1May

Deflecting the Problem of Evil

Imagine the most atrocious evil possible. Perhaps you’ll think of something like this: a young girl gets raped, sexually trafficked, ends up starving, and then is tortured for the rest of her life. Even worse, suppose all humans were immediately born into hell and eternally suffered every imaginable evil possible for no good reason. We may think this is truly abominable, but I will argue that the this is not in fact the worst possible evil that can be conceived. Why is this important? Because atheists will often use some terrible evil and ask how an all-powerful and all good being could allow this to occur. This has emotional force but as I will argue here, there is an event in Christianity that negates the force of the atheist’s objection.

The Greatest Evil

That greatest evil conceivable is in fact the death of Jesus on the cross. You may be rolling your eyes at this point, but let me explain. How do we determine that something is evil? Well a being must have an inherent value that is being harmed in some way. The greater that being’s inherent value, the greater the evil is against that being. So we can admit that it is wrong to torture an animal, but it is even worse to torture a human because of its comparatively greater inherent value. God, by contrast, is a being of infinite value. It follows then that any evil against Him must be infinitely greater than any evil against finite beings like us.

Some dictator could take the whole human race of all ages and crucify them, but collectively they would still not compare to how horrendous the crucifixion of Jesus Christ was. Some may object that this is no big deal because Jesus could have just used His power to save Himself. Furthermore, Jesus volunteered to suffer but many humans had no choice. True, Jesus could have used His power but He did not. However, the fact that He voluntarily submitted himself to evil treatment does not make the act against Him any less evil. Socrates in some sense voluntarily died at the hands of Athens, but that did not make his death any less unjust.

The Problem of Jesus’ Death

So the problem of evil gets reversed: If the Father is all good and all powerful, how could He allow Jesus to suffer and die? At the very least the Father seems to be very consistent here. He not only allows the suffering of humans, but He allowed the suffering of His own Son! This is very significant, however, in that God is not only watching us suffer but partook of our suffering in a way that none of us could ever imagine. He did not do it to show off and say, “Lol humans! My pain is far greater than yours!” Rather, He did it for us so that through His death we may have eternal life. That seems to be a sufficient reason for permitting Jesus’ death.

Now, if the Father can have a sufficient reason for allowing the greatest possible evil, how is it that skeptics can say He could not (or probably does not) have a sufficient reason for all the other lesser evils that we see in this world? They cannot! Skeptics may not find this emotionally compelling, of course, only because they already reject that Jesus died for them. God demonstrates His love for us by sending someone He treasures most. He did this for even the worst of us. Could you imagine allowing your most treasured relationship to die in order to save some scumbag criminal? No? But that’s exactly what God did for the world with His Son.

Christianity’s Triumph

As Christians then, we have faith in God’s goodness despite the evil around us because God proved His goodness in the face of the greatest evil. We have a hope that we will be victorious against life’s woes becuase Jesus was victorious. We know that every tear and wound that this life has brought upon us will be healed just as Jesus’ wounds were healed. Atheists, by contrast, seem to think that this world is so overwhelmed by evil that it refutes the existence of God. But what kind of world are they left with? The hopeless ashes of death and suffering. Their worldview is about as emotionally satisfying as a hailstorm. Where is their hope?

Christianity’s entire gospel depends on the greatest act of evil on a perfectly innocent and righteous man being triumphed by God.

20Apr

There Are No Unicorns in the Bible

The scientific name of the Indian Rhino is “Rhinoceros unicornis” because of it’s single horn.

Internet atheists want you to believe the Bible is just a bunch of fairy tales because it mentions creatures that are mythological, such as dragons and unicorns. I first learned about the unicorn passages in high school right after I converted and I thought this was weird but it didn’t really change my mind about the Bible. And eventually a pastor friend of mine gave me an answer to the unicorn question which I though was totally reasonable (short answer: unicorn is Old English for a one horned rhino).

After looking more into the topic on my own for the very first time today I can easily see where the misconception and actually it is slightly more complicated than the rhino answer and I just wanted to write a very short article on the topic. Hopefully you find this useful.

Dogmatic Rejection of Reality
First of all let me just mention the silliness that some of the brothers and sisters find themselves in because they are too over devoted to a strict literal interpretation of a 400 year old Bible translation. If you Google “unicorns in the bible” there are countless articles will come up saying that “if God’s word says unicorns existed, then they clearly existed but don’t exist any more and if we never find evidence of them we just need to trust God.” On the one hand I really appreciate the trust in God’s judgement against any opinion from humans. However, on the other hand and unfortunately taking kind of very literal and simplistic point of view is unnecessary because all you need is to apply a little critical thinking to find a simple answer to this question.

The King James Bible

Let’s get something clear here. The King James Translation of the Bible is not THE Bible it is one translation of the Bible. So if something is said in the KJV that doesn’t necessiarly mean that the BIBLE says it, it could just be the one translation that puts it that way.

This unicorn conundrum is only a problem in the King James Bible (a translation written in the 1600s and for some reason still really popular today). Let’s take a look at one of the unicorn verses in the King James Bible:

Isaiah 34:7 King James Version
7 And the unicorns shall come down with them, and the bullocks with the bulls; and their land shall be soaked with blood, and their dust made fat with fatness.

And compare that the English Standard Version (a more literal and more modern translation of the Bible)

Isaiah 34:7
Wild oxen shall fall with them,

    and young steers with the mighty bulls.
Their land shall drink its fill of blood,
    and their soil shall be gorged with fat.

Isn’t that interesting? Where the King James says “unicorn,” the more recent Bible translations say, “oxen.” Now, someone who is committed to the King James will say, “the new translations changed the pure King James to make it more acceptable to modern man.” But that’s just not the case. Biblical Hebrew is a very ancient language and there is much about the language that’s gotten confused over the years so as we study the original languages more and our understanding becomes clearer, sometimes it is necessary to update the English translations so that they are closer in meaning to the words and intentions of the original authors of the Bible from the original language. So now as I enjoy doing, let’s look at the Hebrew that is going on behind the scenes.

What’s a Re’em? 

The bones of a unicorn, an aurochs a species of giant cattle that went extinct around the middle ages.

The Hebrew word translated as unicorn in the KJV and oxen in the ESV is re’em and it definitely means oxen. How do we know it means oxen? To understand this let me first explain what a cognate is. Cognates are words in different languages that look the same and have the same meaning. For example the Spanish word “persona” is a cognate of the English word “person” different languages but the words look the same and have the same meaning. Now when we study the languages of the people who lived around Israel in Biblical times we find cognate words and we can then come to know the Biblical language better. In the Akkadian language there is a cognate for the word re’em which is, rimu. Rimu refered to a very specific kind of cattle called aurochs. The aurochs is now extinct but when it was alive it was a kind of giant cattle that lived in Africa, Europe and the middle East.

So where did “Unicorn” come from?

One example of a Babylonian drawing of a rimu which seems to show show them with one horn because the creature is in profile.

In the Greek translation of the Old Testament for some reason re’em was translated as “monokeros ” which literally means “one horn.” They got the idea that the aurochs had one horn from Babylon drawings that showed the oxen in profile and so it appeared they had one horn. Later when the Bible was translated into Latin and then English “monokeros” became “uni-horn” or “unicorn.” And presumably the folks who translated the King James had the one horned rhino in mind when they translated the word this way.

Conclusion
I know that there won’t be many skeptics who look this up and then stop repeating this nonsense against the Bible, they tend to be very close-minded about the Bible. But I hope I’ve at least shown you dear reader that 1) this isn’t a problem with the Bible at all only the King James Translation 2) it’s really easy to see where the misconception comes from and we need not be skeptical about the word of God because of some “unicorn” threat.

Thank you for reading,

6Apr

Should We Hate the Sin, But Love the Sinner?

The wrongs a man does to others correspond to the bad qualities that he himself possesses. “ – Aristotle

It is sometimes said, “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” I agree, but I want to expand on what this should mean. We tend to think of hate or love in very emotional terms. This is natural, but it should not be the emphasis. We’re not called to love the sinner in the sense that our hearts just overflow with deep affection for who they are. After all, suppose someone has a character such that they tend to be very irritable and self-centered. Are we supposed to “love” this sinner while hating the concept of irritability and self-centeredness? It seems impossible to separate the sin from the person.

This is because as Aristotle would say, how a man acts reveal his character. Or as Jesus said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts” (Matthew 15:19). In other words, evil thoughts come from an evil heart. If the heart defines a person, how could we possibly not hate the sinner in the process of hating the sin? We know the heart defines a person because we love people for their characters. Try to imagine your best friend having every character trait removed from him. All you have is an empty shell, a blob of nothing. Is your best friend a blob of nothing? Of course not. So we cannot possibly detach our affections from the person’s character.  Read More »

27Mar

How to Feed the Homeless: Safe, Cheap and Legal

Introduction
Back when I was a confused, selfish teenager I had an experience with God where He asked me to be his “Jesus of Suburbia.” My seldom mission in life has been to represent the character and love of Jesus to my community around me. The biggest part of this has been to put the commands of  Isaiah 58:7 into action, “Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, take in the homeless wanderer and do not turn away your own flesh and blood.” I believe that good deeds create good will within my community and that in turn opens more doors to the good news than it closes.

About half way through college I started to “feed the hungry” at my congregation’s weekly soup kitchen. Two and a half years of being a steady volunteer and donor to that soup kitchen ministry lead me down a road of creating a food-based business that would give jobs to people in desperate need of work. In addition to running this small food business, I worked as a part-time tentmaker job and as a manager for a cafeteria of a factory. When the plant workers go on break, they could come buy breakfast or lunch in the cafe.

Between running my own kitchen and working in the cafeteria, I’ve continued to make feeding the hungry a big part of ministry to my city. I’ve been able to redistribute hundreds of pounds of food to people who need it all on my own. And this year I challenged myself: I wanted to see if it would be possible to provide small, weekly meals to the homeless in my community all without a huge ministry or congregation backing me. We are currently on week 12 of the year and I’ve kept up the small meals with little to no problem. They’ve been as simple as 15 pb&j sandwiches with 2 pounds of potato salad and as complicated as 30 plates of Parmesan chicken with sides of funeral potatoes and green bean casserole.  Read More »

12Mar

Be Disciples That Make Disciples

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Matthew 28:19-20

Every Christian knows about the great commission, but they know little about what it really means. Today the ‘institutionalized’ church has taken this to mean getting baptized, going to church on Sunday, attending a bible study, and sending out specialized units of missionaries to fulfill this command for them. As long as you give some money toward the cause that means you’re okay, right? Wrong. This thinking has led to the destruction of churches, it is nothing but a 21st century way of living comfortably without living Christianly. Read More »

1Mar

Does the Bible Talk About Tattoos?

Christians have a lot of conflicting opinions about tattoos. There is of course that famous Facebook group that claims everyone who gets a tattoo becomes a violent criminal. And then I know plenty of pastors who were out and in the world and got all tatted up but when they started following Jesus they keep the flaming skulls and gang marks for the sake of sharing their testimony. But then there are those of us who were Christian before we got our tattoos. My cousin for instance has a cross that takes up probably 2/3 of his ribs and stomach.

Many people think that tattoos have a clear cut answer and there are typically two answers to this question that people will dogmatically spit out to justify their actions. You’ll find hundreds if not thousands of articles out there that answer this question for you. My purpose here is not to just repeat the normal answers about tattoos but is rather to point out a really interesting fact that not a lot of folks seem to bring up. That being said, let’s first look at the typical answers about tattoos and I’ll tell you what I think of them.  Read More »

26Feb

Did God Have to Create the Universe?

Some argue that God created the universe necessarily, but here I will make the argument that God must have created the universe freely. By freely, I mean that God had ability to do otherwise. To make this argument, I will be assuming that the universe is self-evidently contingent as the Five Ways of Aquinas or Leibniz’s Cosmological Argument demonstrate. The Bible itself seems to affirm that creation is a free act of God: “And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.” (Acts 17:25). Aquinas develops this point rather well:

Since, then, the divine goodness can be without other things, and, indeed, is in no way increased by other things, it is under no necessity to will other things from the fact of willing its own goodness. (Contra Gentiles, Ch 81, 2)

If God was compelled to create, it would be because there was something either in the nature of His own being or in the nature of creation itself that necessitated it. If it was the nature of creation itself that compelled God to create, then this could only be if the divine intellect grasped creation as necessary in itself and therefore something that the perfect will of God must create – otherwise His will would be imperfect for not willing what is necessary. But this obviously cannot be because the universe is contingent. The divine will cannot be necessitated to will what the divine intellect grasps as contingent.

The other option would affirm the contingency of the universe, but would argue that it is the nature of God that necessitates the creation of the universe. The justification here is that it is the nature of goodness to diffuse itself. However, this view implies that God’s nature would be deficient without the creation of the universe. Why must goodness diffuse itself in contingent ways? Goodness itself is by nature necessary and perfect. It would only need to diffuse itself if it is somehow imperfect. Perfection by definition needs nothing but itself. So contrary this view, it follows that God need not have created anything external to Himself.

23Feb

Paper: A Thomistic Defense of the LCA

I wrote this paper under Edward Feser because the LCA is my favorite argument but I thought it could use some Thomistic principles to strengthen it against various objections.
19Feb

So You Want to Be a Philosopher? Here Are 9 Books You Must Read

For those who are aspiring to be a philosopher but have zero experience, it is absolutely crucial to start well. I often hear from people who took a philosophy class that they ended up being more confused than before. This is in part because they’re introduced to conflicting ideas but they’re not shown how to think about these ideas. Ideas are dangerous things; capable of destroying or creating societies. I’ll be honest, I do prefer the classical philosophers over the modern philosophers – which my list will reflect – but I think you can still benefit from it despite this bias by evaluating the ideas for yourself. Without further ado, here are the books that I would recommend reading in the following order:

1. Being Logical, A Guide To Good Thinking by D.Q. McInerny

This book starts off with some key logical concepts that are really just common sense ideas. This is important. Some people mistake philosophy for contrarian pseudo-intellectual ideas. I even met someone who thought the best way to do philosophy was to smoke weed.. That’s not philosophy; that’s either sophistry or stupidity. In my opinion it’s a good idea to start with common sense, or else we’ll end up with nonsense. The author’s lucid yet concise writing style is a role model for all philosophers.

2. Ancient Philosophy (Beginner’s Guides) by William J. Prior

It is crucial to start with the very beginnings of philosophy without being bogged down by technicalities and monotonous details as the more advanced books do. What better place to start than the very origins of philosophy itself? An aspiring philosopher needs to be introduced to ideas and the reasons for those ideas in order to prime their minds for philosophical reasoning.

3. Aquinas (A Beginner’s Guide) by Edward Feser

This book is an absolutely essential introduction to medieval / scholastic philosophy. You’ll become familiar with ideas like form and matter, the four causes, universals, five ways, etc. Personally, this book did the most to transform my philosophical perspective. I felt like a child who was seeing familiar things under a new light for the first time; it literally took my passion for philosophy to a new level. Feser does a great job of communicating the ideas clearly and diffusing common misconceptions that moderns have about Aquinas.  Read More »

12Feb

Why Did God Create the Tree of Good and Evil?

“The Lord God caused to grow out of the ground every tree pleasing in appearance and good for food, including the tree of life in the middle of the garden, as well as the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” (Genesis 2:9)

The standard response, which I shall improve upon here, is that God placed the tree of the knowledge of good and evil to give man a free choice to follow or obey Him. They also add that without it, the fullness of God’s character (e.g, His justice and mercy) would not have been displayed. Thus God allowed man to fall, despite foreknowing what they would freely choose, because He had some greater purpose – namely, the greatest display of His love for mankind through the death of His Son. If the fall had not occurred, we couldn’t have known the full extent of His love. Love that loves the perfect is expected, but love that loves the fallen is completely extraordinary.

Any good story is going to have conflict and through that conflict love displays the greatest acts of courage and sacrifice. Sometimes it ends tragically, such as when a LOTR character named Boromir valiantly dies to protect the hobbits from evil forces, but it is a beautiful tragedy because of the extraordinary good that it displays. Furthermore, if the characters in question were born in a world without challenges to themselves, their paradise would be as artificial as a greenhouse. Proper freedom involves self-mastery over one’s choices and character through tests. Since God values freedom and character-building, He tests man with the tree to see if they’ll reject or obey Him – thereby removing the artificiality of the paradise.  Read More »