Original Sin

(…continued from Judging God)

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She is doing what millions of billions of people have done since the serpent deceived Eve and Adam.

“This is the real score: God doesn’t want you to be like him, to know good and evil”, the serpent said.

But Eve and Adam decided that it was indeed desirable to be like God, to know good and evil. They thought that it was unfair of God to keep them from being like him in that way—so they went ahead and ate the forbidden fruit.

This is the original sin: the desire to be like God, able to decide for oneself what is good and what is evil—independent of God!

Man the creation looks at God the Creator and says, “I can be like you, you know. I can decide for myself what is good and what is evil. I can set my own standards. I don’t have to depend on your standards”.

So man sets his own standards for judging what is good and what is evil. Then he compares his standards with God’s—and then evaluates God’s standards according to his own standards.

“Well, OK, I know that you said that is wrong, but, you see, it actually depends. That may be wrong in this situation, but I think you’ll have to agree that it can actually be the right thing to do in this situation…”

Then…
“You know what? I’ve done a lot of thinking. That thing you say is wrong? It’s not just the right thing in some situations, but come to think of it, it’s actually the right thing in all situations!”

Still later…
“There’s no real right and wrong anyway. It all depends. If I may say so, you were a bit off there, God, when you gave us the entire notion of sin, of right and wrong. No such thing, big guy. It all depends.”

“How do I know? I’ve got wisdom, big guy. I know what’s right and what’s wrong. I ate the fruit which—in your selfishness!—you told me not to eat”.

And…
“I don’t need you to tell me what is good and what is evil, what’s right and what’s wrong. I can decide all that for myself, thank you. I don’t need your standards. I don’t need your guidance.”

“In fact, guess what? I don’t even need you at all.”

“You give me no good standards. What you call evil I call good. What you call good, well, me no like.”

“You don’t give me wisdom. You don’t make me happy. In fact, I’ve found other gods who give me more wisdom. They give me more happiness. They deserve my loyalty more. Jealous yet?”

Finally…
“I can be wise all by myself, and if I need it find more wisdom elsewhere. I can be happy without you, and find still more happiness elsewhere.”

“I don’t need you.”

“Remember you said I would die if I ate that fruit? Hah! Newsflash! I’m still alive! And you’re—dead! Bam! Goodbye!”

“You were right about that fruit, though—I AM much wiser now.”

And the serpent laughs.

To be continued

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This is Part 2 of a series. Other posts in this series:

Part 1: Judging God

Part 3: To Understand, Stand Under

Part 4: Dying for Rebels

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Life After Life After Death

Since I mentioned Easter in my last post, here’s a good “teaser” regarding the concept of resurrection, which I stumbled on just today: N. T. Wright on Resurrection.

Good comments by the readers at the end, too.

Quotable quotes from Bishop Wright (possible answers to the question Where do we go from here? 😉 ):

Heaven is important, but it’s not the end of the world.”

There is life after life after death.”

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I think the writer of the movie Gladiatormeant it in a different way, but the line that he gave for the character of Maximus is true: “What we do in this life will echo in eternity”.

God bless you, and by His grace and mercy grant you resurrection life through Jesus Christ, now and forever. Amen.
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Will Dead Babies Go To Hell?

Somebody posted a question at the “Comments” section of an earlier post on the reliability of the New Testament documents. I thought the subject matter he was dealing with was very important, and so I have decided to answer him via this separate post.

His question, essentially, was: If it is true that all human beings are born as sinners, what about babies who die? As he puts it, “the baby would not have had the opportunity to accept Jesus as his personal savior and ask forgiveness for his ‘sins’.”

First, I would like to clarify that, even among Christians, there is no uniformity about what is technically termed the doctrine of “original sin”. And even among those of us who do believe in it, there are many who do not believe that the infant who dies is automatically condemned.

The question posed is similar in essence to questions asking about the fates of people who have never had a chance to hear the Gospel, whether in our days or in former times (e.g., what about the people who lived and died before Jesus Christ became man?), or who have no mental ability to understand the Gospel (i.e., mentally incapacitated).

To the questioner, doubtingthomas, I would say that, actually, the Bible is silent about this. But it is my firm belief that where the Bible is silent about God’s plans or programs, we can always rely on His character, which is sufficiently revealed in the Bible

In His self-revelation in the Bible, God has revealed that He is love (e.g., 1 John 4:8).

On the other hand, He has also revealed that He is holy and that He hates sin. In fact, a word often used in the Bible to describe how God looks at sin is “wrath” (e.g., Romans 1:18). Sin is not permitted to abide in His presence, and therefore no sinner can enjoy eternity with Him.

The problem is, all human beings do sin. Everyone breaks God’s standards and therefore are not worthy of spending eternity with Him. But God, who is love, wants human beings to be with Him and be blessed by His presence and glory—for all eternity. That is the eternal life which God offers to human beings. Death, on the other hand, is, essentially, separation from God. And God does not want anyone to die or “perish”. He wants everyone to come to know the truth, turn away from their sins, be saved from death, and have eternal life (2 Peter 3:9; 1 Timothy 2:4).

The solution to the problem of man’s sin and God’s love? THE CROSS! As John Stott, respected Christian scholar, author, and preacher says, “The cross is where God’s love and justice meet“.

As the Bible says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17).

God, in the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, became man in order to die on the cross as payment for the penalty of the sins of human beings. “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 2:2).

This is how the apostle Paul summarizes the Gospel, or Good News of how human beings are restored to a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and are made worthy to spend eternity in His presence: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve…” (1 Corinthians 15:3-5).

So God is love, but God is also holy. He hates sin, and no one who sins can spend eternity with Him—except those who believe that what Jesus Christ did on the cross was a sufficient and effective payment for the penalty of their own sins, which is death. Only those who believe in Jesus Christ in this way can be saved from death, or what has been pictured in the Bible as hell, the outer darkness, or the lake of fire.

So there are only two choices: either eternity with God, in His presence, or eternity separated from God, in hell. Either eternal life or death. The first can only be obtained by turning away from sin, accepting Jesus Christ as Savior, and surrendering our lives to Him as Lord.

Now the Bible says that “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Jesus Himself says that He is the only way to God the Father: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

But what about those who cannot make this choice? What about infants or the mentally incapacitated, or those who lived and died before Jesus Christ became man?

To answer this, we depend on the character of God. He is love, and He is just. To hold this in conjunction with the essential revelation that no one can be saved except through Jesus Christ, C.S. Lewis has said “We do know that no person can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him” (from Mere Christianity).

At this point in the development of my Christian thought, I agree with Lewis: we do not know, but we have to admit it is possible, that Christ, in love—and in justice—can save even those who have not had an opportunity to call upon Him as Savior or to surrender to Him as Lord. How? I do not know. But I do know His character, and because of this I trust Him completely to do what is just and loving vis-a-vis those who have not had an opportunity to hear the gospel and decide for themselves.

Some would say it would have been better if God had been more explicit in His Word about the fate of infants, thus saving us all this wondering. Author Philip Yancey has an amusing but correct answer to this: “What if God had made a clear pronouncement: ‘Thus saith the Lord. Every child under the age of ten, I will welcome into heaven’? I can easily see crusaders of the tenth century mounting a campaign to slaughter every child under the age of ten in order to guarantee their eternal salvation—which, of course, would mean that none of us would be around a millennium later to contemplate such questions.

“In view of the mess we have made of crystal-clear commands—the unity of the church, love as a mark of Christians, reliance on God’s grace and not our works, the importance of personal purity, the dangers of wealth—I tremble to think how we might act if some of the ambiguous doctrines were less ambiguous. We dare not repeat the error of Eden by assuming prerogatives in realms we cannot fathom” (from Yancey: The Encyclopedia of Theological Ignorance).

In such situations where the Bible is silent or nearly silent, reliance on God’s character is called for, and a humble attitude of simply obeying what is clear. There are some who make what is unclear into an excuse for not obeying a clear command—in the case of non-believers, “I will not accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior until you explain to me what happens to the babies and the indigenous peoples unreached by Christians”; or in the case of believers, “Well, if it is probable that Christ will somehow save them anyway, then I don’t need to obey His (clear!) command to share the Good News”.

So, dear doubtingthomas: Trust God’s loving, holy, and just character, humbly accept that His ways are higher than our ways, His thoughts than our thoughts, “just as the heavens are higher than the earth”, and seek Him and call upon Him—“while He may be found“, or while you still can (Isaiah 55:6-9).

God bless you!

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PS: One possible clue regarding the fate of infants who die might be provided by the account of the death of King David’s eldest child with Bathsheba. The child was struck with a fatal illness, and David wept and fasted before God for the child’s life. When the child died, David ceased fasting and said: “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Samuel 12:22-23).

Shalom!

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PS to the PS 🙂 , added Feb. 6: The interpretation of David’s statement would depend on our view of how David probably conceived of death and Sheol at that time.

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Change of Address…Where Do We Go From Here?

Successive deaths of international figures in the past week remind us of  the brevity and uncertainty of life.

Thursday last week, January 17, chess genius, icon and iconoclast Bobby Fischer died from an unspecified illness in a hospital in Reykjavic, Iceland. He was 64.

Tuesday this week, international marathon runner Wesly Ngetich of Kenya was killed by an arrow. News reports say it was accidental—Ngetich was caught in a deadly crossfire between two ethnic groups. He was 34. (Another Olympic runner from Kenya, Lucas Sang, was earlier hacked to death because of election violence in that country. Mr. Sang was killed on New Year’s Eve.)

Also on Tuesday, actor Heath Ledger was found dead in his Manhattan apartment, cause of death still officially undetermined. He was 28.

Where do they go from here?

When our time comes, where do we go from here?

One man who’s certain about where he’s going, when his time comes, is Billy Graham. In one interview, he said:
Billy Graham
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One of these days you’re going to hear the news
that I have died. Don’t you believe it. I will only
have had a change of address.

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He’s sure where he’s going. What about us: where do we go from here?

What do you think? Where do you think you’re going?

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Dead at 28

I was very surprised and saddened this morning to read that Heath Ledger was found dead in an apartment in New York. An autopsy has yet to be conducted. He was 28.

A very promising life cut so short. Oscar nominee for Brokeback Mountain. Good choice of roles in other movies—Monster’s Ball, I’m Not There, Lords of Dogtown, A Knight’s Tale. We will be seeing him later this year as the Joker in The Dark Knight, the sequel to Batman Begins.

A sober reminder of just how fleeting our life is. As the Bible describes life this side of eternity, it is like a vapor in the wind, like grass that sprouts in the morning and withers at night (beautifully put into music in Casting Crown’s Who Am I?).

A very strong, though sad, reinforcement of the need to appeal to God to “teach us to number our days”—to grant us wisdom on how to live our fleeting lives. Also reinforces the urgency of Paul’s appeal to be reconciled to God:

       Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being; the old is
gone, the new has come. All this is done by God, who
through Christ changed us from enemies into his friends
and gave us the task of making others his friends also.
Our message is that God was making all human beings his
friends through Christ. God did not keep an account of
their sins, and he has given us the message which tells
how he makes them his friends.

Here we are, then, speaking for Christ,
as though God himself were making his appeal
through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf:
let God change you from enemies into his friends!
Christ was without sin, but for our sake God made
him share our sin in order that in union with him
we might share the righteousness of God.[1]

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In the words of The Message:

       How? you ask. In Christ. God put the wrong on him
who never did  anything wrong,
so we could be put right with God.[2]

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Life is short and unpredictable. Be reconciled to God, while there is still time.

May God grant us all wisdom from above! God bless you!
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[1] 2 Corinthians 5:17-21, Today’s English Version
[2] 2 Corinthians 5:21, The Message
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Meditations on my Finger

Well, my finger’s OK now, though it really had me worried Saturday, the night of the accident (my original post on the accident is at How Long, O Lord?). Portions of the skin had turned blue and numb.

So on Sunday I went to St. Luke’s Medical Center to have it checked. They gave me a hand x-ray and a complete blood count (CBC). Finally, the doctors said I was OK, there were no fractures, and I had no infection. They said the discoloration and numbness were just normal for the type of injury I had sustained. Thank God!

Still, perhaps morbidly, I got to wondering: what if I HAD lost my finger?

This accident had driven home to me the folly of taking things for granted: my fingers, hands, tongue, and eyes; my legs, my short-term memory, my health, my life. I go merrily through life frittering away time at trivial pursuits. I squander opportunities, procrastinating and putting off the more important in favor of the “urgent”, the comfortable, and “the usual”. All without realizing that, if I lost just one finger, or my hand, or my sight, or my short-term memory, then the chances of my accomplishing the things that are really important would be severly diminished, maybe even be lost forever.

Jesus said, “We need to be energetically at work for the One who sent me here, working while the sun shines. When night falls, the workday is over.”*. He was of course referring to working for the spread of the Kingdom of God. But I believe the command can also be applied to working at one’s life mission, working at the relationships that are really important to you, so that when something happens and you cannot work on those things anymore, there will be no regrets.

My ambition now is to be like St. Paul. When he knew that he was about to be executed, he was able to say “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race”**. No regrets for wasted opportunities. No remorse for unforgiven sins. No wasted time.

My dear, dear wife recently received this email from a friend***:

TWO GLASSES OF TEA

When things in your life seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day are not enough, remember the mayonnaise jar and the 2 glasses of tea…

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly, he picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was. 

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar.  Of course, the sand filled up everything else He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with an unanimous “yes.”

The professor then produced two glasses of tea from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

“Now,” said the professor, as the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things; your family, your children, your health, your friends, and your favorite passions; things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.”

The pebbles are the other things that matter; like your job, your house, and your car. The sand is everything else; the small stuff.

“If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “there will be no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you.”

“Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness.  Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your partner out to dinner. Take care of the things that really matter****.  Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the tea represented.

The professor smiled. “I’m glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of glasses of tea***** with a friend.”
 

* From John 9:4 (The Message)
** From 2 Timothy 4:7 (Revised Standard Version)
*** The source of the email did not say who was the original source of this story. If anyone knows, please tell me so that I can attribute it properly. Thanks!
**** I would include here feeding one’s spirit and developing Christian hedonism.
***** Personally, I would much prefer mugs of coffee, but hey, that’s just me 🙂

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How Long, O Lord? (part 2)

(…continued from earlier post How Long, O Lord?)

All of these reminded me of the psalms of lamentation, where the psalmist cries “How long, O Lord?” in the midst of suffering and pain.

“How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever?”*
“How long, O Lord? Will you be angry forever?”*
“Why have you rejected us forever, O God? Why does your anger smolder against the sheep of your pasture?”*

The above questions are contained in what is called Book 3 of the Psalter, a section which includes several lamentations and cries for help. The three psalms from which the questions come, for example, are calls for national deliverance of Israel.

Still, just as Israel is considered as God’s special people, I suppose human beings can similarly be considered as God’s special creation. After all, we are the only beings whom God created in His own image. And just as the Israelite psalmist wonders how long God will allow His people Israel to suffer, I also wondered, while in the ER, how long God will allow human beings to suffer—from diseases, accidents, and from their own evil deeds against each other.

The Bible says that God is love. If so, how come He does not intervene when a being He created in His image suffers? How can He watch people hurt, maim, and kill each other, and not be moved to intervene? How can He bear to watch a daughter cry over her father, slowly dying from a gunshot wound in the head? How can He give Satan such free rein to inflict damage to His creation? Like the psalmist, I want to ask “How long will the enemy mock you, O God? Will the foe revile your name forever? Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand? Take it from the folds of your garment and destroy them!” **

I want to cry out, “What’s holding you back, God? Why don’t you retake your creation now? Why don’t you throw Satan and his devils into the pit, now? Why don’t you stop the destruction, the pain, and the suffering, now?” My soul cries out in the words of St. Paul, “Come, Lord Jesus, come!” Come and retake your kingdom, throw out the usurper!

Then, by His grace, I am reminded that God IS already on the throne. Satan HAS been deposed. The Kingdom of God HAS come with the coming of Jesus. Since then, all the suffering and destruction wrought on God’s creation have been the last, vicious, dying throes of a defeated enemy, wanting only to destroy as much as he can before it is finally over and he is completely bound, unable to inflict any more damage.

Because He is gracious, instead of being angry, God enables me to do what the psalmist did: I call to mind the deeds of the Lord. I remember what God has done. I meditate on His goodness. As the psalmist meditates on how He has fulfilled His promises to Abraham and to Israel, I remember how God has provided for those who have put their trust in Him, how many times He has protected them and guided them. I remember that, if it were not for Him, I would not even be able to think about Him or write about Him. I could have been born with no mental capacity at all to appreciate Him. I could have died in my sleep last night, and not be typing what I am writing now. The fact that many are suffering does not negate the truth that many have been blessed, and that all of us who are recipients of His blessings have never deserved the good things we have received from our Creator.

I had known all this before. But I had never actually seen a person shot through the head before. I had never experienced being confronted with hurting people every five to ten minutes or so (and my experience even now was only indirect, as a spectator!). And to think that this was only an ordinary weekend morning in a public hospital. I cannot imagine what the effects are on people who work in calamity areas where there are dozens, even hundreds, of dead bodies, or on soldiers and doctors in the battlefield. I realize that, like Job, I have only been hearing about God; I still have to truly see Him.

In the end, I realize that I am too small and stupid to question God, much less tell Him when and how to intervene in His created world. After all, if it were up to me, I would never have thought of the sacrifice of His beloved Son as THE way to save all people who believe in Him. Truly, His ways are higher than my ways, and His thoughts are infinitely higher than my thoughts.

Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, God has already shown His love. Through the resurrection of Christ, God has already shown His power. Through my death and resurrection in union with Christ, He has already demonstrated His mercy and grace. Through His past provisions He has already shown His faithfulness. I call to mind the deeds and faithful character of the Lord, and my disturbed spirit is calmed. And even this calmness, I know, is not of my own doing, but is a gift from His Holy Spirit.

My prayer is that, by His grace, He will enable me to see Him more clearly and thus trust Him even more. And this prayer is not only for myself, but also for the patients and the staff at the ER that Saturday morning, that we will all learn to trust Him even when it seems that the enemy has free rein.

I pray that God will give us so much assurance, evidence, and personal experience of His goodness, power, and justice, that when things seem to go all wrong, we will still trust Him because we will remember that He is good, faithful, just, loving, and all-wise.

I cried out to God for help;
I cried out to God to hear me.
When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
at night I stretched out untiring hands
and my soul refused to be comforted.

I remembered you, O God, and I groaned;
I mused, and my spirit grew faint.
You kept my eyes from closing;
I was too troubled to speak.
I thought about the former days,
the years of long ago;
I remembered my songs in the night.
My heart mused and my spirit inquired:

Will the Lord reject forever?
Will he never show his favor again?
Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
Has his promise failed for all time?
Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has he in anger withheld his compassion?

Then I thought, “To this I will appeal:
the years of the right hand of the Most High.”
I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
I will meditate on all your works
and consider all your mighty deeds.

Your ways, O God, are holy.
What god is so great as our God?
You are the God who performs miracles;
you display your power among the peoples.
With your mighty arm you redeemed your people,
the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.

The waters saw you, O God,
the waters saw you and writhed;
the very depths were convulsed.
The clouds poured down water,
the skies resounded with thunder;
your arrows flashed back and forth.
Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind,
your lightning lit up the world;
the earth trembled and quaked.
Your path led through the sea,
your way through the mighty waters,
though your footprints were not seen.

You led your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

Psalm 77 (NIV)

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*   From Psalms 89:46, 79:5, and 74:1, respectively.
** From Psalm 74:10-11.

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