By Victoria Priest April 25, 2022 (c) [small changes made on April 29, 2022]
The year is 1998. The Big Lebowski hits theaters, but, I miss it. My son, an infant that I was busy taking care of at the time, in recent times told me I needed to see it as it’s one of his favorite movies. So watching it, I was half-way enjoying it and not knowing what to think of it, really, until the very end when I literally reacted with: “. . . what?!” Why, you ask? Because the movie isn’t just a comedy, but some kind of philosophical religious commentary. I immediately realized that watching the movie once, especially without subtitles on, was only the beginning of the Lebowski experience. I didn’t watch it again right away, but ordered the screenplay and read that. What follows are my own observations and commentary after doing some (but not too much) research and giving it some thought. And I shouldn’t have to say this, but there are spoilers ahead.
A note on a result of waiting so long to comment on an older popular movie: I’m quite aware that the movie has been studied a lot, commented on a lot, and that those studies and commentaries often relate to the background of the Coen Brothers, who wrote and directed the movie. By their name you can guess they’re Jewish, and they are—Coen is Hebrew for priest. They were raised Jewish in America. They have made a number of movies that deal with religion is some way or another, with one in particular—A Serious Man (2016)—being very critical of modern Jewish faith (from what I’ve read). While I have read some reviews and analyses of The Big Lebowski, I’m presenting my own take on the movie here. I plan on delving into the Coen Brothers more and their “religious” films, and will hopefully write the results of that here at a later time.
The story starts out by confusing us about when exactly it takes place, in 1990 or 1991? And this seems to be important since the narrator tells us it is: the main character, the Dude, is a man for his time and place, the narrator tells us. In a grocery store, George H. W. Bush is on the news concerning the Gulf War, and the broadcast is from 1990. But the Dude’s check he writes for buying milk is dated September 11, 1991. Eerie, isn’t it? Gulf War and an arguably later effect, the 9/11 attack of 2001, coincidentally predicted in a movie from 1998.i Despite the movie starting out this way, it doesn’t seem to follow through. There are tiny glimpses relating to The Gulf conflict, but that’s it, with nothing tying it to the end. Interesting, but let’s move on.Continue reading Another Commentary on The Big Lebowski→
Welcome all, and the Lord bless you. For some time I slowed down here while I did some training and “setting up shop” in the grants writing field. But then I stepped back after becoming discouraged, realizing I needed to rethink my goals and strategy. That sounds so . . . blah and businessy, doesn’t it? But it’s actually true. I wasn’t approaching things the right way and had to calm down about it. Be still and know the Lord, right? Yes, be still. And listen.
In the meantime, during Christmas break time, I decided to go ahead and get going on an idea I’ve had for a long time. And that is coming up with a clothes design called “Monkwear” (apparently the name has been used before since I couldn’t use that name on Twitter). I have always had this tug on my heart, this desire that stems from sadness, that Christians should be more united. Christ prayed for it, yet, we seem so much at odds with each other so often. So I thought it would be neat if Christians would wear similar and humble clothes all at the same time–to show unity and to be encouraged by seeing siblings in Christ that we don’t personally know. How much stronger would some of us be if we could only see how many really had faith, and were willing to show it (in what seems a non-confrontational way)?
Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 2 Kings 6:17
So Monkwear. Brown simple clothes to wear one day a week or month. I’m still working on a basic design I want to have on my version of Monkwear; I want to get it “right” and it’s daunting. In the meantime (again), I’ve been learning GIMP and whatever else I need to know to sell designs on CafePress. I might do another outlet later, but it’s CafePress for right now. In case anyone is interested, I have these designs up now; there are even some “With Christian Eyes” things there. This is not to promote my blog, since the url is not on it, but the sentiment CS Lewis wrote:
“I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
The shop at CafePress is Monkwear and The Priest’s Dabblings, and you can connect with me on Twitter if you want at MonkwearCP. (You can sign up for deals and coupon codes, which provide significant discounts – see CafePress home page.) Thanks SO much for reading this far, and for visiting my shop if get THAT far! In this media-saturated age, I know how much your time and attention are worth.
Honestly, I never thought it would be so difficult to find a good summary of the various theological views on Christ’s second coming, or what is more technically called parousia. By this I mean a summary of the liberal view, and who promoted it and why, that proclaimed that Christ’s second coming was a misinterpretation of scripture – that despite the incredible amount and quality of verses to affirm that Christ and Paul and everyone else actually meant what they said – but that really Christ’s parousia is only His presence with us (so they tried to claim). So, that means, basically, I guess, that there’s no rapture (no glorified bodies, ever . . . .?), no hope that Christ will actually reign amongst humans, that we can build up His kingdom now and that’s about it, etc.
When I look around, when I experience my daily life with other people, when I read history, I suuuurrrre don’t see that Christ’s kingdom is blooming, growing, and all that. It seems to me that the opposite is true, that the great apostasy is upon us. “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (2 Timothy 4:3-4) (kind-of sounds like the liberal theology teachers themselves). Not to say that Christ isn’t among us doing His work, and we with Him. The Lord is indeed showing His love and Himself to many in many ways.
So what is my point? Well, I am doing some research for an extensive blog article that involves (it is not at all the main topic) this liberal, anti-parousia, “we can usher Christ’s kingdom in ourselves since that’s all the New Testament says anyway,” idea, and it’s just sad and difficult dealing with it. But the main thing is that I wanted to pass on some reading materials to show what is actually in the New Testament, and that our hope is not in man and what he obviously can’t do– that our hope is not misplaced in an elaborate myth (what some “Christian theologians” insist the New Testament is). The number one source is the Bible itself. Read the entire New Testament a few times and tell me if you really think it’s basically “made up.” Here is a good short but information packed essay on Christ’s second coming: Second Coming of Christ. This is a short, easy read on it: What is the Second Coming of Jesus Christ? And, I don’t necessarily agree with all that is in this article – maybe I just don’t know the right Christians – but it’s contents are worth considering: The Theology of the End and the End of Theology.
Christ is the suffering servant and the King, as outlined in the Old Testament. He was the suffering servant during His time on earth, and when He returns it will be in His role as King. Jesus said, “I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:3). “Men of Galilee . . . why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Act 1:10-11; see also Matthew 24:29-30). “And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming” (1 John 2:28; see also John 3:3).
Below is half of a relatively long (but actually concise) treatment of evidences or evidential steps for the view that the Christian faith is rational, and even desirable, to hold. Thanks for reading, and may the God of all creation bless you.
For the person who wants to know that there is reason to believe a holy book–that there is evidence to back it up–different areas of apologetics have those answers. In fact, there is more evidence for the truthfulness of the Bible today than ever before, excepting when the events actually occurred. This essay assumes that the person searching for a legitimate holy book already believes that there is a deity of some sort; it does not cover arguments for the existence of God. What this essay does cover, in concise form, are the issues of reliability of the Old and New Testaments, fulfilled prophecies, miracles, and Christ’s resurrection.
Old Testament Reliability
How was the Old Testament written and copied? What we Christians refer to as the Old Testament is the same as the Jewish Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures, called the Tanakh. The content of the Tanakh and the Septuagint is the same, but the two are formatted differently. The Old Testament follows the same formatting as the Septuagint. The Septuagint was translated from about 250 BC to 150 or 100 BC and was used by the scattered Jews of the diaspora.
The Tanakh itself was written from about 1400-400 BC. Moses and other prophets were believed to possess the word of God because of the signs (miracles) they did, coupled with their openness (“transparency”). Moses was obviously literate, and because of his high upbringing, may have been literate in three languages. He no doubt, along with the people in general, knew the stories of other cultures and had copies of various source documents. Moses’ telling and retelling of events was considered God inspired.
At the time of Christ, the books of the Tanakh were established and accepted as canon. Those who copied the Tanakh beginning AD 70 (after the destruction of the temple) were called Talmudists. They had very specific rules for transmitting the Tanakh. Because damaged copies of the Tanakh were purposefully destroyed, very old copies do not exist. The Massoretes (or Masoretes) were the copyists for the Tanakh from AD 500 – 900. They, too, had very specific rules for copying, and any imperfect copies were destroyed. They are noted for adding marks to the text that represent vowels, as Hebrew did not have vowels and concern was growing over the continued pronunciation of the language. Whoever the copyists were through time, they all took God’s command in Deuteronomy 12:32 very seriously: “See that you do all I command you; do not add to it or take away from it.”
There have been archaeological finds in recent centuries to confirm the historicity of the Old Testament, and the Dead Sea scrolls additionally confirm accurate copy transmission. With the 200+ scrolls that date from approximately 250 BC to AD 125, we have the oldest copies of scripture, and these tell us that the accuracy of transmission is nearly 100%. A Qumran copy of Isaiah 53 has only three truly variant letters from the more recent Massoretic text, and these three letters do not change the text meaning in any real way.
There are many archaeological finds that corroborate the OT, with these representing only a sample:
The Moabite Stone. Mentions “Yahweh” and events in 2 Kings 3.
The Taylor Prism. From Nineveh, it describes the siege of Jerusalem by Sennacherib an corresponds to 2 Kings 18-19, 2 Chronicles 37, and Isaiah 36-37.
The Cyrus Cylinder. After Cyrus began ruling Babylon (539 BC), he ordered that Babylonian captives could return home. This is told of in Ezra 1:1-3 and 6:3 (see also 2 Chronicles 36:23 and Isaiah 44:28).
The Tel Dan Stele. This is an Aramaic inscription found in Israel. It is about Hazael’s victory over Ramoth Gilead, as in 2 Kings 8:28-29, and conveys that David’s dynasty ruled in Jerusalem.
The Gilgamesh Epic. Found in the great library of Nineveh, it in part describes a flood not unlike that in Genesis 7-8.
New Testament Reliability
There has been a plethora of interest in “lost gospels,” which leads some to doubt the manner in which the New Testament (NT) was put together. Then there are those who also question the accurate transmission of the words in the NT, saying that parts were added or taken away at later times. All these issues are really non-issues, promulgated by detractors of the faith and sometimes believed by neutral parties who simply don’t take the time to look into these matters further. Concerning when the books of the NT were written and how they became canon, providing a chronological order seems like it would be clearest, and that is provided below. As for the accuracy of textual transmission, however, here is a good summary:
“A simple comparison of the text of the Bible with the text of other religious, historical, and philosophical documents from the ancient past proves the vast superiority of the biblical record. Less than one tenth of one percent of the biblical text is in question, whereas no such accuracy of transmission exists for the Qur’an, the Mahabharata, or the Iliad. Some ancient records such as Caesar’s Gallic Wars of Tactitus’ Annals, exist in less than ten copies, and these copies date from 1,000 years after their originals. By contrast, over 5,000 copies of the New Testament exist, the vast majority of them dating less than 200 years after the original text and some fragments less than 50 years after the original text. No book from ancient history has been transmitted over the centuries with greater clarity and accuracy than the Bible” (Geisler and Hindson p 100).
So when was the New Testament written? The books that were considered canon and that make up the New Testament were written not all that long after Christ’s death and resurrection, by those who were Christ’s disciples/apostles or associates of the apostles. In other words, by close eye witnesses of Jesus, or persons who learned directly from those eye witnesses. Jesus lived from about 4 BC to AD 33. The book considered earliest in the NT is James, written around AD 45-48, and the most recent book is Revelation, written by AD 100. In light of the prior quote regarding biblical transmission, it is known that the copies that now exist reflect the originals very reliably. That is, what is used for our bible translations today can very confidently be considered “original.”
But how do we know that the books of the NT are the ones that the early church read and thought reliable (had divine inspiration), and that important books weren’t left out? The books of the NT had been circulated and read amongst the widespread churches (in Europe and the greater Middle East of today), and certainly not in the region of Rome only! Books considered scripture had apostolic authority, which was important very early on because of the rapid development of false teachings. So, we know that the books were all written by AD 100, and that they were widely circulated (and copied); there are codices of the gospels and of the letters of Paul from the early 2nd century.
Partly as a result of some influential persons (such as Marcion) trying to redefine and delete parts of scripture, “lists of canon” began to be written down. The first generally accepted one dates to the late 2nd century and is known as the Muratorian Canon; it had excluded Hebrews, James, 1&2 Peter, and 3 John. The early church father Tertullian (c. 150 – c. 229) had quoted 23 of the 27 books that became the NT. Those excluded or disputed on some lists were done so for various reasons, but not because some churches thought they were inauthentic; often it was because a heretical group happened to like the book, so then some questioned it. The Eastern and Western churches differed early on and this is reflected in the books supported or unsupported at different times (examples are Hebrews and Revelation). Later, most believers accepted James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, and Jude, yet some did not want to accept these. However, the Eastern church accepted an official list in 367 which includes all the books of the present NT. In 393 and 397, councils of the western church also accepted the NT canon as it is today.
What of some books that weren’t included in canon? From the church father Eusebius, who had investigated possible canonical books, we know of some old “spurious” books. The Didache had instruction in it and was used by the early church, but it faded from use and its authorship was in severe doubt. The Acts of Paul had been written by an overzealous admirer, not Paul. The Epistle of Barnabas was read and admired, but it was not written by Paul’s partner Barnabas. The Shepherd of Hermas was widely read and may be all true, but it was written in the early 2nd century by someone other than an apostle or an apostle’s associate. The Apocalypse of Peter was written in the first half of the 2nd century, so Peter the Apostle was not the author. Other books that some critics like to bring up, like the Gospel of Thomas, were written far later and were never considered apostolic whatsoever; they are simply made up, forgeries, etc.
Now, are there historical or archaeological evidences that corroborate the NT? While not everything can be corroborated, there are outside sources that confirm aspects of NT writings. These help to show that the texts are indeed historical and not made up later. Written sources for Jesus and Christians are (1) the Roman historian Tacitus (55-117) in his Annals (15.44); (2) Pliny the Younger, a Roman Governor, in a letter to the Emperor in about 112; (3) Josephus, a 1st century Jewish historian (some of his writing or copies of it are questioned, but others are not; there is definite reference to Jesus in Josephus’ writings); (4) Jewish Rabbinical writings called the Babylonian Talmud; and (5), the 2nd century Greek satirist Lucian.
Archaeological finds also corroborate the NT, and they continue to grow in number. Here is a small sample:
The ossuary of Caiaphas (Luke 3:2 and others), discovered in 1990.
The Pilate Stone, discovered in 1961, has Pontius Pilate’s name on it and where he governed.
The Gallio (or Delphi) inscription (dated to about 52) speaks of Gallio, the same being mentioned in Acts 18:12; discovered in 1905.
Sergius Paulus inscriptions (there is more than one inscription bearing that name) confirm the proconsul of Cypress, as is mentioned in Acts 13:7.
The Pool of Siloam, excavated in 2004. As recorded in John 9:1-11, Jesus did a miracle there.
When considering the Old Testament prophecies fulfilled by Christ, it is exciting to simply read over an annotated list of them. There are different lists, however, with the highest number of fulfilled prophecies going up to 400. The listed number of “major” fulfilled prophecies varies as well, ranging from about 61 to 121. In MacDonald’s list of chronologically ordered fulfilled prophecies, he presents 44 (he does not say that these are the only ones he considers “major,” however) (MacDonald 1995). Here is one list just for your quick online reference: Prophecies that Jesus Christ Fulfilled.
One of my favorite lists is by D. James Kennedy – not because of the list itself, but because of the story around it. He had spoken to a highly educated man, a writer, who thought that the bible was simply written by man; he had no knowledge of the evidences for the validity of the scriptures. So Kennedy asked the man to tell him who it was he had read about, after reciting many verses to him. The man said that the verses clearly referred to Jesus Christ. But the man was completely surprised when Kennedy told him that all the verses he read were from the OT, the last book of which was written 400 years before Christ. He went on to tell him, “No critic, no atheist, no agnostic has ever once claimed that any one of those writings was written after His birth. In fact, they were translated from Hebrew into Greek in Alexandria some 150 years before He was born.”
So it is that verses such as (1) Micah 5:2, “But you, Bethlehem, Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting,” (2) Isaiah 53:3, “He is despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him. He was despised, and we did not esteem Him,” (3) Psalm 22:16, “They pierced my hands and my feet,” (4) Psalm 22:18, “They divided my garments among themselves, and they cast lots for my clothing,” and (5) Psalm 34:20, “He protects all his bones; not one of them is broken,” refer to Jesus though written centuries before His birth.
One of the most fascinating prophecies of the Messiah is found in Daniel 9:24-27, and it concerns the timing of His coming. It is not in some of the basic lists, no doubt because it is not easily deciphered or shown in a few words. To put it very briefly, this prophecy provides a window of time as to when the Messiah would be around. When the Hebraic terms are taken into account, and then taking into account which possible scripture(s) is meant by the rebuilding of Jerusalem, and then also taking into account the different calendars (ancient calendars kept 360-day years), a time frame emerges that encompasses the time that Jesus lived (and was crucified) (Powell 2006).
There is so much more that can be known concerning the fulfilled prophecies of Christ that cannot be easily shown in a list, such as Christ in the meanings and symbols of things, like the lamb and shepherd, and symbols and events related to the feast days of Israel. Unique among religious faiths is the fulfillment of prophecies found in the Old and New Testaments. “You will find no predictive prophecies whatsoever in the writings of Buddha, Confucius, Mohammed, Lao-Tse, or Hinduism. Yet in the Scripture there are well over two thousand prophecies, most of which have already been fulfilled” (Kennedy xxix).
There is now a high risk that the Churches will all but vanish from their biblical heartlands in the Middle East.
Wow. I just wanted to share this article (below, in part) because I certainly couldn’t have said all that better myself. I’ve been bad about not posting persecution updates, and it is partly due to the fact that the persecution is just so persistent and depressing. The killing, maiming, threatening, imprisoning, etc., of Christians goes on everyday in just so many places, that I pray generally for my persecuted brothers and sisters. It’s a tough one. Jesus told us we’d be persecuted, so it’s natural to the faith; we are told to take joy in it, since the persecutors are really persecuting Jesus – it’s an acknowledgment of the truth of our faith and of the truth about God. Still, it’s sad and horrible on an emotional level, and we are to pray without ceasing . . .
Here is the first part of the article by Rupert Shortt, as published in The Telegraph yesterday. Please click on the link that follows it to read the rest of the article.
Imagine the unspeakable fury that would erupt across the Islamic world if a Christian-led government in Khartoum had been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Sudanese Muslims over the past 30 years. Or if Christian gunmen were firebombing mosques in Iraq during Friday prayers. Or if Muslim girls in Indonesia had been abducted and beheaded on their way to school, because of their faith.
Such horrors are barely thinkable, of course. But they have all occurred in reverse, with Christians falling victim to Islamist aggression. Only two days ago, a suicide bomber crashed a jeep laden with explosives into a packed Catholic church in Kaduna, northern Nigeria, killing at least eight people and injuring more than 100. The tragedy bore the imprint of numerous similar attacks by Boko Haram (which roughly translates as “Western education is sinful”), an exceptionally bloodthirsty militant group.
Other notable trouble spots include Egypt, where 600,000 Copts – more than the entire population of Manchester – have emigrated since the 1980s in the face of harassment or outright oppression.
Why is such a huge scourge chronically under-reported in the West? One result of this oversight is that the often inflated sense of victimhood felt by many Muslims has festered unchallenged. Take the fallout of last month’s protests around the world against the American film about the Prophet Mohammed. While most of the debate centred on the rule of law and the limits of free speech, almost nothing was said about how much more routinely Islamists insult Christians, almost always getting away with their provocations scot-free.
This is from a very short article in Bloomberg online, and there are other articles to be found by googling:
Nigeria has protested to Saudi Arabia’s authorities over the detention of more than 1,000 female pilgrims who arrived in the kingdom for the annual Hajj pilgrimage without male guardians, state-run Radio Nigeria said. . . . Saudi Arabia enforces restrictions that are interpreted from the Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam. Women can’t travel or get an education without male approval or mix with unrelated men in public places.
As a Christian, I am at a loss as to why anyone would voluntarily become a Muslim in the first place, but when I see stuff like this, I am out-and-out flummoxed. So, women must be controlled and herded like lesser beings, AND, they can’t even be in public with other men because . . . why??? Oh, men can’t control themselves. They’ll just start doing some Mardi Gras moves in the street. Really?? Belong to a religion that is so controlling, that seems to acknowledge and even promote the idea that human males are as good as randy rabbits, and that seems to not control its tyrannical and extremely violent members no matter what it does? (And I won’t even get into all the persecution that goes on in the world against Christians at the hands of Muslims.)
Wow. Sorry, but there is simply no comparison between Christianity and Islam. And don’t go whining (atheists) about ancient pockets of “Christian” history (a lot of actual Christians died in trying to get false and violent actions to stop). Sure, there have been wolves in sheep clothing that have done bad things in the name of Christianity. It happens everyday in every area of life – I mean, charlatans seeking power and all of that, using whatever thing people have positive feelings about. What you do is look at the founder of the faith. Is s/he like that (false, after power, money, etc.)? I won’t get into Muhammad here and the history of Islam, but I think it worth looking at Christ and the history of those who actually follow Him and his teachings.
Christ was sin-free and was not married; he didn’t go after multiple wives or even minor wives; he didn’t leave any heirs for everyone to argue about or over. He lifted women UP from their low status at the time He visited us here on earth. Women could follow Him and learn from Him. In fact, He said it was better for a woman to learn from Him, to take the time and do that – as it was more important – than to serve Him or other men!!! Wow!! Why would any woman NOT want to follow Jesus? If you want to know more and discover some pretty cool information that you just don’t hear about all that often, see New Testament Views of Women. You may want to read about the woman at the well whom Christ talked with too.
In the future, I’ll try and post an article about the good in the history of Christ’s true followers, like those who founded hospitals (hospitals that were free) and universities. People seem to have forgotten the parts of Christian history, too, when Christians died in order to stop those who did violence in Christ’s name. In the meantime, if any Muslims come here, don’t go hatin’ on me. Actions are actions, and the action reported on in the press was done and promoted by a whole country, and a whole section of Islam. It’s no secret. If you want to explain how your own sect of Islam is not like that in the comments, go ahead, but know that WordPress comments are always moderated.
Very briefly, since I’m leaving for work soon, the current US administration’s immediate response to the violent protests in Libya and Cairo was not only extremely lame, but anti-US law. In an article I read last night, which I can’t yet locate this morning, administration officials said that such a film that sparked the violent events should not have been made and that American freedom does not extend to criticizing other religions too much.
Whaaa . . . . ?!?!?! They didn’t use the words “too much,” but it was the diplomatic way of saying the same thing. If this is so, then why, of why, have I had to experience militant atheists condemning Christianity and Christians – often in very vile and childish ways – for a number of years now. Not long enough for the fascist government to locate them?
In a newer article this morning I see that the administration is doing some back-up and corrections. Former President Clinton is saying that there is no excuse for the violent acts that happened yesterday. Finally!!! Our government needs to defend us, not militant Muslims. We have freedom here. We have freedom to investigate something and say what we think about it. We even have the freedom here to make fun of that thing. American government – please start defending us and stop making yourself out to be mega wimps to these people!
This wasn’t just about the film! Has no one noted that these events took place on 9/11, yet the film has been out a while (the film being the Innocence of Muslims)? People, please wake up. These were not spontaneous acts, but planned acts. And I bet the governments, or at least factions in the governments, knew about them.
Anyway, I simply couldn’t believe what I read last night. If I find those quotes from US officials later today or tomorrow, I will publish them. If America implemented what they said, we’d all be in trouble, and they also show the bizarrely weak and misguided spine of our government. Thanks for reading.
As a Christian, I believe John’s statement: This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all (John 1:5). Yet, there are verses in the Bible—mostly in the Old Testament—where God says He causes calamity, the hardening of hearts, even sinful behavior. Critics and skeptics ask about these, and in light of the evil and suffering in the world, wonder at the goodness or even existence of God.
So which verses are we talking about? Here are some of them:
Exodus 9:12: But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he did not listen to them, as the Lord had told Moses.
1 Kings 22:23: You see, the Lord has put a lying spirit into the mouth of all these prophets of yours, and the Lord has pronounced disaster against you.
Isaiah 45:7: I form light and create darkness, I make success and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things.
Mark 4:11-12 (verse 12 is from Isaiah 6:9-10): He answered them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been granted to you, but to those outside, everything comes in parables so that ‘they may look and look, yet not perceive; they may listen and listen, yet not understand; otherwise, they might turn back—and be forgiven.”
So does God really, purposefully, harden people’s hearts to that they won’t listen to Him or come to Him, tell people or spirits to go and lie for Him so that they (or others) do the wrong thing, and/or simply cause disasters?
The basic answer to all of these is that since God is sovereign and He made everything, He is ultimately responsible for everything that happens. That’s how the Hebrews saw it and that’s how they wrote, though to us today it seems odd or unsatisfactory. The Hebrews knew that persons and spirits were responsible, yet they emphasized God’s role. As is stated in Hard Sayings of the Bible, “What is reflected here is the lack of precise distinction in Hebraic thought between primary and secondary causes. Since God is sovereign, human will and freedom to decide for or against God were often subsumed under divine sovereignty” (Kaiser et al, 620).
Let’s look at each of the above verses separately, while keeping in mind the general explanation already stated by Kaiser et al. Regarding Exodus 9:12, MacDonald briefly writes: “The more Pharaoh hardened his heart, the more it became judicially hardened by God” (96). The concern is recognized in Kaiser et al.: “. . . it appears God authors evil and then holds someone else responsible. Did God make it impossible for Pharaoh to respond and then find Pharaoh guilty for this behavior?” (142). No, since Pharaoh hardened his own heart during the first five plagues (Ex 7:13, 14, 22; 8:15, 19, 32; 9:7, 34, 35; 13:15). After this, as MacDonald so concisely stated, God helped the process along since it was already what Pharaoh had decided himself.
1 Kings 22:23. In considering this verse and its context, the Hebrew habit of ignoring secondary causes is significant. There are other verses in the Bible where a command is given, but it is an affirmation of permission – as is the case when Jesus tells the demons to enter a herd of pigs (Matt 8:31), or when he tells Judas to get going with his plans (John 13:27). In the case of 1 Kings 22, King Ahab was listening to false prophets and the false prophets were responsible for their own lies; God allowed it and used it for His plans, and God even warned Ahab.
. . . the passage in question is a vision that Micaiah reveals to Ahab. God is telling Ahab, “Wise up. I am allowing your prophets to lie to you.” In a sense, God is revealing further truth to Ahab rather than lying to him. If God were truly trying to entrap Ahab into a life-threatening situation, he would not have revealed the plan to him! Even so, Ahab refuses to heed God’s truth, and he follows his prophets’ advice (Kaiser et al, 231).
In conclusion, “Without saying that God does evil that good may come, we can say that God overrules the full tendencies of preexisting evil so that the evil promotes God’s eternal plan, contrary to its own tendency and goals” (Kaiser et al, 230).
Isaiah 45:7. Much has been written on Isaiah 45:7, since part of the problem is that the King James Bible incorrectly used the word “evil” instead of disaster or some like word. The verse refers to natural “evil” (destructive forces) and not moral evil. God permits these things, and in fact natural destructive forces are a normal and necessary part of the earth’s balance and being. The verse is a strong declaration, however, that God is THE creator and that He is ultimately in control of all things, and not some other being.
Mark 4:11-12 (Isaiah 6:9-10). After having reviewed the other verses/passages, the meaning of this passage can almost be inferred. It may sound mean and controlling of God, but it is a reality that there are those people who go after and accept views and actions that are contrary to God. For those like this, God lets them continue; they have chosen their way, their path, and God does not force anyone to follow Him and accept Him as savior and Lord. (Interestingly, the author of the section on this verse in Kaiser et al. [417-419] does not agree, providing a minority interpretation that is something of a 180˚ turn.) MacDonald provides a generally accepted interpretation:
Verses 11 and 12 explain why this truth was presented in parables. God reveals His family secrets to those whose hearts are open, receptive and obedient, while deliberately hiding truth from those who reject the light given to them. . . . we must remember the tremendous privilege which these people had enjoyed. The Son of God had taught in their midst and performed many mighty miracles before them. Instead of acknowledging Him as the true Messiah, they were even now rejecting Him. Because they had spurned the Light of the world, they would be denied the light of His teachings (1330).
God is light; in him there is no darkness at all (John 1:5b). God is not evil and does not do evil, but He does “work around” the evil in this world to further His plans for human redemption. God loves us, and sent His son for us, so that we may have new life in Him (to not be controlled by the evil in the world). If you want that, you will find it. You will find God and He will know you. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10); “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matt 7:7); “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Cor 13:12); “But the man who loves God is known by God” (1 Cor 8:3).
Sources: James Dunn and John Rogerson, ed.s, Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman’s Pub Co 2003); Tim Jackson, Did God Create Evil?; Kaiser, Walter et al, Hard Sayings of the Bible (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press 1996); MacDonald, William, Believer’s Bible Commentary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Pub.s 1995).
Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy at Boston College, has written that C.S. Lewis’s “argument from desire” is, apart from Anselm’s “ontological argument,” “the single most intriguing argument in the history of human thought” (p 249). This is an argument for the existence of God (and heaven). St. Augustine and Goethe also used this argument.
So what is this argument that so many have claimed is actually the best one for God’s existence? Kreeft provides a concise description: “The major premise of the argument is that every natural or innate desire in us bespeaks a corresponding real object that can satisfy the desire. The minor premise is that there exists in us a desire which nothing in time, nothing on earth, no creature, can satisfy. The conclusion is that there exists something outside of time, earth, and creatures which can satisfy this desire” (p 250).
You experience hunger and desire food, and the object of your desire is naturally attainable. The same can be said of sleep, sex, and friendship. But what of pangs from joy and beauty? What of that inexplicable longing at the crashing of ocean waves, or from being immersed in certain music, or desiring a love that a sexual relationship does not fulfill? We experience a thing or person, yet instead of fulfilling desire, they create another – one that is not attainable on earth. In describing Goethe’s thoughts on it, Timothy Keller in The Reason for God wrote, “We not only feel the reality but also the absence of what we long for” (p 134).
The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing (Lewis, 29).
While Kreeft addressed the philosophical criticisms of the argument in his 1989 article (see sources below), Keller takes on the more recent science-oriented critiques in his 2008 book. Evolutionary biologists believe all that we are is based on natural selection, and so belief in God and all religious feelings are the consequence of adaptation. How our awe over a beautiful sunset could be explained in these terms is mysterious, but otherwise, there is a serious flaw in this line of evolutionary thinking that some have pointed out.
The flaw is that evolutionary theory says that we cannot trust our own senses or thoughts. Our brains are conditioned for survival (adaptive behavior), and not necessarily for reality or “truth.” Richard Dawkins, Patricia Churchland, and Thomas Nagel have all said the same, as well as Charles Darwin himself. So . . . by their own claims, there is then no reason to trust their thinking on the subject. As Wieseltier wrote in the New York Times,
. . . if reason is a product of natural selection, then how much confidence can we have in a rational argument for natural selection? The power of reason is owed to the independence of reason, and to nothing else . . . . Evolutionary biology cannot invoke the power of reason even as it destroys it.
So what are you going to pay attention to? Your own inner voice and experience, or the assertions of those who claim that our thoughts are guided only by our body’s need for survival – and that “truth” isn’t necessarily beneficial? I’ll leave you with some of CS Lewis’ thoughts on this, from his “Weight of Glory” sermon (1941):
Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice; almost all our modem philosophies have been devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on this earth. And yet it is a remarkable thing that such philosophies of Progress or Creative Evolution themselves bear reluctant witness to the truth that our real goal is elsewhere. When they want to convince you that earth is your home, notice how they set about it.
They begin by trying to persuade you that earth can be made into heaven, thus giving a sop to your sense of exile in earth as it is. Next, they tell you that this fortunate event is still a good way off in the future, thus giving a sop to your knowledge that the fatherland is not here and now. Finally, lest your longing for the transtemporal should awake and spoil the whole affair, they use any rhetoric that comes to hand to keep out of your mind the recollection that even if all the happiness they promised could come to man on earth, yet still each generation would lose it by death, including the last generation of all, and the whole story would be nothing, not even a story, for ever and ever.
If Lewis could say this in 1941, how much more could he say today, when Naturalism has had one or two more generations to influence the population? So many today don’t even try and pretend that there is an inner voice, an inner knowledge or longing, of a future beyond death. We are evolved,* purposeless, and mortal.
Sources: Timothy Keller, The Reason for God (Dutton 2008); Peter Kreeft, “C.S. Lewis’s Argument from Desire,” in The Riddle of Joy: G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis (M. Macdonald and A. Tadie, editors; Eerdmans 1989), CS Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (Touchstone 1996).
[A version of this appeared previously in Examiner.com, by the author]