Thursday, October 9, 2014

Be Still and...


You weren't expecting that, were you? You thought I was going to finish that very famous psalm the right way. But no. And it's not because I forgot the rest of it either. You see, it's my life verse, so it's basically burned into my brain. Some people scoff at the idea of having a "life verse" but I can tell you that this verse has been supernaturally infused into my life from the very beginning. When my mom found out she was pregnant with me, she went to the doctor and learned that I may not survive because I had been in with the IUD too long. She was told to get an abortion, but my mom chose instead to listen to that still, small voice that told her to be still instead. Around that same time, she randomly won a painting that said, "Be still and know that I am God. Ps. 46:10". She hung it up in the house, and didn't think much of it. I was born a few months later.

Years later, when I was a little girl, I was sitting in the hallway one day, under the picture playing or something. My mom did a double-take. The picture was a painting of a little girl sitting by a pond, with the verse at the top, and she looked identical to me with her short red hair in a ponytail with bangs and big brownish eyes. She realized that God had told her to be still and trust Him with me, and even gave her a promise of what I was going to look like. Fast-forward to my high school years, and God gave me this verse as an answer to a specific prayer. I mentioned it to my mom, and she told me about the picture, which was still hanging in our house at that point, and I realized it had been the answer to most of my problems for as long as I could remember. Who would have thought it would be extremely fitting for the rest of my life as well?

Every time I am facing a particularly difficult situation in my life, God speaks this verse to me. He just calmly brings the words, "Be Still" to my mind and most of the time I look up in exasperation and say, "No. Please no. Not this time. C’mon God, I got this. I. can. fix. this." You see, I don’t want to be still. I am a doer; I do things. I don't sit around and wait for things to happen. If I want something, I go after it. I make a plan, and execute it. I am also a fixer. If something is broken, I fix it. Not being in control and being helpless are not easy for me. So you can imagine that when I am going through something difficult, and there is nothing I can do but sit and wait for God to resolve it, I am usually completely and utterly miserable during that time.

However, there is also something so peaceful about being completely dependent on the Lord during that season. Because I normally cannot sit still, I pile obligations and things on in my life and overcommit to everything. I mean, there’s so much to be done for God’s kingdom, who has time to sit around?! More than once I have had students and colleagues tell me I am Superwoman. Well, you know what? Being “Superwoman” is exhausting. You take on the weight of the world and try and save it all on your own. But you can’t, because you are only natural, not supernatural, so eventually you will burn out. God knows this. So He takes things out of our lives for us, and we are forced to our knees to recognize that He alone has the control and will work things out according to His will, not our own. We just have to be still and let Him do His thing. Currently it seems as though every part of my life seems to be falling into a heap at my feet. Apparently I am not as good of a juggler as I thought and once again, I am realizing I can't do it all.  While it is extremely humbling, it’s also strangely wonderful to take that weight off my own shoulders and drop it at His feet instead. This time though, I think I am finally done picking it back up as I try to walk away.

We need to relearn the beauty of letting God be in control because there is literally nothing we can do to fix or change things sometimes. We can pray for what we want to happen, but ultimately He knows best, and what’s supposed to happen, will happen in His timing. Acknowledging His complete sovereignty can bring an incredible amount of peace amidst an incredible amount of pain. We are not strong enough, but He is, and no matter what is going on, we can be still and know that HE. IS. GOD. He will be exalted among the nations, and He will be exalted in the earth, simply because of who HE is, and not because of anything we have done. Thank... well you know who... ; )

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Moms as Metaphors

I watched both ‘Mom's Night Out' and 'God's Not Dead' this afternoon. In MNO, I laughed harder than I have in a long time, I cried like a baby, and for the first time ever watching a faith-based film, I didn't roll my eyes once. It is an excellent movie. This is the difference between having a faith-based film where the talented actors happen to be Christians and not just a bunch of Christians that can (kind-of) act. The message of the film was something that everyone (even non-Christians) can get behind: that moms work hard and that we can put too much pressure on ourselves to be perfect. As a single mom, I know this more than anyone. I beat myself up on a daily basis for the fact that I have to work full-time and I feel guilty all the time that my son has to go to daycare. I feel like a failure as a mother all the time. Just like Ally (the main character), I look at those perfect moms when I am at church or dropping my kid off at school and go, “Well yeah. If I had a nanny and didn’t have to work, I wouldn’t have bags under my eyes either.”

The message was universal which is what made the plot totally work. That and the fact that every mom has been in situations like that at one point or another in their life. The faith of the characters came out of it organically (i.e. their belief that that we don't have to be perfect for Jesus to love us) but it was not the point of the film (that moms are awesome and occasionally need a break). The message of moms unconditionally loving their kids, no matter how hard they are to take care of, is an allegory for God’s love toward us, so it came out of the plot organically. Metaphor is powerful and anyone who has read Tolkien or Lewis knows that. This is different from other faith-based films that go in with an agenda to share the gospel, and throw together a poorly-written/edited movie as the vehicle to present it to the audience. An example of this would be the other movie I watched, 'God’s Not Dead’.

As an apologist, I was EXCITED for ‘God’s Not Dead’. I had a similar idea as a college student a decade ago and even wrote a five-page treatment for a short film idea, revolving around a college student who defended their faith to an Atheist professor. Of course it never got made, because it requires this thing called “money”. The biggest beef that most reviewers had was the harshness of the Atheist professor. They said it wasn’t realistic. That didn’t bug me because I went to a secular school and that happened to me. I would argue with my biology teacher at high school about Evolution until I was blue in the face. He would be condescending to me, act like I was ignorant because I believed in God, and handed me a giant stack of papers, filled with Bible contradictions and told me that if I could answer them all, he would listen to me. That’s actually how I started to find apologetics (I became obsessed with answering them) and when I ran into him a year or so ago at a debate, I thanked him for challenging me because it made me the equipped Christian I am today. Unfortunately, he is an Atheist to this day (reality check- not everyone who hears the evidence for God accepts it as truth.) Because of my own experience, I did think that the scenes between Shane Harper and Kevin Sorbo were pretty good. I could have watched two hours of just them as they had great chemistry onscreen. And I do think, despite what some snobs in the apologetics world think, Dr. Rice Broocks chose some great material for the debate.

So what bugged me the most about ‘God’s Not Dead’ (the film) was not the professor’s attitude but the odd cutting back and forth between scenes and cramming in of too many storylines (I always follow my own version of K.I.S.S. – keep it stupid-simple when trying to get a point across). The rest of the movie seemed like it was pointless and unnecessary and just a bunch of appeals to emotion. Also, the fact that EVERY student stood up at the end. It elicited the emotional response it was hoping for, I mean I was grinning ear to ear as an apologist, but it was unrealistic and unbelievable. You could be Ravi Zacharias (who in my opinion is one of the greatest living apologists) and still not every person leaving your lecture will have become a Christian (which is why I appreciate the last scene with Dean Cain's character tossing the cellphone in the backseat, it felt like an action his character would have actually done.)

One huge issue I have with faith-based films is that they don’t portray reality. They portray what they want to happen in a perfect world where everyone who hears the Gospel receives it, not what actually would happen. If truth is that which corresponds to reality, and we are sharing truth, should we not try and reflect reality as much as possible? In Art and the Bible, Francis Schaeffer said that, “The Christian is the one whose imagination should fly beyond the stars”. Our stuff should be the best stuff out there because as Christians, we are studying and emulating the greatest Storyteller of all time. Let us reflect God's effect on reality. Life is hard and not perfect, but we can have hope because He is enough. Let us be real, leave mediocrity behind as Christians in the arts, and start striving for greatness. Kudos to Patricia Heaton and ‘Mom’s Night Out’ for doing exactly that. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Case for the Greater Good - Pt. 7


Offered in 7 Parts 
By Sarah Ankenman

The Crucifixion as the Greatest Precedent
As one can see, over and over again throughout Scripture, God chooses to deliver and/or bless His children when they choose His will, the greater good, when faced with moral dilemmas. However, God’s precedent of choosing the greater good is the most evident when seen in light of the crucifixion of His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. In his book, The Lost Message of Jesus, Steve Chalke likens Jesus’ work on the cross to “a form of cosmic child abuse - a vengeful Father, punishing his Son for an offence he has not even committed.”[1] Is this true? Is the cross nothing more than a punishment placed on an innocent God-man by a vengeful Father? The author would say no, and so would many others. The fact that God Himself had to come down and be united with a human nature in order to suffer an excruciating death shows that it’s possible Jesus’ death was completely necessary and that what was done was the greater good. In the next paragraph, the reason why that was so will be explored.
In the Old Testament when men placed their hands on the head of an animal to symbolize a transference of sin, the sin did not actually, literally transfer to the animal. The animal was not all of a sudden sinful, as they cannot sin since they lack a soul, and did not deserve to die. The people were still dying in their sin even though they were anticipating salvation through their belief in the future Messiah. This is why they did not go immediately to be with the Lord, but instead dwelt in Abraham’s Bosom, a place of waiting until the work was finished on the cross, in real time, through Jesus Christ. Jesus was the only one who could take away the sin of the world for good. In John chapter eight, Jesus said, “I told you that you will die in your sins. For if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.”[2]
The “He” Jesus is speaking of is the prophesied Messiah. Jesus fulfilled “more than three hundred predictions concerning the Messiah through His birth, life, death, and Resurrection. What would be the odds of one person fulfilling all of these by chance? The number is so astronomical, that it puts chance out of the picture… [it is] one in ten to the seventeenth power.”[3] There is no question in the author’s mind that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, due to the evidence. If Jesus was indeed the Messiah, then at this point it is imperative to examine the need of the Messiah to die a death such as Jesus did. Why did He have to die for the sin of mankind? Could not God have simply wiped the slate clean in His Sovereignty? This will be inspected in the next paragraph.
Scripture itself states that an innocent person will never be held responsible for a guilty party[4], and man is guilty due to his genetic, original sin nature. So how can God justify sending His innocent Son to die for humankind? Geisler answers this question in his encyclopedia of apologetics: “A virtually universal human practice is to consider commendable the actions of one who dies in defense of the innocent. Soldiers are honored for dying for their country. Parents are called compassionate when they die for their children. But this is precisely what Jesus did. As the apostle Paul puts it, ‘very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrated his love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ (Romans 5:7-8).”[5] As Jesus Himself has said, greater love hath no man than he who lays down his life for his friends.[6] There is no one on Earth who would argue that it is wrong from someone to sacrifice their life for another. 
The second point that bears examination is the fact that the cross was no form of “forced cosmic child abuse” as Chalke purports. Jesus had what was considered a “hypostatic union”: a uniting of two natures in one body. Because Jesus had a full human nature alongside His divine nature, He had free will. He could have decided not to go to the cross. In the Garden, we even see Him praying to His father in heaven asking if there was any other way. He asks, “If it is possible, let this cup pass from me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.”[7] However, there was no other way, and so He agreed to do what was necessary out of love. Jesus chose love, the greater good, all by himself. It was a choice of free will to go to the cross for mankind.
 This is the opposite of ethical egoism, or morality based on self-interest. Graded absolutism is based on self-sacrifice. When the Nazis come to the door, one must put the Jews before themselves because that’s what Christ did for mankind. He decided to be obedient to His father in Heaven before a man, even a man like himself. Why? Because there was no other way to accomplish the forgiveness needed to bridge the gap between God and man that was created when sin entered the world. Paul writes in Romans, “So then, as through one trespass there is condemnation for everyone, so also through one righteous act there is life-giving justification for everyone.”[8]
Jesus chose to go to the cross for the greater good of mankind, for without Him, mankind would be eternally lost. He was temporally wounded so we could be eternally saved. We see that through God’s actions of choosing to send His Son to die, and in turn, Jesus’ recognizing it as the only way and being obedient to it, God chose the greater good in the greatest moral dilemma of all time. Geisler states, “Indeed, God Himself faced a moral conflict in the cross – should he sacrifice His Son or should He allow the world to perish? Thank God, mercy triumphed over justice. Surely the sacrifice of Christ was not a lesser evil; it was indeed the greatest good God could do.”[9]
Biblical ethics are not pluralistic in the sense that each moral commandment is absolute. Biblical absolutism is monistic, meaning that it is the one basic principle as the foundation of reality, in the sense that one should always do what God commands them to do. However, built into that principle is the idea that such commands include doing what is the weightiest good. Thus, in effect, God commands us to always do the greatest good, and that never gets violated. In conclusion, that specific command to do the greater good is not just a “graded” absolute but is, in actuality, simply an unqualified absolute.

[1] Chalke, Steve. The Lost Message of Jesus. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2003, p. 182.
[2] John 8:24, HCSB.
[3] Smith and Eastman.  The Search for Messiah. Costa Mesa, CA: The Word for Today, 1993, p. 163.
[4] Ezekiel 18:20, HCSB.
[5] Geisler, Bakers Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, p. 146.
[6] John 15:13
[7] Matthew 26:39, HCSB.
[8] Romans 5: 18, HCSB.
[9] Geisler, Christian Ethics, Chapter 6, Kindle 2 Edition.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Case for the Greater Good - Pt. 6


Offered in 7 Parts 
By Sarah Ankenman

            Many times in His ministry, Jesus demonstrated a preference for the greater good in moral dilemmas. For example, He healed a man on the Sabbath when no work was to be done, and the Pharisees questioned Him about it. He answered, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?”[1] The Pharisees had no answer for Him and Jesus had “anger and sorrow at the hardness of their hearts.”[2] Here one sees a similar situation as before. First, Jesus had no responsibility to answer them because as the Lord of the Sabbath, He could do as He wills. He had already explained to them that “the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”[3] Also, second, one can see that the Pharisees had hard hearts, and, like corrupt governments, were just simply wrong about the greater good in this case[4]. Therefore, Jesus and His disciples are released from any moral obligation or duty to heed their words.
 Earlier this same day, Jesus and the disciples had been picking grain. Again, the Pharisees had confronted Him about the Sabbath. Jesus answered by using Scripture to show the precedent God had laid out in the Old Testament of choosing the greater good. He challenged them, asking, “Have you never read what David and those who were with him did when he was in need and hungry – how he entered the house of God in the time of Abithar the high priest and ate the sacred bread - which is not lawful for anyone to eat except the priests…”[5] Jesus called upon this circumstance to show the Pharisees that one of their heroes of the faith, if placed in the same predicament, would do as Jesus did. In this case as well, the Pharisees had no comment.
Throughout the whole book of Acts there are numerous stories of Jesus’ disciples being arrested and/or jailed for preaching the gospel, and most of the time, unless they were martyred, they were released by miraculous circumstances. In Acts chapter four, Peter and John were arrested by the Sadducees and the temple guard because “they were teaching the people and proclaiming in the person of Jesus the resurrection from the dead.”[6] However, after their trial the Sanhedrin realized they could not do much since too many people had seen the miraculous act of healing the lame man. They decided to simply order the disciples not to speak of Jesus. “But Peter and John answered them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God for us to listen to you rather than to God, you decide; for we are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.’ After threatening them further, they released them.”[7] In this instance, we can see God’s hand upon the disciples, because they obeyed Him rather than men. The fact that He allowed there to be many witnesses to the healing and also sent the Holy Spirit to speak through Peter and John so that the Sadducees could not answer them lends evidence to that fact.
 A second instance in the book of Acts is when the people heard of the signs and wonders that the disciples were performing and came in large numbers to be healed. It says in Acts chapter five that every single person that came was healed.  However, the high priest and the Sanhedrin became jealous that they were not the ones doing the healing. “So they arrested the apostles and put them in the city jail. But an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail during the night, brought them out, and said, ‘Go and stand in the temple complex, and tell the people all about this life.’ In obedience to this, they entered the temple complex at daybreak and began to teach.”[8] This is a circumstance where one can see God’s immediate blessing of the obedience on the disciple’s part to do the greater good of preaching the gospel instead of listening to men.
A third circumstance where God delivered his disciples for doing the greater good, was when Peter got arrested a third time.  This time, King Herod took no chances that he would escape. “After the arrest, he put him in prison and assigned four squads of four soldiers each to guard him… [and] Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, while the sentries in front of the door guarded the prison.”[9] In this case, the angel of the Lord came, and once again walked Peter right out of the prison, almost not believing it himself while it was happening. When he arrived at Mary’s house, the girl who answered the door did not even believe it was him, the escape was so miraculous. Finally, the last time it happened, it was Paul and Silas that were imprisoned instead of Peter. In this instance as well, the chief magistrates were taking no chances that they might escape. They were put in stocks in the inner prison, but God used a mighty earthquake to set them free. In this case, however, Paul and Silas would not leave because the jailer and his whole household needed the gospel.  The next morning, when the magistrates found out that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, and they had arrested them without just cause, they were afraid and let them walk out of the city freely.[10]

To read the conclusion in Part 7, tune in tomorrow night!!!

[1] Mark 3:4, HCSB
[2] Mark 3:5, HCSB
[3] Mark 2:27-28, HCSB
[4] Matthew 23:23, HCSB
[5] Mark 2:25-26, HCSB
[6] Acts 4:2, HCSB.
[7] Acts 4: 19-21, HCSB.
[8] Acts 5:12-21, HCSB.
[9] Acts 12:4-6, HCSB.
[10] Acts 16:22-40, HCSB.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Case for the Greater Good - Pt. 5


Offered in 7 Parts 
By Sarah Ankenman

What about?  - In Times of War
            One point that comes up a lot in this particular argument is that of warfare. Even when one is engaged in a “just war”, often subterfuge and covert operations are imperative to the cause. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, previously mentioned, was a man who fought for justice in World War 2. In his biography, originally being against subterfuge as a pastor, it states that he finally got to a point where he saw the bigger picture: “Now he was convinced of the urgency of stopping Hitler. It was important to keep people of character in positions of power. If that meant saluting Hitler or camouflaging the real purpose of a person’s activities, this was now acceptable to Bonhoeffer.”[1] Bonhoeffer realized the same thing that those who ran the Underground Railroad of the Civil War era did; sometimes one is forced to do questionable things for the goal of the greater good: to restore truth-telling in the public square and overall, to bring justice back to society.[2]
            In Scripture, this can be related to the campaigns of the Israelites. In Joshua chapter 8, God commands him to “set an ambush behind the city,”[3] and then later in 2 Chronicles, God actually sets the ambush for the Moabites and Ammonites Himself.[4] This is similar to the lying premise: if a government is corrupt, they have forfeited their right to truth, openness, and fair-play. Also, not only have they forfeited, but the greater good, according to God, would be if they were defeated and subdued. An example of this would be when God ordered the Israelites to destroy the Canaanites. In the case of the Canaanites, God waited 430 years before actually doing something about their sin as a nation.[5] Also, contrary to popular belief, “the route God chose didn’t require the death of every last Canaanite.”[6] However they did pose an immoral threat so something had to be done for the greater good. Copan states that, “not only were the Canaanites sufficiently  driven out so as not to decisively undermine Israel’s spiritual and moral integrity in the long run, but…Canaanites [also] participate in God’s redemptive plan in both the Old and New Testaments (e.g., Zech. 9, Matt. 15:22, cf. Ps. 87:4-6, Isa. 19:23-25).”[7]
What about? - In Times of Unholy Rule
Another example of God Himself setting the precedent of choosing the greater good in Scripture is in the case of Samuel’s anointing of David as the next king. Saul was still on the throne at this point and God told Samuel to go anoint another, a command Samuel balked at because he knew King Saul would kill him if he knew that he was appointing his replacement.[8] For the greater good of the nation of Israel, “God orders him to cover his design with a sacrifice.”[9] Geisler states that this is one case where “God himself told Samuel to tell only part of the truth to Saul…that he had come to offer a sacrifice, which was true but a subterfuge.”[10] Also, later on the book of 1 Samuel, we read the story of David and his men eating the showbread in the temple that was consecrated for the priest alone.[11] In this instance, the greater good, preserving life by feeding men was more important than the lie David told to get the bread. In this instance it was a lie by omission, in that David got the priest to do what he asked by saying he was on a special mission from the king, however, he did not clarify who that king was and the priest did not ask. Cabal states, “Since God is King and David was arguably following God’s orders in this matter, he was telling the truth.”[12]
            In the book of Daniel, two instances occur where we can clearly see God’s hand in the moral dilemma of those written about therein. In Daniel chapter 3, we read the famous story about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, the three “Jewish captives [who disregard] Nebuchadnezzar’s command to worship the golden image of himself.”[13] Also, we read in Daniel chapter 6 about Daniel himself, who refused to pray to the king instead of God alone. Both of these decisions can be seen as civil disobedience being played out in Scripture. In both instances, the choice of following God over man (aka choosing the greater good) was rewarded by God divinely and miraculously intervening on the decider’s behalf. As most of those who grew up in Sunday school know, the three captives did not burn in the furnace,[14] and Daniel was given supernatural favor with the lions so they would not eat him.[15]
            Another instance where we read about God giving divine favor to those who chose the greater good occurs in the book of 1 Kings. In chapter eighteen, we read about Obadiah, a man who “feared the Lord” and who was in charge of the palace of Ahab, an evil king who was killing all of Israel’s prophets.[16] Obadiah took and hid one-hundred prophets in two caves and provided them with food and water. Obadiah can be clearly seen as the predecessor to those who, much later in the future, would later be hiding Jews during World War Two. Ahab, because he was an evil king and led a corrupt government, unwittingly released Obadiah from any moral obligation he ever had to him, allowing Obadiah to perform the greater good of saving the prophets of God.
What about?  - The Sacrificial System
            As one can see, there are many instances in which God blessed, or gave favor, to those who were willing to choose the greater good, no matter what the cost could have been. However, there is one aspect that the author considers crucial to the argument that God prefers the choice of the greater good in moral dilemmas and that aspect is the Sacrificial System of the Old Testament. In the Bible, there are verses that condemn those who kill animals for no reason[17] (not including the ones that speak of killing for food or other necessities which are not pertinent to the topic at hand) and so one would wonder why God would set up a system of law that required it in large numbers? The short answer is that there was an eternal, supernatural significance to the sacrifice that outweighed the physical, temporal act, just as there is in times of ethical dilemma.
            In the book of Leviticus, we see that “the purpose of the Israelite sacrificial system was two-fold – to offer a gift to God and to effect atonement. The word ‘atonement’ addresses the need for reconciliation in the disturbed relationship between God and humans brought about by sin.”[18] Sin is not something that can be taken lightly, and due to the fact that it is a trespass against a supernatural God, it requires a supernatural act to receive forgiveness. Unfortunately, we as natural human beings, have no way to access a supernatural act apart from God setting it up for us. He did this through the Sacrificial System of the Old Testament.
In the New Testament, we read that the wages of sin are death[19], and because no man is without sin[20], in order to preserve the human race, God had to enact another way of dealing with the sin of mankind. This is also an example of the grading of sins spoken of before, because if a man simply lied, he could get anticipatory forgiveness by offering a sacrifice,[21] but if a man murdered, he himself would be murdered instead of being able to offer a sacrifice for his sin[22]. However, since the wages of sin are death, even the smallest sin had to pay with a death, but God made it so that it could be an animal instead of the actual sinner. Leviticus chapter one states that the sinner is to “lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering so it can be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him” in anticipation of Christ’s future sacrifice, (Rev. 13:8).[23]
Cabal states that this “was a symbolic act in which an animal was to stand in the offender’s place as a substitute. In Nm 8:10,12; 27:18,23; and Dt. 34:9 it appears that the purpose of the laying on of the hands was to transfer the spiritual qualities of the performer to the animal.”[24] By transferring their spiritual qualities, they were transferring their sin to the animal, condemning it to die in their place. As mentioned above, there are many places in the Bible where God speaks against killing animals, however, in light of His children’s dire eternal situation, He temporarily allowed animals to be killed in their stead for the greater good and for the eternal lives of all those involved. As we shall see in the next section, God had an even “greater” plan in mind than any of His children could ever have imagined.

[1] Miller, p. 75.
[2] Copan, Ethics class notes.
[3] Joshua 8:2, HCSB
[4] 2 Chronicles 20:22, HCSB.
[5] Copan, Paul. Is God a Moral Monster?:Making Sense of the Old Testament God. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2011, p. 159.
[6] Ibid.,p. 166.
[7] Ibid.
[8] 1 Samuel 16:1-5, HCSB.
[9] Henry, Matthew.   Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishing, 1991, p. 410.
[10] Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, p. 432.
[11] 1 Samuel 21: 3-6, Matthew 12:3-4, HCSB.
[12] Cabal, footnote, 1 Samuel 21:2; p. 440, HCSB.
[13] Geisler, Christian Ethics, chapter 7, paragraph 27.
[14] Daniel 3:16-27, HCSB.
[15] Daniel 6: 13-24, HCSB.
[16] 1 Kings 18:3-4, 13, HCSB.
[17] Isaiah 66:3, Proverbs 12:10
[18] Cabal, “Introduction to Leviticus”, p. 152, HCSB.
[19] Romans 6:23, HCSB.
[20] 1 John 1:8, Romans 3:10, HCSB.
[21] Leviticus 5: 1-6, HCSB.
[22] Leviticus 24:17, 21, HCSB.
[23] Leviticus 1:4, HCSB.
[24] Cabal, footnote, Leviticus 1:4; p. 153, HCSB.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Case for the Greater Good - Pt. 4


Offered in 7 Parts 
By Sarah Ankenman

            Over and over in the Old Testament, we see God giving precedent for choosing the greater good in a moral dilemma. Dr. Geisler states, “There are numerous cases in Scripture where God (implicitly or explicitly) commended the faith of those involved in intentional deception in order to save lives…Since all things on the Old Testament are ‘for us’ (Rom. 15:4) and happened ‘for our example’ (1 Cor. 10:11) it seems difficult to avoid the conclusion that these were God-approved examples of how He wants us to behave in similar moral conflicts.”[1] In the following pages, we will explore exactly what these moral dilemmas were and the course of action chosen by the believer.  
Obeying God Rather than Man
Geisler and McDowell make the case for love being the deciding factor in a dilemma of conflicting absolutes in their book, Love is Always Right. They write, “There are levels and spheres of love, and one is always higher than another. Each love command is absolute in its area. But when that area overlaps with another area, then the lower responsibility of love should be subordinated to the higher. For example, when the two conflict [as mentioned above], duty to God has priority over duty to people, which Abraham demonstrated with his son Isaac.”[2] In Genesis chapter twenty-two, Abraham decided to obey God by going to sacrifice his son and stifled his own reflex to preserve his son’s life. Soren Kierkegaard calls this phenomenon “a teleological suspension of the ethical… By his act he overstepped the ethical entirely and possessed a higher telos outside of it, in relation to which he suspended the former.”[3] But this is just the beginning of many examples of graded absolutism in the Old Testament.
            In the first chapter of Exodus we read the story of Moses’ birth. Pharaoh, who was unwilling to keep the truce Egypt had long held with Jacob’s relatives, felt that the Israelites were becoming too numerous and ordered the midwives that were attending their births to take the male babies and kill them. “The Hebrew midwives, however, feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt had told them; they let the boys live.”[4] When Pharaoh questioned them, they lied and said that the Hebrew women gave birth before they could get there to assist. “There is little question that the midwives both disobeyed a command of government by not murdering the newborn male children and lied to cover it up. The moral dilemma in which the midwives found themselves was unavoidable.”[5]
            So here we see that the midwives chose life over obedience to the government; they lied to save lives. This could simply be considered a narrative text, a documentation of an historical event, not meant to set any moral standards. However, the next verses do give us some insight to how God viewed their actions. It states, “So God was good to the midwives… [and since] the midwives feared God, He gave them families.”[6] God blessed the women in spite of the fact that they disobeyed authority and lied about it because they chose the greater good of saving lives. Another way of looking at the situation is that in the previous pages, we saw that “lying involves a breaking of trust when we have a duty to tell the truth.”[7] Ted Cabal, editor of the Apologetics Study Bible, states that “because of Pharaoh’s wicked intentions in this matter, he did not deserve to hear the truth from these women.”[8] In this case, the Pharaoh had broken trust with these midwives by asking them to sin against their God, and therefore, God suspended their duty to the truth.[9]
            The next instance is the story of a harlot named Rahab who allowed Hebrew spies to hide in her home.  “When the king of Jericho commanded Rahab to bring out the men, she said that the men had already gone and that she did not know where they were.”[10] In this case, Rahab clearly lied, because as she said these words, the Hebrew spies were hidden on her roof, covered in stalks of flax. However, Rahab is spoken of in Scripture as a hero of the faith due to this very event. James asks, “Was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by a different route?”[11] Hebrews also states, “By faith Rahab the prostitute received the spies in peace and did not perish with those who disobeyed.”[12] How does one reconcile the wrongful act of lying with the praise Rahab receives for the very act in Scripture?
            The answer lies in what Rahab says to the spies once they are alone. She starts relaying to them the stories her people heard about the Red Sea crossing miracle and how the children of Israel defeated the Amorite kings, and then says, “When we heard this, we lost heart, and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on earth below.”[13] Rahab is declaring here that she hid them because she and her family have realized that the God of the Israelites is the one, true God. Then she asks the spies for a favor in return, that her family will be spared, knowing full well they would keep their word as emissaries of that one, true God. It was because of her faith in God in how he preserved His people that she was blessed, not because she lied. Cabal states that, “Scripture does not condone Rahab’s lie… the New Testament celebrates Rahab’s action as a demonstration of her faith in the God of Israel and rejection of the Canaanites…she acknowledged  God’s divine providence in Israel’s possession of Canaan, God’s presence in Israel’s exodus and migration through the wilderness, and the Lord’s sovereignty over the universe.”[14] In this instance, we see that due to her understanding of God’s sovereignty, she chose to serve Him, the greater good, rather than the governing authority of the time, as they directly contradicted each other, and she was blessed for that choice.

[1] Geisler, Norman L. and Feinberg, Paul D.  Introduction to Philosophy. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1980, p. 417.
[2] Geisler and McDowell, p. 159.
[3] Kierkegaard, Søren (2012-09-08). Fear and Trembling (p. 49, 52). Fig. Kindle Edition.
[4] Exodus 1:17, HCSB.
[5] Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 1999, p. 434.
[6] Exodus 1:20-21, HCSB.
[7] Copan, Paul. Ethics Class notes. Murrieta, CA: Veritas Evangelical Seminary, 2010.
[8] Cabal, Ted. The Apologetics Study Bible, HCSB. Nashville, Tennessee: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007, Footnotes, Exodus 1:19, p. 86, HCSB.
[9] Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 1999, p. 435.
[10] Ibid, p. 433; Joshua 2:2-7.
[11] James 2:25, HCSB.
[12] Hebrews 11:31, HCSB.
[13] Joshua 2:10-11, HCSB.
[14] Cabal, footnote, Joshua 2: 2-14; p. 324-325, HCSB.