Steve Stewart was a music pastor in a large Evangelical church who's now a freethinker. This is Part 3 in a series of posts from a paper he wrote [See tag below for others].
JESUS OF NAZARETH
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. -Hebrews 13:8
1 John 3:8 says, ”The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” What works of the devil did He destroy? Isn’t there as much or more evil in the world now than before Jesus came?
Jesus said that His Father “has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners…to release the oppressed” (Luke 4:18-19). Why doesn’t Jesus bring about the freeing of the 30 million exploited and powerless captives who are being held in slavery throughout the earth?
The Jews were punished because they rejected and killed Jesus. But what if they hadn’t? The whole doctrine of Redemption through Jesus’ blood would be null and void.
When Jesus said, “Take no thought for the morrow,” (Matthew 6:34) didn’t he realize how many people would take him literally and therefore foolishly make no preparations for the future? Shouldn’t He have qualified that statement?
Why doesn’t Jesus multiply loaves and fishes (Matthew 14:13-21) again to provide food for the 17,000 children all over the planet who die from hunger and starvation each and every day?
Why doesn’t Jesus again say “Peace! Be Still” (Mark 4:39) to the tornados, floods, hurricanes and typhoons that have been devastating the earth God made and killing its inhabitants?
Why doesn’t Jesus extend His healing hand in Haiti to strike down Cholera, which has stricken more than 660,000 people resulting in more than 8,300 deaths in the last few years?
How is it possible that Jesus said “Let the little children to come to me” (Matthew 19:14) and also that the Holy Spirit inspired, “Happy is the one who seizes his infants and dashes them against the rocks.” (Psalm 137:9)?
I recently read the following in a blog. I had never thought along these lines before, but it reminded me of another question: If Jesus could heal the blind man, why didn’t he cure blindness? Why didn’t he tell people how to avoid contracting various diseases?
It’s one of the most overlooked questions in the Christian world, the stuff of nightmares for Sunday school teachers, Christian philosophers, and hungry amateur apologists across the planet: If Jesus was God, why didn’t he say anything new or even marginally useful?
In the roughly 12,000 days this self-named Middle Eastern God walked the earth he didn’t once mention bacteria, pasteurization, or the importance of dental hygiene. In the roughly 1,000 sunlit days Jesus was on his ministry, speaking to sets of desperately eager ears, he didn’t once explain the sun, the composition of the atmosphere, clouds, or sooth people’s fears of the terrifying blights of lightning and thunder. In the roughly 1,000 long, long television-free nights Jesus had to say something new or useful, he didn’t once look up and explain to his friends the moon (and the tides), the stars, the planets, our position in the solar system, the galaxy, the nature of gravity, light, radiation, or on a more practical note, dispense the formula for sun block. In the three years of his ministry he didn’t point anyone in the direction of morphine, teach a soul about the nature of asthma, epilepsy, genetics, the periodic table, volcanology, the causes of headaches, muscle cramps, prenatal care, plate tectonics, architecture, evolution, or tell a single living being about the science of corrective-optics. He didn’t mention anything about better, faster, safer forms of transportation, communication technology, math, the metric system, a new swimming technique, scuba diving, blast furnaces, magnetic compasses, quartz watches, wind turbines, the wonders of reinforced concrete, ball bearings, immunization, New Zealand, the physics of flight, thermal dynamics, podiatry, water purification, desalination, stainless steel, umbrellas, telescopes, microscopes, macroeconomics, paper, washing machines, tupperware, bicycles, bras, buttons, refrigeration, or even introduce a single new spice to spruce up otherwise bland Judean recipes. In the 290,000 hours he had to say something new or useful, he made no mention of the link between mosquitos and malaria, representative democracy, or even electricity. Flushable toilets, a technology based on gravity alone, would have saved thousands of lives lost to dysentery and cholera in the time of his alleged ministry, and tens of millions in the two millennia since. In all of the 1,740,000 minutes he had to say something new or marginally useful, Jesus didn’t utter a solitary constructive word about weather stations, a global language like Esperanto, a world map, or even the wonders of vulcanized rubber; a certain showstopper in the age of sandals.
To have spoken of any of these things, things unknown to 1st Century Palestine, would have been remarkable evidence for his existence and claims. Not saying any of it is more than just a little pathetic. Three year ministry and not a single helpful titbit was offered up by this Palestinian rabbi as he moved about on his purported sojourn on the earthy plateau; a journey we’re told that was rather oddly limited to about 90km2 on a 508,000,000km2 planet, and which somehow miraculously missed all political, philosophical, and scientific hotbeds of the day.
Indeed, speaking some 500 years after the Greek atomists (Leucippus and Democritus) first scratched at a greater understanding of the natural world, Jesus failed entirely to say a word or two about the nature of reality, subatomic particles, or fusion which would not only have been useful, eventually, but utterly astonishing to later audiences. 600 years before Jesus spun his sometimes poetic but otherwise quite bland parables, Aesop’s was telling much, much better stories infused with real practical advice. 500 years before Jesus, Confucius’s worldly wisdom (“Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves”) puts the Palestinian rabbi’s efforts to shame. In all truth, Jesus’ only moment of presenting something genuinely useful, something which could be practically applied by people across all cultures and all time, the so-named Golden Rule, was plagiarized. The concept dates back to the Egyptian Middle Kingdom (c. 2040–1650 BCE) “Now this is the command: Do to the doer to cause that he do thus to you.” It also emerged in the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi (1780 BCE), as well as in the Mahabharata (8th Century BCE) “The knowing person is minded to treat all beings as himself,” in Homer’s Odyssey (6th century BCE), “I will be as careful for you as I will be for myself in the same need,” 6th century BCE Taoism, “Regard your neighbour’s gain as your own gain, and your neighbour’s loss as your own loss,” in 5th century BCE Confucianism, “Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself,” in 4th century BCE Mohism, “For one would do for others as one would do for oneself,” and was even articulated by the Greek, Pittacus (640–568 BCE), who said: “Do not do to your neighbour what you would take ill from him.”
Even the much touted Beatitudes delivered at the Sermon on the Mount (the first will be last and the last first) is nothing but a poetic re-hash of the concepts of cosmic justice first articulated by Laozi, Rishabha and Mahavira (Jainism), and Siddhartha Gautama, amongst other mystics and thinkers long, long before.
The thought to be “revolutionary idea” of turning the other cheek is, in fact, an ancient utterance. Lao Tzu, said it this way: I treat those who are good with goodness. And I also treat those who are not good with goodness. Thus goodness is attained. Zhuangzi said it this way: Do good to him who has done you an injury. Rishabha said it this way: My Lord! Others have fallen back in showing compassion to their benefactors as you have shown compassion even to your malefactors. All this is unparalleled. Mahavira said it this way: Man should subvert anger by forgiveness, subdue pride by modesty, overcome hypocrisy with simplicity, and greed by contentment. In Hinduism it’s said this way: A superior being does not render evil for evil; this is a maxim one should observe; the ornament of virtuous persons is their conduct. One should never harm the wicked or the good or even criminals meriting death. A noble soul will ever exercise compassion even towards those who enjoy injuring others or those of cruel deeds when they are actually committing them–for who is without fault? And Siddhartha Gautama said it this way: Conquer anger by love. Conquer evil by good. Conquer the stingy by giving. Conquer the liar by truth.
Even the role Jesus said he was playing, that of messiah, was anything but new. As early as a thousand years before, Zoroaster (who also taught equality irrespective of gender, race, or religion) had spoken of the Saoshyant; the saviour figure who was referred to as the World Renovator and Victorious Benefactor who will defeat “the evil of the progeny of the biped” and establish the Kingdom of Good Thought (righteousness).
OUR PLACE IN GOD’S PLAN
Fight the good fight of the faith. -1 Timothy 6:12
But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. -Galatians 4:4-5
I was given no choice about being born on this planet. Why am I compelled to participate in the stressful great fight against Satan and all the evil results of his work on the earth? I had nothing to do with his rise to power that happened sometime in the far distant past.
What value during this present life on earth is spiritual adoption (Romans 8 & 9; Galatians 4; Ephesians 1)? Does God as our adoptive father take care of us any better than before we were His? Or better than others that are not His? Is there any evidence of this?
HEAVEN AND ANGELS, HELL AND DEVILS
Since God is omniscient, He had to know that Lucifer would lead a rebellion against Him at some point. Since God is omnipotent, why did He let him? How do we know this has not happened with other angels since the time the Bible was compiled 2000 years ago?
Since God is omniscient, He knew that Adam would fall into sin, and the whole human race after him. So why did God even create a being that He knew would be so rebellious to Him that the man’s sentence/punishment is to be eternally damned/tortured by God?
Did God really elect eons ago (or before time) some of us humans to eternal life and some to eternal perdition (Ephesians 1:4-6)? If so, why do people need to take a step of faith, believing in Christ and His sacrificial death to be saved?
Where is Heaven, really? The Bible says is it UP (John 3:13, 31). Is it a physical place that takes up space? When the Bible was written most people thought the earth was flat, so “up” was “high above the earth somewhere” But “UP” depends on what time of day, what day of the year, etc.
What are we to make of “Near Death Experiences” people claim to have? Some think these constitute proof of heaven. However, since each person “witnesses” something different, based on their particular religious beliefs, are these not just the result of the kind of brain activity that typically occurs when the body is shutting down, as neuroscientists assert?
Are angels still active? I don’t know of any Christian encountering an angel since they were written about in the Bible.
My present life on earth seems to offer so many opportunities of beauty and enjoyment. But I get the impression from the Bible that we should really be thinking mostly in terms of the afterlife – where we will be when our physical lives have come to an end on this planet. Is that what God had in mind when we were born - to think of ourselves as orphans hanging out in a bus terminal for + or - 70 years waiting to be taken to our REAL home?
How is a person to tell if an occurrence in life is from God or Satan? Some say all the “bad” stuff is from Satan; others say God sent it to teach us something.
We are taught in 1 Thess 4: “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”
However, when we think about relatives who are NOT saved, we can be overcome by the worst despair possible, because according to our theology, they will be eternally tortured by burning forever and ever
1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment.”
So then why is fear of God the beginning of wisdom (Psalm 111:10)? If God loves us as much as the Bible says He does, why should people be afraid of His punishment?
The Bible says that God will come to judge the world with equity. (Psalm 98:9) How can it be equitable to torture any of His highest creation forever in burning hell for misdeeds during a brief time on this planet?
Will the “final judgment” be the “sheep and goats” separation that Jesus talked about (Matthew 25) or the Great White Throne that St. John referred to (Revelation 20:11-15)?
The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises
and faithful in all he does. -Psalm 145:13b
and faithful in all he does. -Psalm 145:13b
Are we Christians supposed to use defense mechanisms such as denial in order to be true to the Bible? When we start to think God is not keeping His promises, we typically go into denial about it and chalk it up to our inability to understand God and His ways.
Why are Senior pastor successions in significant Evangelical churches so messy? Besides our own church, I think of Bethel Church in Evansville, Northwoods Church in Evansville, Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, and Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, to name a few. Are church boards really not praying for His direction, is God not giving it, are they not listening, or are they just stubbornly choosing to disregard His leading?
Why is it so difficult to determine which specific spiritual gift(s) God has given someone? Why do we need to use questionnaires, surveys, guessing games, trial and error, etc. to try to figure them out?
What is the legitimate basis for modern Evangelicals to totally ignore St. Paul’s proscribing headcoverings for women and short hair length for men (1 Corinthians 11:1-16), since the reasons he gave were not cultural?
When did God change his mind about women speaking in the church assembly (1 Cor 14:34-38)?
If there is authority and power in a relationship with God (Matt 28:18; Acts 1:8; 4:33), why would we need so many “fun” activities and smoke and lights and theatrics and technological “wizardry” to attract people to our churches and the gospel message?
My city has countless churches. Most of them seem to be independent from the others – communities unto themselves. Even those which are conservative and evangelical seldom want to co-operate with each other. Many have skeletons in their closets of immorality or impropriety or dishonesty or coercion by leadership. Congregants have left churches due to character flaws of pastors or elders. Many churches make minor considerations into major issues which separate them from other churches. How do all of these things square with Jesus’ prayer that all his followers be one?
Since God was so prescriptive about exactly how the Tabernacle and Temple were to be constructed, does He have no opinion about the look of houses of worship since that time?
Why do pastors so frequently change the sermon topics they previously “felt led” to announce? Was God not really leading them at first, or did He change His mind? Or?
OUR FATHER, WHO ART IN HEAVEN
Is it wrong to expect God to perfectly and consistently live up to qualities and perfections attributed to him by the Bible? If not, why does He stand by and do nothing to prevent thousands of helpless little children on this planet from dying every day with the excruciating pain of starvation, dehydration and disease?
In recent years, Christian leaders talk a lot about the worth of each individual, because of being made in the image of God. But is that how the God of the Bible sees people?
- Numbers 31 - God ordered the Israelites to completely massacre the Midianites. Moses was angry that they neglected to kill the women and boys. So they went back and murdered all the boys and non-virgin women.
- Deuteronomy 2:31-35; 3:1-7 - Moses reports that, at God's orders, the Israelites had murdered all the men, women and children of Sihon's country and in all six cities of Basham.
- Deuteronomy 20:16-18 - God commanded the Israelites to completely destroy every breathing thing [that includes people, of course] among the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.
- Deuteronomy 25:17-19- God orders the Israelites to "blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!" They did not forget, and obediently carried this out under King Saul (1 Samuel 15:1-8).
- Joshua 6:21 - Israelite warriors "devoted [Jericho] to the LORD and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it - men and women, young and old, cattle sheep and donkeys."
- Joshua 8:24-25; 10:30-33 - at God's behest, Israelite warriors killed everyone in the city of Ai. Libnah and Lachish.
Would not all of these occurrences be considered by definition to be ethnic cleansing and genocide - the most evil act that can be committed against a group of human beings? Why are those many incidents of brutal mass murder any more acceptable then than they are now by the likes of Adolph Hitler, Pol Pot and Bashar al-Assad?
And the One who ordered and commanded those horrific acts, and has done nothing TO THIS VERY DAY to prevent the grievous continuation of such acts in modern history - is this not whom Christians worship with lavish amounts of money, time, songs, devotion, liturgies, sermons, litanies, prayers, fasting, architecture?
Does this not seem absolutely absurd? And does such a being even exist?