What Should Christians Do About the Hitlers of the World?

I have a bad tendency to pick up a book, read aways into it, and then get distracted and not finish it. Today, I picked up my forgotten copy of “What About Hitler?” by Robert W. Brimlow, determined to finish it.

After laying out the case that Jesus calls us to non-violence, and that a Christian cannot logically get around this difficulty, Brimlow finally (near the end of the book, in a very short chapter) tells the reader what Christians should do about the kind of evil which Hitler represents:
“We must live faithfully; we must be humble in our faith and truthful in what we say and do; we must repay evil with good; and we must be peacemakers. This may also mean as a result that the evildoers will kill us. Then, we shall also die. That’s it” (p. 151).
While I would have enjoyed more elaboration on how we can be Christian peacemakers and still be capable of defeating evil via a Christian peace policy, I thoroughly enjoyed this answer. He’s right. As difficult as it might be, we can’t turn our backs on Christ and what He has called us to. If we would dare to implement Christian peace practice into foreign policy (since war has had a dubious effect on fixing the world’s problems), I wonder what kind of change we might evoke. On the other hand, if this fails (from a secular perspective) just as war has failed, we must prepare to die and let God handle the consequences.
If I can say one thing about being a Christian pacifist, it has forced me to examine my faith and trust in God. I have become a better Christian in all areas of my life because of this. God is in control.

I Respond to Sam’s Comments on My View of Hell, Part 1

Oh, it’s on! Online blog debate about hell with my friend and nemesis, Sam. Here is the order of the debate, for those who might be interested in keeping up…

1. My Blog, “Is God Wrathful by Nature?”
2. Sam’s First Blog in Response

In a recent blog I posted (Is God Wrathful by Nature?) my good friend and theological nemesis Sam debated a few of the points I had made and attempted to correct what he saw as a mischaracterization of his position. I suggested that we go back on forth via blog on the subject of hell, where I would argue for a hell which is not eternal, and he would argue for one that is. He recently responded to this challenge.

He mainly went after a statement I had made in our “comment battle” on my “Is God Wrathful” post. Sam stated that because God is infinite, sin against Him must have infinite consequences, and one part of my response was stating that man is not infinite but depends on God, so eternal punishment does not necessarily follow.

He viewed my argument as being man-centered instead of centered around God, creating unbalance. He quoted me as saying, “Just because God is infinite, why would the sin against Him deserve infinite punishment? After all, it is committed by finite agents which have no immortality in and of themselves, and depend on Christ for their continued existence.” I went on to talk about how Scripture seems to argue that God’s wrath does in fact have an end. However, I think I wasn’t entirely clear about what my argument was. I wasn’t attempting to make a man-centered argument against Sam’s God-centered one, but was pointing out certain assumptions Sam was making and asking him why they were necessary. In the next paragraph, I will try to demonstrate the flow of argument that I was attempting to share with Sam:

While annihilation does satisfy eternal consequences for sin (final and eternal death is an infinite consequence), the idea that the punishment must be infinite and conscious because God is infinite does not necessarily follow. After all, man is not inherently infinite but Scripture points out that we depend on God (and more specifically Christ) for our continued existence (2 Tim 1:10, Rom 2:7). If man does not have infinity, why should he have to suffer through it’s duration? Sinful man would only be made to suffer eternally if God sustained Him. God would only sustain the damned person if Sam’s view that a sin deserves conscious eternal punishment was true. But why should we believe this? As I pointed out in our comment battle:
“Isaiah 40:2 seems to say that a person can be punished by God double for their sins, and only during one lifetime. While this is certainly a figure of speech, it points to the fact that there is an end to God’s wrath. I think it would be silly to say that God punishes on both a temporal time scale that can be satisfied and on an infinite one that cannot for the same sin. I say with Isaiah: ‘The heavens vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and they who dwell in it will die in like manner; but my salvation will be forever” (Isaiah 51:6).'”

Furthermore, Sam’s view has another major flaw. Jesus is clear that there are degrees of punishment for sin (Luke 12:47-48, Matthew 5:26, Matthew 18:34), and yet Sam says that sin deserves eternal conscious torment because God is infinite. However, if it takes infinity to suffer for sin, there can be no degrees of punishment. One would have to suffer infinitely all the time to accomodate God’s wrath. Thus, the traditionalist who argues this point consistently has to throw away portions of Scripture. The argument that sin must be punished infinitely and consciously is illogical in the light of Scripture.

Sam also makes two other points I would like to address.

Sam asked, “Why does God not let the wicked into heaven after they have paid for their sins, which only incurred a finite penalty? As James White pointed out, after [their] punishment for their finite sins, they have made propitiation. Why does God then annihilate them?”

I actually heard Dr. White make this point on his podcast recently on reflecting about a debate he had with Roger Forster on Unbelievable radio. He asserts that Forster was unable to satisfactorily answer this question. I haven’t heard the debate, so I can’t attest to that. However, I think the Bible does shed some light on this issue.

We read in Romans that the wages of sin is death (the same message is in the first few chapters of Genesis, although the serpent seems to argue that one can live perpetually as a god even after sin). Because the wages of sin is death, we can say that, in other words, the penalty for sin is annihilation. However, it would hardly be fair to God’s justice if both great and little sinners suffered the exact same fate, so additional punishment is tacked on, as Jesus says in Luke 12:47-48, Matthew 5:26, and Matthew 18:34. Once this additional punishment has been undergone, the final sentence of spiritual death (annihilation) can be given, where the sinner has “paid the last penny” (Mat 5:26) and paid back “all he owed” (Mat 18:34) to God. So, White’s understanding of annihilation has this flaw, but not the position itself.

Sam also accuses me of equivocation, and I believe that he isn’t doing so unfairly, though I would like to explain what I mean by the term “eternal” which the Scripture uses. Here is what Sam had to say:
“Verses that speak of eternal life in Cody’s view refer to eternal life. Those same terms that refer to eternal punishment means a cessation of existence that lasts an eternity. He must add additional premises to account for this, and thus violates Occam’s razor.”

The Scripture which parallels the terms “eternal life” and “eternal punishment” is Matthew 25:46–
“And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (ESV).

The fact that I can get two opposites from the terms “eternal life” and “eternal punishment” appears to be an equivocation (using one term to mean two different things). However, I would like to explain why I do so.

First of all, Matthew 25 is not in a vacuum. The whole of Scripture is inspired, and carries the same message throughout. Sometimes a verse might seem to support one thing, but a clearer Scripture can help to clarify its meaning. I cite numerous passages in my main argument for conditional immortality (click here to read) and feel that the main thrust of the Bible supports my view. This would be one of the few verses that appear at first look to be a “problem verse” for my position.

Second of all, the language Matthew is written in is Greek, not English. So it is important to examine the Greek words used and their range of meaning. For instance, the Greek word for “eternal” is used in Jude verse 7 to say that Sodom and Gomorrah suffered an “eternal fire.” It is obvious that Sodom and Gomorrah are not still burning, so we can see a clear example where “eternal” refers to the consequences of the fire, and not the fire itself (see also Isaiah 34:9-10). On the contrary, 2 Peter 2:6 clarifies for us exactly what Jude is saying:
“by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly…”

So eternal can refer to the consequences of a thing as opposed to the thing itself. Thus, the punishment can have eternal consequences (or for that matter, be eternal itself if the punishment is death) and still support my position. I acknowledge that this verse can be tricky for my position, but I can throw out countless others which would be tricky for Sam’s. The question is, what does the entirety of Scripture say? I believe that the entirety of Scripture points to the destruction of sinners and the salvation and redemption of the elect.

Is God Wrathful by Nature?

I recently had a discussion with my friend Sam about hell and my view of annihilationism (click here to read a summation and points in favor of this view). One of the points he brought up was that if sinners could be totally destroyed, that would seem to stop God from ever being wrathful again, which would make Him “mutable” or able to be affected and changed by outside forces. The problem with this is that God by definition is unchanging and “immutable.”

This reminds me of a lecture I heard from a Sufi Muslim on the Fall of Adam (which can be found at Islamfrominside.com). In this lecture, it is said that Allah desired for Adam to fall, because then Adam could know the names of Allah as it relates to his wrath (Adam had experienced Allah’s mercy in the Garden, but he could not fully know Allah until he knew his wrath).

I think the difficulty with both of these perspectives is that they assume that God is by necessity wrathful. It seems to me that God is not. After all, in the beginning when there was no evil, God had no need to display His wrath and nothing to display it against. It was when satan and mankind fell that God began to show this. Does it make God mutable that He responded to mankind’s sin with His wrath?

Certainly not, because wrath is not a central characteristic of God. If it were, then it’s appearance after sin would be dependent upon man’s actions, making God mutable (as would it subsiding if sinners could be finally destroyed). As Sam and I continued to talk, we agreed that it is holiness and perfection (not wrath) that are central to who God is. God’s holiness is always central to who He is, and wrath is only a manifestation of this attribute when God’s creation acts against Him and His goodness. If God has to be wrathful, that would indicate that there has to be evil, which is contrary to what Christians believe about God, because He existed before all things and is completely good, with no evil in Him.

Now that I have established that God is necessarily holy, but not necessarily wrathful, I ask this question:
Eternal wrath requires that there be something to always punish. However, God is not eternally wrathful, though He is eternally holy and perfect.

So, does eternal holiness and perfection require that sin continue to exist forever so that it can be punished, or does holiness destroy sin from its presence? Be sure to ask Nadab and Abihu the next time you see them.

A Response to Open-Theism

There is a view in evangelical Christianity called Open Theism. It posits that God does not know the future for one of two reasons: Either the future is unknowable to God because it hasn’t happened yet, or it is knowable to God but He has decided to limit His knowledge. My good friend Sam has written a blog on this subject also (click here to see it), in which he deals with the issue from a more philosophical perspective, and specifically attacks the view that the future is unknowable. I encourage everyone to read his thoughts on this issue as well, because he considers points about this view that I don’t. I hope to make one philosophical argument, one argument from end times prophecy, and then show some supporting Scriptures for the traditional view. I want to argue from Scripture that God does in fact know the future clearly. If scripture clearly teaches this doctrine, then Open Theists are arguing against scripture, which is the only common ground Christians have to argue from.

Much of this debate is centered around free will. There is a poor philosophical argument which states that in order for God to know the future, He must be determining it, which would make humans into robots who don’t have any choice in what their actions are. I believe that Open Theists believe this philosophical argument is valid, and so they undercut God’s knowledge in order to save free will. While I can sympathize with their desire to save the Biblical doctrine of free will, their response has done damage to the truth of God’s nature.
God’s Timelessness and Free Will

God created the universe (which is organized by time), so He can interact in time, which only applies to the created universe. Being omnipresent (everywhere), He surely does interact in time. However, He existed before time and before the universe, so He may also look at the universe from outside of it. So while humans feel like they interact with the universe in what philosophers call an A view of time (time moves forward, opening new and unknown possibilities as the future becomes the present), God looks at time, and time is in fact is consistent with, B view, where time is like a yardstick. God can see the beginning from the end, just as we can see the beginning and end of the yardstick and discern them. Just because He knows what we will do doesn’t mean He has fated us to do it. It only means that He is standing at a unique vantage point from which He can see much more than we can. In this respect, God is like the man who is standing on a mountain and can see two cars coming up the opposite sides of a hill (I believe this analogy or one like it is used by philosopher William Lane Craig). The drivers cannot see above the hill, so they have no idea what’s coming their way, but the man on the mountain has perfect perspective and knows exactly what will transpire. This does not mean he makes it happen, although he can throw rocks at the cars, altering the drivers’ responses. Likewise, God interacts in time with us, creating new possibilities (see Jeremiah 18:7-8), all of which He is fully aware of, and which He knows the consequences of.
Thus, God can know the future and humans can still be free.
God’s Prophetic Knowledge of the Future

The Bible is filled with countless prophecies from God, which illustrate His knowledge of the future. Now, this might not faze many open theists who would argue that because God is still infinitely intelligent, He understands the probability of anything happening. So, these open theists would argue, God can “know the future” to some degree based on his understanding of probabilities. However, if God can know even up to the final moments of human history with certainty, then He must know the future exhaustively, because one small free will act of any person could have a huge impact on the future. The tiniest event could start a domino effect which could completely change what God has prophesied. So, in order for God to write in His Word exactly what will happen at the end, He would have to have supreme confidence that it would come to pass. Open Theism does not provide God with this confidence. Only God’s exhaustive knowledge of the future could account for these predictions. Some Open Theists who believe God has purposely limited His knowledge might argue that God has opened his knowledge up to the end times. This makes the whole game pretty speculative, and makes the possibility of meaningful exchange with Open Theists to be unlikely, since they would be arguing from silence about what God may or may not know. Secondly, it would put God back in the business of determining events from their perspective, since knowing the end would be determining it, and would also determine the choices of each human individual who have to act a certain way to make the end happen.
Scriptures Which Support God’s Foreknowledge

“Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”
-Psalm 139:16

This verse teaches that even before a human being is born, God knows what will happen in every day of their lives.
“I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose…'”
-Isaiah 46:9-10

This passage tells us that God knows the beginning from the end, predicting with pinpoint accuracy what will transpire. Furthermore, it declares God’s involvement in time, making His will come to pass even as Israel sins against Him, going after false gods.

“Then the LORD said to Abram, ‘Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for yourself, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.'”
-Genesis 15:13-16
 
This last passage tells us much of God’s foreknowledge. He tells Abram to know for certain that his offspring (the people of Israel) will be slaves for 400 years, the nation that enslaved them will be judged, and the Israel will leave with many possessions, taking over the land of the Amorites when God will no longer be able to put up with the Amorites’ sin. He also tells Abram that he will die at an old age. This tells us a lot. God not only knows that Israel will be enslaved, but He knows for exactly how long. Not only does He know that He will judge the Amorites, He knows exactly when they will have become so perverted with sin that He cannot allow them to go on. And even though Abram lived a rough life in a bloodthirsty time, God knew He would live to a great age. God was not dealing with probabilities, but with certainties.

What Would bin Laden Do?

Note: Updated on May 31, 2013 for style and clarity.

It just hit me that I’m posting this blog on Memorial Day. This isn’t on purpose. I respect the sacrifices of soldiers and appreciate their desire to protect their countrymen and their cherished values. My disagreeing with going to war does not indicate that I do not love or respect the troops who go to war. Even so, I believe I am sharing both the truth of reason and revelation when I write on this topic. If you disagree, I’d love to hear your feedback!

For those out there who have been following my blog, you probably understand by now that I am sympathetic to Christian pacifism. I do not feel that the traditional Christian “just war” position is morally or biblically justifiable, let alone can be rationally and consistently held. What I would like to do in this essay is demonstrate three things:
1. Osama bin Laden and the Arab world have good reasons to be angry toward the United States and our foreign policy.
2. We also have good reasons to be angry toward those who have attacked us. Interestingly, many of them are quite similar to the reasons Osama bin Laden has cited. However, our “good reasons” justify going to war in our eyes, even though we dismiss these same “good reasons” when al Qaeda uses them. This is illogical and shows a fatal flaw in the justifications we use for going to war.
3. No “good reason” we may offer is worth cutting off our enemies from the love of Christ, or making war and justifying hatred against them.

What is a “Just War?”

There are several criteria for a “just war,” both in why a war should be declared, and how it should be fought. Here are a few of the main criteria (quoted and adapted from Thomas Aquinas’ section on “The Just War” in his Summa Theologica) for why a war may be undertaken (called “jus ad bellum” criteria) according to just war principles:

1. Legitimate authority. According to Thomas, a war may be just, “In the first place, the authority of the prince, by whose order the war is undertaken; for it does not belong to a private individual to make war, because, in order to obtain justice, he can have recourse to the judgment of his superior…” In other words, only duly constituted public authorities may wage war– a nation can wage war, not just a gang of kids off the street or a terrorist organization, according to this principle.

2. Just cause. According to Thomas, “in the second place, there must be a just cause; that is to say, those attacked must have, by a fault, deserved to be attacked.” Innocent life must be in imminent danger and intervention must be to protect life. Apart from protecting innocent life, this principle has been expanded to also deal with violations of human rights. Many theorists have also included as part of this rule that any authority which uses its power to stop a people from controlling its own political destiny can justly be made war against. Thus, Hitler’s invasion of nations to bring them under the flag of Nazi Germany was a cause for war based on this definition, as was (arguably), the United States’ recent invasion of Iraq.

3. Right intention. Says Thomas, “in the third place, it is necessary that the intention of those who fight should be right; that is to say, that they propose to themselves a good to be effected or an evil to be avoided. This is what made St. Augustine say in the book De Verbis Domini: ‘With the true servants of God wars themselves are pacific, not being undertaken through cupidity or cruelty, but through the love of peace, with the object of repressing the wicked and encouraging the good.'” Force may be used only in a truly just cause and solely for that purpose—correcting a suffered wrong is considered a right intention, while material gain or maintaining economies is not. Based on this principle, America invading Iraq to free its citizens from a tyrannical leader, or to stop a madman from launching WMDs, would be the right intention. However, if it could be shown that economic benefit was the true reason, this would not be the right intention, but would be a violation of just war principles.

4. Last resort. Just war theorists succeeding Thomas also added the criteria of last resort. Force may be used only after all peaceful and viable alternatives have been seriously tried and exhausted or are clearly not practical. This was a controversy with the recent Iraq invasion, because many claimed that we rushed to war, whereas the administration defended its position by pointing out Hussein’s lack of interest in working with U.N. weapons inspectors up to that point. This was also a controversy in America’s atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II.

Similarly, there have been traditionally defined basic principles that ought to govern a war once it has been declared (jus in bello). Two of the most prominent just in bello criteria are:

1. Distinction. The acts of war should be directed towards enemy combatants, and not towards non-combatants. Thus, bombing civilian residential areas that include no military target or acts of terrorism against ordinary civilians are forbidden in a “just war.” In the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, those cities were of military advantage (Hiroshima being an army depot and Nagasaki being a large seaport and also an area of production of military equipment), however, an appalling number of civilians were killed by these bombings. This brings us to the second criteria.

2. Proportionality. Even if an attack is upon a military objective, if the incidental civilian casualties would be in excess of the anticipated military advantage, this would not be an act undertaken as part of a “just war.” Even though the atomic bombings of Japan were clearly targeted against civilians (and the bombing of Hiroshima was not preceded by warning Japanese civilians as previous bombings had been), it was hoped that the extreme casualties accrued in the bombings would be justifiable because they would force Japan into surrender– the greatest “military advantage.” So we see that even though targeting civilians in war is considered highly unethical, we have made allowances for this practice when we felt it was to our benefit, or when we felt that we were forced to do something drastic based on the unjust attacks of others.

Bin Laden’s “Just War”

After 9/11, a common explanation from American leaders as to why al Qaeda did what they did was because “they hate our freedom.” To clear up their justifications, Osama bin Laden wrote a “Letter to America” (full text here) in November of 2002. He directly responded to the question, “why are we fighting and opposing you?” This (edited down for length) was his response:

“Because you attacked us and continue to attack us. You attacked us in Palestine. You attacked us in Somalia; you supported the Russian atrocities against us in Chechnya, the Indian oppression against us in Kashmir, and the Jewish aggression against us in Lebanon… As for the war criminals which you censure and form criminal courts for – you shamelessly ask that your own are granted immunity!! However, history will not forget the war crimes that you committed against the Muslims and the rest of the world; those you have killed in Japan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Lebanon and Iraq will remain a shame that you will never be able to escape. It will suffice to remind you of your latest war crimes in Afghanistan, in which densely populated innocent civilian villages were destroyed, bombs were dropped on mosques causing the roof of the mosque to come crashing down on the heads of the Muslims praying inside…

Under your supervision, consent and orders, the governments of our countries which act as your agents, attack us on a daily basis… The freedom and democracy that you call to is for yourselves and for white race only; as for the rest of the world, you impose upon them your monstrous, destructive policies and Governments, which you call the ‘American friends’. Yet you prevent them from establishing democracies. When the Islamic party in Algeria wanted to practice democracy and they won the election, you unleashed your agents in the Algerian army onto them, and to attack them with tanks and guns, to imprison them and torture them…

You steal our wealth and oil at paltry prices because of your international influence and military threats. Your forces occupy our countries; you spread your military bases throughout them; you corrupt our lands, and you besiege our sanctities, to protect the security of the Jews and to ensure the continuity of your pillage of our treasures. You have starved the Muslims of Iraq, where children die every day. It is a wonder that more than 1.5 million Iraqi children have died as a result of your sanctions, and you did not show concern. Yet when 3000 of your people died, the entire world rises and has not yet sat down.

These tragedies and calamities are only a few examples of your oppression and aggression against us. It is commanded by our religion and intellect that the oppressed have a right to return the aggression. Do not await anything from us but Jihad, resistance and revenge. Is it in any way rational to expect that after America has attacked us for more than half a century, that we will then leave her to live in security and peace?!!”

While many may disagree with bin Laden’s assessment of the difficult and complicated Israeli/Palestinian situation (as well as other political situations he refers to), the position bin Laden advocates is very much in line with the “just war” approach, and even more like the version of it America has advocated. Bin Laden gave reasons for war against America, such as innocent life our military has taken and our government’s political oppression of Arabs, which fall very much in line with the “just cause” principle. As for the principle of right intention, he sought to correct what he perceived as American evils against the Arab world. He was also doing so as a last resort. He felt that America would not listen, but had turned a blind eye to the plight of the Arab people. Thus, he sought a violent means to get our attention.

It is true that al Qaeda is not an officially recognized government, which would exclude it from being considered under just war criteria. However, his very argument was that the United States had oppressed the opportunity for Arab political sovereignty, so that a just war could not be declared. Secondly, even Arab states that might desire to correct these perceived wrongs would not, because the military might of the United States is so that no matter what evils we engaged in, there would hardly be a nation brave enough to fight back. Most importantly, the United States was founded by men who resisted the rightly established political authority, seeking to secede from the power structure and create their own political destiny, even using violence. So the United States must even make an allowance for this, or else we cannot rightly make war according to this criterion.

It is true that bin Laden targeted civilians, but so have we. We did so in Hiroshima and Nagasaki because we felt that Japan would not make for peace with us if we did not act strongly against its people, getting its attention and forcing them to hear our demands for change. And based on the concept of proportionality (that the cost of civilian deaths must be worth the military advantage they bring), it would not be difficult for bin Laden to justify his attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon if he were to appeal to this principle as we have (50,000-60,000 non-combatants killed in Hiroshima compared to 3,000 non-combatants on 9/11). Even so, bin Laden offered an interesting justification for not using the principle of “distinction” when it came to targeting non-military individuals. His rationale was that America is a representative democracy where we claim that the government is instituted for and by the people. Thus, America as a whole must approve of its government’s foreign policy as it relates to the Arab people. According to this concept, American civilians are in fact guilty of our nation’s alleged crimes.

If this modified “just war” view which the Western world (along with the United States) has created, is truly just, then we may not refer to bin Laden’s actions as evil. He is in fact in the same camp with many of our own leaders.

It is also a fact that this letter calls America to Islam and Shariah law as well calling us to change in our foreign policy. Bin Laden demands that these conditions be met for peace, which truly makes him a theocrat who cannot easily be negotiated with, as America cannot rightly enforce Islamic Shariah law. However, his initial reasons for making war with the United States are political and not religious, and many of them are very understandable, though his actually making war cannot be justified from a Christian standpoint.

Conclusion

The reasons bin Laden gave for his attack are very much like the justifications we have used in the past. We went to war against Britain in the 1700s because we felt their political power over us was oppressive. Many lives were lost on both sides due to this battle over the political and economic power that many American people desired and felt was worth going to war for.

In August of 1945, U.S. President Harry Truman ordered the atomic bombings of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Over 200,000 people (mostly civilians) were killed directly or indirectly (via radiation) by the end of 1945 due to these bombings. In contrast, nearly 3,000 people were killed on September 11th of 2001 due to the actions of al Qaeda. Both the actions of Harry Truman and of Osama bin Laden are absolutely, and inarguably, evil.

Jesus has called Christians to a standard that is different from the standards which the world creates. He has asked us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44). He has asked us to be merciful (Matthew 5:7) and make peace (Matthew 5:9). He has asked us not to fight (Matthew 5:38-39), but to forgive, and that any man who does not forgive the one who sins against him, God will not offer Him forgiveness (Matthew 6:15). We are a part of a new and better Kingdom, and we do not go to war like the soldiers of this kingdom (John 18:36). Instead, we are to be like Christ.
However, instead of asking “What Would Jesus Do?” when it comes to war, Western Christians have been asking, for all intents and purposes, “What Would bin Laden Do?”

“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’ When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”
1 Peter 2:21-23

Is It Illustrative That I’m Worried About Posting This?

“I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a shit. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.”
– Tony Campolo

Nietzsche, God, and the Rise of the godmen

Nietzsche tells this story of the madman (edited for length)–

Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly: “I seek God! I seek God!”—As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. Has he got lost? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? emigrated?—Thus they yelled and laughedThe madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. “Whither is God?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him—you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning?

“How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us—for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto.”

Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke into pieces and went out. “I have come too early,” he said then; “my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than most distant stars—and yet they have done it themselves.

Nietzsche, himself not a fan of God, relates this parable of modern man “killing God,” removing God from their view of the world. God, who gave the world meaning and kept it centered. We have killed Him and thus have unchained ourselves from our source of light.

Nietzsche knew that if man removes God, he must attempt to take His place. Since from God comes meaning, morality, and truth, and He has been killed by a world who feels they have no more need for Him, we must invent this ourselves. We must light puny lanterns during the day to give us light to see since the source of all light has been diminished by us.

“Dead are all the gods: now do we desire the overman to live.”
—Nietzsche, trans. Thomas Common, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Part I, Section XXII,3

When men take the place of God, what are the consequences?

Throughout history, even in Christian circles, when men take the authority of God onto themselves, we have met with disaster. How much more when the Christian God is wiped out from the social conscience? The Christian God who says that all men and women, of every color, are made in His image and deserve life and love. The Christian God who tells us what is wrong and how we should behave toward one another. What are the consequences of His “death,” as powerful men ascend the ladder to take his place?

Instead of sharing my thoughts, I’d rather submit this for you to think about. Anyone who would like to leave their thoughts as a comment is welcome.

Augustine’s Case for “Just War”

That great church father and “just war” supporter, Augustine, had this to say (among other things) in justifying war:

“What is the evil in war?
Is it the death of some who will soon die in any case, that others may live in peaceful subjection? This is mere cowardly dislike, not any religious feeling. The real evils in war are love of violence, revengeful cruelty, fierce and implacable enmity, wild rebelliousness, and the lust of power, and such like; and it is generally to punish these things, when force is required to inflict the punishment, that, in obedience to God or some lawful authority, good men undertake wars” (Contra Faustum 22).

There are three points I would like to deal with here that Augustine makes:
1. War is excusable because the person you kill will die soon anyway, and fighting wars will bring a peaceful society.
2. The real evil in war is not killing, but the hateful attitude.
3. Going to war is done in obedience to God or a lawful authority instituted by God.

On points 1 and 2, I would encourage my Christian friends to consider abortion. Is abortion not taking the life of a human being who will die some day anyway? As to point two, most women don’t destroy their babies out of anger, but to achieve a “higher and better end,” don’t they? Killing a child who can’t be fully supported, or who will get in the way of the mother having a fulfilled and peaceful life, couldn’t be wrong, could it? I submit that if you take Augustine’s reasoning seriously, you would have to apply it to abortion, something that most Christians rightfully would denounce and feel disgusted by.

“And when we say that those women who use drugs to bring on abortion commit murder, and will have to give an account to God for the abortion, on what principle should we commit murder? For it does not belong to the same person to regard the very fœtus in the womb as a created being, and therefore an object of God’s care, and when it has passed into life, to kill it…”
(Athenagoras, 177 A.D. A Plea for the Christians, chapter 35.)

That being said, abortion and war are both evils, but God will judge the heart of those who engage in it, so the attitude behind the action is important from a judgment standpoint. However, it does not change the evil of the action.

On point three, isn’t Augustine using circular reasoning? Whether or not war is obeying God or “lawful authority” is PRECISELY what is under debate. If God tells us that as disciples of Christ we must not fight in wars, then Augustine’s third point is complete moot. And if God has ordered us to not kill, then any authority which asks us to kill our fellow man is doing so against God’s decree and is anything but lawful.

Is Isaiah 53 About the Messiah?

A Jewish Interpretation

Isaiah 53 is one of the most quoted passages by Christians from the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible/Old Testament) as prophesying about Jesus. The most significant portion from this chapter is as follows:
“He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of G-d, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth” (Isaiah 53:3-7).

It is a popular belief in Rabbinic Judaism that this passage is not about Messiah at all, but about the nation of Israel. However, even though Jewish apologists state emphatically that Jews do not interpret this passage as being about Messiah, up until the Middle Ages many rabbis believed (with some diversity of interpretations) that this passage was indeed about the Messiah and not Israel. Yefeth ben Ali in the 10th century interpreted the passage this way: “G-d caused these sicknesses to attach themselves to the Messiah for the sake of Israel. . . . The nation deserved from G-d greater punishment than that which actually came upon them, but not being strong enough to bear it. . . G-d appoints his servant to carry their sins, and by doing so lighten their punishment in order that Israel might not be completely exterminated.”

R. Elijah de Vidas in the 16th century took this teaching even further. He taught that, “Since the Messiah bears our iniquities which produce the effect of His being bruised, it follows that whoso will not admit that the Messiah thus suffers for our iniquities, must endure and suffer for them himself.” In the same century, Rabbi Moshe Alshekh said that “our Rabbis with one voice accept and affirm the opinion that the prophet is speaking of the King Messiah, and we ourselves also adhere to the same view.”

Even the Zohar, the most significant book in Kabbalistic (Jewish Mysticism) literature supports the idea that Isaiah was referring to Messiah in his 53rd chapter. Zohar II, 212a says that if the Messiah had not, “lightened [Israel’s every pain and chastisement] upon Himself, there had been no man able to bear Israel’s chastisements for the transgressions of the law; as it is written, ‘surely our sicknesses he has carried.'” This mirrors the Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 98b, Soncino edition), which says:
“The Rabbis said: [the Messiah’s] name is ‘the leper scholar,’ as it is written, Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of God, and afflicted.”

Another Jewish tradition tells us that one of the Messiah’s chief missions is to suffer for the sins of Israel. We read that, “[G-d told Messiah] the conditions [of his future mission], and said to him: ‘Those who are hidden with you [your generation] their sins will in the future force you into an iron yoke… and because of their sins your tongue will cleave to the roof of your mouth. Do you accept this?’ … [Messiah said to G-d]: ‘Master of the Worlds! With gladness in my soul and with joy in my heart I accept it, so that not a single one of Israel should perish; and not only those who will be alive should be saved in my days, but even the dead who died from the days of Adam the first man until now… This is what I want, this is what I accept!’” (Pes. Rab. Pp. 161a-b)

A Contradiction

The sages of old debated the issue of the coming of Messiah. Early in the debate, they realized that there seemed to be contradictions about the Messiah in the Scriptures. For instance, there were two different descriptions in the Tanakh of how Messiah would come. Thus, some came to this conclusion: “If [Israel] will be righteous, [the Messiah will come] on the clouds of heaven (Daniel 7:13); if they will not be righteous, [he will come] as a poor man riding upon an ass (Zech 9:9)” (B. Sanh. 98a).
It was also difficult to reconcile those passages that taught Messiah would die for Israel’s sins (Isaiah 53, Zech 12:10) and those that taught He would rule an eternal kingdom (Psalm 45:6-7, Daniel 7:14). Eventually, the idea that there must be two Messiahs emerged—Messiah son of Joseph (who would suffer as Joseph suffered) and Messiah son of David (who will rule as David ruled). It was believed that in the end of time, Messiah son of Joseph would be slain and Messiah son of David would then rise up— “And he (Armilus—anti-Messiah) will slay Messiah ben Joseph and it will be a great calamity for Israel… [Those of Israel who have no faith will say], ‘this is the man for whom we have hoped; now he came and was killed and no redemption is left for us…’ And to those who are left… Messiah ben David will reveal himself” (Patai, Messiah Texts).
Instead of two different Messiahs, which is never an idea stated in the Tanach, why not one Messiah with two different missions and thus two different comings? Why should Messiah not come in both ways (Zech 9, Daniel 7) instead of part of G-d’s holy word not being fulfilled? Isaiah 52 gives us the answer: Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high. As many were astonished at thee; his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men.”
Messiah will be brought high and rule over the world. But first, he will suffer and die for our sins to provide the atonement which was hinted at in the Temple system. This is the only solution which takes into consideration all of Scripture, and has a lot more in common with traditional Jewish interpretations than what many Rabbis teach today.
But who is this Messiah? Could it be the one whom Christians call Jesus but His earliest followers referred to as Yeshua? Could it be the one whom, like Joseph was left for dead by his brothers, raised up to be the savior of the Gentiles, and will one day open the eyes of his Jewish brothers to show them that he is their living savior as well? As G-d tells us in Zechariah 12:10, in the day of G-d’s judgment on the nations:
“I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn.”

The Dark Knight and Christ’s Substitutionary Atonement

I know I’m posting kind of late about what has long ago been a cultural phenomenon, but I felt like I had made an interesting discovery and wanted to share it. There’s a theme in the film that I’m not sure was intended. There seems to be a strong Christian parallel of Batman, Joker, and Harvey Dent with Jesus, Satan, and Adam respectively.

The Joker is unique as a villain because he doesn’t have some sob story to rationalize why he does what he does. He simply loves to hurt people. However, killing people is not necessarily his main focus. In fact, he would gladly face death himself if he could bring Batman or Dent into sin, ruining whatever good is in them.

Harvey Dent, the squeaky clean district attorney of Gotham, shares an important characteristic with Adam– he starts off good, but is led away by the Joker, constantly being torn between his original good nature and the evil nature that has taken over. Finally, he completely demolishes all of the morals he once believed in. That’s where Batman (as a type of Christ) steps in.

Although I can’t say Batman shares a lot of characteristics with Jesus, he at least shares three– he is the last source of moral order in a world gone wrong, he doesn’t succumb to Joker’s temptations, and he takes Harvey Dent’s place by putting his sin upon himself. This seems to me to be a clear parallel of substitutionary atonement– Christ taking on our sins and allowing himself to be punished so we can be declared righteous (justified).

Making Jesus the Center.