It’s Time for the “Chreasters” (and I Don’t mean the Christmas/Easter CHURCH goers.)

It’s Easter time, and like clockwork, as surely as those who attend church twice a year show up (and we’re glad you do, we miss you the rest of the year,) the skeptics pop up with their attacks on Christian beliefs. In this case in point, we have a post titled “Evidence Jesus Existed Weaker Than We Might Think” published at Rawstory.com.

The author, Valerie Tarico, credits the “enlightenment” as furnishing grounds for doubting the content of the Gospels. She only mentions the rise of particular scientific disciplines (conveniently overlooking the fact that the modern scientific revolution was grounded in the Christian worldview.) What did the “enlightenment” bring us? Rationalism. Rationalism is the idea that only that which can be arrived at by human reasoning ought to be considered rational. It was the birth of the “fact/value” split. The idea was that the only facts that can be known were those scientifically testable or true by definition. (Never mind that the view itself is not true by definition, nor can it be tested scientifically.) So, from the start, the argument is “The Gospels claim things that are not true by definition, and cannot be tested scientifically, therefore they can’t be evidence that Jesus existed.”

Next, after citing the work of world-renown biblical scholar Thomas Jefferson for his redaction of all things miraculous from the Bible (a product of his enlightenment,) she cites the failure of the various “quest(s) for the historical Jesus” as casting doubt on the record of the Gospels. These quests were done with enlightenment thinking, so once you dismiss much of the record in advance, then yes, it is very hard to get at who Jesus was. “I’m going to ignore all the biographies of Lincoln that mention his concern for America. Now, I can’t find any evidence from the early 19th century that Lincoln existed.”

Following this, she raises the “We don’t know who wrote the Gospels, but they weren’t eyewitnesses” objection. Anybody see a problem there? Anyone? Bueller?… People who lived within living memory of the events affirm the traditional authorship. Paul even quotes from Luke’s Gospel. Notice, by the way, the “bait and switch” that has happened here. She leads off questioning the evidence for Jesus’ existence, and then just casts doubt about the accuracy of the Gospel accounts. From this, we are to infer Jesus never existed? That kind of “all-or-nothing” thinking is common among fundamentalists (in the negative sense) both of the Christian variety as well as the skeptic variety.

Her next target is the works of Josephus and Tacitus, historians who wrote in the late 1st and early 2nd Centuries, under the heading “The Gospels are not corroborated by outside historians.” First, let me observe that “historical event X was not written about by people who didn’t care” is not evidence that event X didn’t happen. Second, this is a continuation of the bait and switch. There is lots more evidence for Jesus in Paul’s writings, which are even earlier than some of the Gospels (or at least he records things that predate the Gospels, such as the creed in 1 Corinthians 15.) Secondly, Tacitus’ writing IS evidence Jesus existed, even if you doubt Christianity. Finally, Tarico is correct that the version of what is called the Testimonium Flavium, which is the most well-known passage that describes Jesus is considered at least a partial interpolation, there have been discoveries of manuscripts with the part of the passage many scholars agree contain the original.

One thing I can say for Tarico is that she is thorough. She has cited every PhD level scholar who is a Jesus mythicist. Both of them. Richard Carrier and Robert Price. Carrier is considered an embarrassment to people like Bart Ehrman (whom Tarico quotes,) and Price is no better.

Tarico has shown a common flaw in her thinking (in addition to the self-refuting rationalism) in thinking that a large portion of the Roman Empire would convert to a religion that is entirely made up, even leaving the stability of the community that came from not converting.

Tarico goes on to say that scholars must admit that it is possible that Jesus never existed to maintain “academic respectability.” I think they should do that as soon as these mythiscists are willing to genuinely admit that it is possible that the Gospels record the events essentially the way they happened.

Saving the Bible From Ourselves by Glenn R. Paauw A Review

 

Author

Glenn R. Paauw is a graduate of Calvin College and Calvin Seminary, where he studied Theology and Philosophy. He is the vice president, global Bible engagement, at Biblica and a senior fellow at the Institute for Bible Reading.

 

Thesis

Paauw was prompted to write Saving the Bible From Ourselves by research that showed while the average American household has four Bibles (and the average Christian home has ten) there is an increasing Biblical illiteracy. We have lots of Bibles, but no one seems to know what its message is. The cause of this seems to be a tendency toward isolated people reading

isolated verses. In this book, Paauw advocates a return to reading large passages in community.

 

Synopsis

The book is organized into 14 chapters, really seven couplets, in which Paauw describes an aspect of the problem, followed by a proposed solution.  In Chapters 1 and 2, we see the contrast between the “Complicated Bible” and the “Elegant Bible.” By complicated here, Paauw is referring to the manner in which the text on the page is cluttered and chopped with chapter and verse numbers, which have only been in use for the last 500 years, as well as chapter headings, cross references, and notes. An elegant Bible would simply have the text laid out to be read in a more natural reading. (I can tell you that for me, reading a Bible with all those notes and references is like a hound dog with ADD trying to heard squirrels.)

In chapters 3 and 4, Paauw addresses one of my pet peeves when he compares the Snacking Bible with the Feasting Bible. When we isolate verses, we tend to see them as bearing meaning in isolation. As a result, there is a whole cottage industry of putting verses on coffee cups and cross-stitched pillows, etc. There you can see verses like Jeremiah 29:11, “‘ For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” Nice, right? So if verses are stand-alone ideas from the Word of God, why do we never see a coffee cup with Deuteronomy 28:65? “The LORD will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart.” The point is that verse numbers were added to aid with research. They are not part of the text, and have caused some confusion. (Though I could imagine a bumper sticker with Numbers 21:16, “From there they continued on to Beer.”) As the author points out, using the Bible like this is like snacking on what Philip Yancy called, “Scripture McNuggets.” Rather, Paauw advocates reading large portions, whole books when possible. In this way, we feast, rather than snack. Moreover, such feasting leads to greater understanding of the text.

In chapters 5 and 6, Paauw argues that rather than seeing every single event in the Bible as a direct intervention from God, recognizing that the world is itself a direct intervention of God, and the realm in which he dwells with us and that the events are history that we need not look for the most outlandish understanding. An example he gives is how as a fourth-grader he was shocked to learn that the rainbow was probably not created after the Flood, but rather was already a thing, and God used that as a reminder of his covenant.

In chapters 7 and 8, Paauw challenges the idea that the Bible is a theological treatise, or a “how-to” manual. Rather it is an ongoing story, our story and His, and should be read as such. This is not to say that we cannot derive theology from it. We can and we should. However, when we lose the story, we lose the meaning. In chapter 9, we are encouraged to see how this would look in our lives.

In chapters 10 and 11, Paauw contrasts the “Otherworldly Bible” with the “Earthly Bible.” Here, he rejects the tendency to see Christianity as a means of escaping the evil physical realm to the heavenly one in favor of seeing our mission as redeeming the world God created.

In 12 and 13, he makes the case for reading in community by differentiating “My Private Bible” from the “Synagogue Bible.” Finally, in 14 and 15, the author laments the loss of beauty in the pages of the Bible where there once could be found bright, colorful illustrations, as well as beautiful script on high quality media.

 

Analysis

I find much of what Paauw says here compelling. As I mentioned above, the isolation of verses out of context, or “verse jacking,”[1] is a pet peeve of mine. I am a strong advocate of, as Greg Koukl teaches, “Never read a Bible verse.” That is, never read A Bible verse. The method of reading promoted here will avoid many of the pitfalls from isolating verses. Moreover, I have begun to read Books of the Bible, which is an edition of the NIV without chapter and verse numbers, as well as some other interesting features. I can tell you that my ADD is much less active in this text. I suppose it could be argue that Paauw’s book is a written infomercial for Books of the Bible, but that’s okay.

While I tend to agree with Paauw’s view that salvation entails far more involvement with the redemption of the created order than most Christians seem to think, I think that when he claims that the idea of gaining heaven or avoiding hell as a way to invoke urgency offers a false dichotomy. Scripture does seem to paint a clear picture of judgment. It seems reasonable to think in terms of both/and. We are saved to work for the redemption of the world and go to be with the Lord until the ultimate redemption, the resurrection.

 

Even if you find you don’t agree with all of Paauw’s conclusion, you will agree with me that the book is worth the read. It is accessible for readers at a high school level or higher.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] The author cites, “The highly-descriptive and provocative term “verse jacking” was coined by my colleague John Dunham in “High Fructose Scripture,” Leadership Journal (online), June 5, 2007, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ le/ 2007/ june-online-only/ high-fructose-scripture.html.”

 

 

So Now I’m a Christian. Now What? Part 6: The Incarnation Continued

“Okay, so Jesus is one person with two natures, one divine and one human. And the point of all this…?

 

How important is it that God became flesh? To borrow a phrase from the Apostle Paul, “great in every way!” First, as a man, God himself experienced suffering, and therefore can sympathize with our weakness. (Hebrews 4:14) He knows by experience what it means to be tired, to grieve, to hunger and thirst, and most of all, he knows what it means to suffer injustice. The only truly innocent man that ever lived was falsely accused of a capital crime and executed.

Even more importantly, however, by living his life perfectly obedient to God, and because of his death, which he experienced willingly, Jesus fulfilled the requirements of the Law both by obedience, and by providing a substitute for sin. In the Old Testament, sins had to be atoned for by the death of an innocent substitute. This usually meant an animal. This is why John the Baptist called Jesus the “Lamb of God.” Because he lived perfectly, he had no sin of his own to pay for. One way we can know that is because he didn’t stay dead. About 40 hours after he was buried, Jesus rose from the dead. As Paul said, “He (God) made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” By coming to faith in Jesus, we become united with him. Because of this union, we die with him, and are raised again (spiritually now, bodily later) so that he takes on our sin, and gives us his righteousness.

Finally, because he rose from the dead, we can trust him to raise us at the end of the age just as he promised. This life, no matter how pleasant or painful, is extremely short compared to the eternity we will live. This is why Paul could say, “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.” (2 Corinthians 4:17)

God became flesh and lived among us, and died for us. Because of this, we are reconciled to God, and have hope in the resurrection, and eternity in the New Heavens and New Earth (2Peter 3:31) He promised, and he is able to come through. How do we know? We know because he rose from the dead. He is risen! He is risen indeed!

 

 

“Doubting Thomas” Can’t Catch a Break

Preachers love to use “Doubting Thomas” as a negative sermon illustration (my church’s NextGen pastor excepted) but why does everyone point the finger at him? Who did he doubt? None of the gospel accounts of the resurrection place Thomas at the tomb. He wasn’t there when Jesus first appeared to the 10 (11 counting Thomas.) But was he the first skeptic among the disciples that day? Luke 24 contains a report of the women finding the empty tomb and encountering the risen Jesus. What happened when they reported this to the apostles? “…the other women with them were telling these things to the apostles. But these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe them.” (Verses 10b-11) What? They would not believe? Who’s doubting now? In the Gospel of John, when the disciples heard the report that the tomb was empty did they believe? No, they went and investigated, and then they believed. (Again, no mention of Thomas being there.) In both accounts, the disciples did not believe the report until they investigated for themselves.

Fast forward to Sunday night, and Jesus appears to the ten. Afterwards, the ten tell Thomas what they saw, and he refuses to believe. How is he any different?

It can be argued that after hanging out with the other ten guys for the last three years or so that he should have given them the benefit of the doubt. To be fair, however, this was a truly unique event in history. Moreover, it was a unique event that had direct personal implications. All 11 were grieving Jesus’ death. With the exception of those people they had seen Jesus raise from the dead (in a manner very different from Jesus’ own resurrection) they recognized that typically people tended to stay dead, especially when they die by crucifixion. However, just because Thomas had the boldness to say what the other 10 were thinking just that morning is no reason to single him out as a hardened skeptic. Thomas was in good company.

So Now I’m a Christian. Now What? Part 5: The Incarnation

“Incarnation? What do flowers have to do with anything?”

Not, carnation, incarnation. It means God took on flesh in Jesus Christ. We read in John 1:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (Verses 1-3, 14)

It is clear from verses 1-3 that “the Word” is God. In verse 14 we are told he became a man. This is not to say that God changed from being God to being a man. Rather, God added to himself a human nature.

You will remember that in part 1 I said God does not change.

“Really? You don’t think “becoming a man” is a change?”

When I explained the difference between “essential” attributes and “accidental” attributes, you will note that “not having a human nature” was not an essential property. God did not have to take on flesh. Moreover, none of his attributes changed. If they did, it would have been called an “intrinsic” change. That means a change in his nature or being. Adding to himself a human nature, or more precisely, the second Person of the Trinity adding to himself a human nature did not change the nature of the second Person. He is still divine, still omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, etc. Adding to himself a human nature is what is called an “extrinsic change.”

In order to make sense of what it means for the divine Person to “add to himself a human nature,” we need to unpack what a human nature is.

A human being is a body/soul unity. This means you are a soul and you have a body. I know some people think we are a body, soul and spirit. For our purposes here, we will leave aside that debate. Suffice it to say we are made of two substances; a material body, and an immaterial soul. (If our spirit is a third part, it is still immaterial, so the debate is not relevant for this point.)

“What do you mean ‘immaterial?’ Like it doesn’t matter?”

No, by immaterial, I mean non-material. In other words, our soul has no weight, mass, and does not extend in space. It cannot be detected with the five senses. It is not made of physical matter or energy. Included in our soul would be things like the mind, the will, emotions, and personality. Our person-ness is in our soul. Moreover, there is good reason to think the soul directs the physical development.

“Isn’t the mind just the brain?”

No. It is beyond the scope of this essay to explain. The brain is part of the body, and is the primary interface between the soul and the body (except for development, and possibly another aspect which will take us too far down a rabbit trail to explain now.)

As human persons, our consciousnesses, our thoughts and feelings, are informed from two sources; our bodies and our souls. For example, when our bodies need energy, our brain tells us we are hungry. If we eat a cheeseburger, our brain then tells us we are not hungry. However, there is another aspect of this process that is not physical. Two people can get hungry and eat a cheeseburger. One really likes cheeseburgers and therefore, enjoys his meal. The other may find he hates cheeseburgers and vows never to eat one again. In both cases, there reaction was emotional. To put it another way, souls cannot chew cheeseburgers and bodies cannot enjoy them.

“What does all this have to do with Jesus?”

Glad you asked. Remember I said that in Jesus Christ, the second Person of the Trinity took on a human nature. That means he added to himself a human body and a human soul. There is one very important difference, however. You will note I said, “Our person-ness is in our soul.” In Jesus, this is not the case. Jesus is just one person, or Person. His human soul had its “person-ness” by being in union with the second Person of the Trinity. Moreover, Jesus’ consciousness has three sources, rather than two. As the second Person of the Trinity, he shares an intellect, will, and emotions with the Father and the Holy Spirit. There is one divine Mind, Will and Emotions. So his consciousness is informed by the divine mind, will, and emotions. Also, it is informed by his human mind, will, and emotions. Finally, his consciousness is informed by his body.

“But when they asked Jesus when he would come back he said, ‘But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.’”

As a divine Person, he would choose what to reveal to his human consciousness. The second Person of the Trinity is only referred to as “Son” in and since the incarnation. Understanding this union of God and flesh also makes sense of what Jesus meant when he prayed, “…not my will, but yours be done.” God only has one will. However, Jesus had a human will as well.

I realize this post could get technical. Please feel free to post questions about anything here you don’t understand. In my next post I will explain why all this was necessary.

Part 5: The Incarnation

 

“Incarnation? What do flowers have to do with anything?”

Not, carnation, incarnation. It means God took on flesh in Jesus Christ. We read in John 1:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (Verses 1-3, 14)

It is clear from verses 1-3 that “the Word” is God. In verse 14 we are told he became a man. This is not to say that God changed from being God to being a man. Rather, God added to himself a human nature.

You will remember that in part 1 I said God does not change.

“Really? You don’t think “becoming a man” is a change?”

When I explained the difference between “essential” attributes and “accidental” attributes, you will note that “not having a human nature” was not an essential property. God did not have to take on flesh. Moreover, none of his attributes changed. If they did, it would have been called an “intrinsic” change. That means a change in his nature or being. Adding to himself a human nature, or more precisely, the second Person of the Trinity adding to himself a human nature did not change the nature of the second Person. He is still divine, still omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, etc. Adding to himself a human nature is what is called an “extrinsic change.”

In order to make sense of what it means for the divine Person to “add to himself a human nature,” we need to unpack what a human nature is.

A human being is a body/soul unity. This means you are a soul and you have a body. I know some people think we are a body, soul and spirit. For our purposes here, we will leave aside that debate. Suffice it to say we are made of two substances; a material body, and an immaterial soul. (If our spirit is a third part, it is still immaterial, so the debate is not relevant for this point.)

“What do you mean ‘immaterial?’ Like it doesn’t matter?”

No, by immaterial, I mean non-material. In other words, our soul has no weight, mass, and does not extend in space. It cannot be detected with the five senses. It is not made of physical matter or energy. Included in our soul would be things like the mind, the will, emotions, and personality. Our person-ness is in our soul. Moreover, there is good reason to think the soul directs the physical development.

“Isn’t the mind just the brain?”

No. It is beyond the scope of this essay to explain. The brain is part of the body, and is the primary interface between the soul and the body (except for development, and possibly another aspect which will take us too far down a rabbit trail to explain now.)

As human persons, our consciousnesses, our thoughts and feelings, are informed from two sources; our bodies and our souls. For example, when our bodies need energy, our brain tells us we are hungry. If we eat a cheeseburger, our brain then tells us we are not hungry. However, there is another aspect of this process that is not physical. Two people can get hungry and eat a cheeseburger. One really likes cheeseburgers and therefore, enjoys his meal. The other may find he hates cheeseburgers and vows never to eat one again. In both cases, there reaction was emotional. To put it another way, souls cannot chew cheeseburgers and bodies cannot enjoy them.

“What does all this have to do with Jesus?”

Glad you asked. Remember I said that in Jesus Christ, the second Person of the Trinity took on a human nature. That means he added to himself a human body and a human soul. There is one very important difference, however. You will note I said, “Our person-ness is in our soul.” In Jesus, this is not the case. Jesus is just one person, or Person. His human soul had its “person-ness” by being in union with the second Person of the Trinity. Moreover, Jesus’ consciousness has three sources, rather than two. As the second Person of the Trinity, he shares an intellect, will, and emotions with the Father and the Holy Spirit. There is one divine Mind, Will and Emotions. So his consciousness is informed by the divine mind, will, and emotions. Also, it is informed by his human mind, will, and emotions. Finally, his consciousness is informed by his body.

“But when they asked Jesus when he would come back he said, ‘But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.’”

As a divine Person, he would choose what to reveal to his human consciousness. The second Person of the Trinity is only referred to as “Son” in and since the incarnation. Understanding this union of God and flesh also makes sense of what Jesus meant when he prayed, “…not my will, but yours be done.” God only has one will. However, Jesus had a human will as well.

I realize this post could get technical. Please feel free to post questions about anything here you don’t understand. In my next post I will explain why all this was necessary.

So Now I’m a Christian. Now What? Part 4:The Loving, Triune God

 

 

I know your thinking, “So you think you can suck me into reading a treatise on the Trinity by mentioning “love?”

The ideas are related. Stick with me now.

 

You may remember, if you’re keeping score at home, that in part 1 of this series, I explained that God is self-existent. That means, among other things, that he is completely independent of anything else for his existence. If that is the case, it also means that every essential attribute God has is independent of anything else. What I mean by an “essential attribute” is any property or quality that a thing has such that if it did not have that property, it would be something else.

“Wait, what?”

Bear with me. An example would be water ice. Ice has the property of being solid at temperatures below 320F at sea level, and being made of water. If it were made of lead instead of water, it would not be water/ice. If it was 500F, it would be liquid, not ice. You get the idea.

“Still waiting for the ‘love’ part.”

I’m getting there. For God, we said that self-existence, immutability (he does not change) omnipotence,(all powerful) and omnipresence (everywhere present at the same time) are all essential attributes of God. Love is also one of his essential properties. If love exists, if it is a real thing, then it must have a source. If God is the ultimate source of all things, he must also be the ultimate source of love. If he is not, he is dependent on a source outside of himself.

“Great! Now lets move on. We don’t need to confuse this issue with this ‘Trinity’ stuff.”

Not so fast. For love to exist, you need two things: a lover, and a beloved. Love is a subject-object relationship. If God is love, as John tells us (1 John 4:8) then he must have an object of his love. If the only objects of his love are his creations, then he is dependent on his creation for an essential attribute. Do you see the problem? If God is not at least two persons, whom does he love when there is no creation?

“But, the word ‘Trinity’ isn’t in the Bible.”

True, but neither is the word “Bible,” so that doesn’t tell us anything. This is where the work of theologians comes in handy. (No, really!) Some doctrines come from straightforward readings of Bible passages, like the doctrine of creation from nothing (Genesis 1:1,) or the resurrection. Some, however, come from taking all of what the Bible says and putting it together like a big puzzle. This is called “systematic theology.” The Trinity is such a doctrine.

The doctrine of the Trinity says that there is only one God, one divine being, which exists as three Persons. We call these Persons the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Bible teaches us that there is only one God,[1] and that the Father is God,[2] the Son is God,[3] and the Holy Spirit is God.[4]

“Okay, but maybe sometimes God is the Father, sometimes he’s the Son and sometimes he’s the Holy Spirit.”

That’s Modalism, Patrick! (Don’t worry about what Modalism means, or who Patrick is. Just watch the video linked below.)

We know they are not all the same person switching “hats” because Jesus referred to the Father and the Holy Spirit as distinct from himself. Jesus was constantly talking about the Father, and he taught his disciples that he would send the Holy Spirit. If we can’t take his word on that, what can we trust him on?

“But if the Father is God, and the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God, why do you say there is only one God? Are you really saying there are three Gods and one God?”

No. Next question? Okay, I’ll unpack that a little more.

Despite certain individual’s use of this distinction to try to dodge getting caught in a lie, there really are different meanings to the word “is.” If I say, “Dan Wynne is the husband of Carole Wynne,” I am saying Dan Wynne and the husband of Carole Wynne are one and the same. They are identical. That is why this is called the “is of identity.” A is B if A is identical to B. There are a few other ways “is” is used, but for our purposes, I will just explain one more. If I say “Dan Wynne is human,” you see that I am not saying that Dan Wynne is identical to “human.” If that were the case, it would also mean that “human” was identical to Dan Wynne, and you can see that is not the case because if you are reading this and you are not Dan Wynne, you are still human. Clear as mud? This use of “is” is called essential predication, or simply, predication. It answers the question, “What kind of thing is that?” When we say the Father, the Son or the Holy Spirit is God, we are answering the question, “What kind of thing is the Father?” He is God. If it helps, think of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit as divine. The simplest way, though imperfect, could be to think of God as one “what,” and three “who’s.”

Some have tried to come up with analogies to explain the Trinity. They are all flawed; no one explains that better than my friends at the Lutheran Satire YouTube channel. For an informative and funny video on the subject, click here.

“Okay, but they tell me Jesus is God. Does that make four persons?”

No. In my next post, I will explain how the Son is Jesus.

[1] Deuteronomy 6:4, Isaiah 45, 1 Timothy 2:5

[2] Matthew 5 and following (basically the Sermon on the Mount)

[3] John 8:58, Titus 2:13

[4] Acts 5:3-4

So Now I’m a Christian. Now What? Part 3: God

 

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.  He descended into hell.

The third day He arose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,
whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.

In this installment, I want to go a little deeper into the issue of God’s power. God is called “almighty” fifty-eight times in the Bible, forty-eight in the Old Testament and ten in the New. Historically, this has been taken to mean that God has the power to do anything that power can do. If you are collecting nerdy theological terms, this is called “omnipotence.”

Some have tried to challenge this belief with questions like, “Can God make a rock so big or heavy that he can’t lift it?” They think that whether you answer “yes” or “no” to this question, you undermine the doctrine. If you answer “no,” then there is something God cannot do, so he is not all-powerful. If you answer “yes,” then since he cannot move it, there is something God cannot do, so the doctrine is undermined. However, this is a silly challenge if you look a little deeper.

First, it is a logically absurd question. Remember I said almighty means God has the power to do anything power can do. What power cannot do is accomplish something that power cannot do. (Ya think?) Power cannot do the absurd.

Second, what would it mean for a rock to be too heavy for anyone to lift? It would mean it had so much mass that it had an irresistible gravitational attraction. However, such an object would attract everything else to itself. If all of matter were in one lump, what would it mean to lift it? “Lift” usually means moving in an “up” direction. However, which way would be “up?” Moreover, if such a universal lump existed, what sort of resistance could there be to God moving it? There would be no other objects to provide a gravitational attraction against the effort to move it, and no air to provide drag.

Third, what would it mean for a rock to be too big for God to move it? In this case, it would actually be possible for God to make a rock too big to move.

“Ah ha! See? He’s not all-powerful, omnipo.. omnibus… om nom nom… whatever you said!”

Not so fast. I said it would be possible. However, in order to make it, God could make a universe in which all that existed was the rock, and just enough space that the rock filled all of space. What is movement? It is a change in location in space. However, in such a world, since there is no empty space, movement is impossible.

“Wait! I clicked on this to read about God, not rocks!”

Fair enough. I think we’ve squeezed enough out of this. Let’s move on.

What omnipotence does mean is that the same God who made all of matter, energy, space and time can also do all the other miracles found in the Bible. Some have balked at things like Jesus’ virgin conception, the parting of the Red Sea, and the Resurrection because they don’t happen very often. Well, of course not. If they did, they wouldn’t be miracles, and they would prove nothing. However, if God made the universe, then a pregnant virgin or a dead man rising is not even difficult. And if he raised Jesus, he will raise you too on the last day. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians (that’s first Corinthians, Mr. Trump) 15:20-24,

“But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.  But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming,  then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power.”

 

In my next article, I will address God as love, and (brace yourselves,) the Trinity.