postmodernism affects everything it touches, often in ways of which we are not aware. Its effects on the writing of history are to make history inaccessible to all but a few academic elites, or to reinterpret history in the image of the historian, with little regard for documentary evidence. Richard Evans explains this phenomenon in his book, In Defense of History (W.W. Norton, 1999). My own experience in a very postmodernized philosophy program at a Philadelphia area University bears out this observation.

Many aspects of postmodernism can be understood, sociologically, as a way of compensating for this loss of power within the world at large and within the university as an institution. For it places enormous, indeed total intellectual power in the hands of the academic interpreter, the critic, and the historian. If the intentions of the author of a text are irrelevant to a text’s meaning—if meaning is placed in the text by the reader, the interpreter—and if the past is a text like any other, then the historian is effectively reinventing the past every time he or she reads or writes about it. The past no longer has the power to confine the researcher within the bounds of facts. Historians and critics are now omnipotent.

To underline this, the postmodernists have developed a new level of specialized language and jargon, borrowed largely from literary theory, which has rendered their work opaque to anyone except other postmodernists. The enterprise thus seems not only self-regarding but, ironically in view of its criticism of hierarchy and prioritization, elitist as well. Its narcissism and elitism both can be seen as compensatory mechanisms for the loss of real power, income, and status suffered by its academic practitioners over the past ten to fifteen years. It all reminds one of Oscar Wilde’s saying that any fool can make history; it takes a genius to write it (p. 172-3).