Faithfulness Does Matter

If God Be For Us, Who Can Be Against Us?

As Paul teaches us in the above quote from Ro­mans 8:31, when we put our absolute faith and trust in God, we will not need to worry or fear whatever happens in our lives. In understanding the providential care and power of God, we may learn several great lessons that the Bible illustrates.

matter

Faithfulness Does Matter. God Triumphs Over Evil

First, numbers do not matter. In a world filled with wickedness to the point that God was determined to de­stroy it, He found one faithful man named Noah and his family. The wickedness described among the countless millions of people (as many have estimated) compared to the faithfulness of Noah probably was indescribable. God could have very well killed Noah also, “but Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord” (Gen. 6:8). Think about one family among so many wicked. Moreover, we learn this lesson from Abraham in Genesis 14, who took his army of 318 trained servants and rescued Lot among all the people captured in the war of four kings versus five kings. Because of this glorious victory among so many nations, not only did the five kings come to meet Abraham, but also Melchizedek, king of Salem, came to meet this hero. In addition, we learn this lesson from Gideon in Judges 7. God Himself viewed the army of 32,000 Israelites as too many and whittled the army down to just three hundred to fight against the Midianites that “came as grasshoppers for multitude; for they and their camels were without number” (Judg. 6:5). What a great victory ensued, because with God, numbers do not matter.

Second, size does not matter. When the Israelites and the Philistines warred with each other in First Samuel 17, the Philistine champion named Goliath challenged the Israelites to a simple one-on-one match for supremacy. Nevertheless, at the barking words of this heathen, all of the people of God “were dismayed, and greatly afraid” (1 Sam. 17:11). It took a “youth” (1 Sam. 17:33) named David with enough faith in God to defeat this massive man, whose stature was over nine feet tall.

Third, age does not matter. In the midst of some of the most wicked kings of Israel and Judah, a boy named Josiah of just eight years took the throne of Judah (2 Kings 22:1). When he was a teenager of sixteen, “he began to seek after the God of David, his father,” and when he was twenty, “he began to purge Judah and Je­rusalem from the high places, and the groves, and the carved images, and the molten images” (2 Chron. 34:3). When he was twenty-six (26), the book of the law was found in the temple, and he revolutionized the nation by cleansing the country of idolatry and reestablishing the Passover. “And like unto him was there no king before him, that turned to the Lord with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him” (2 Kings 23:25).

Fourth, gender does not matter. While one might think most of the faithful heroes recorded in the Bible are male, do not forget about the wonderful females that exempli­fied the righteousness of God. Esther literally saved the Israelites single-handedly. Deborah was the savior of the people, serving as one of the judges of the land. The mother of Moses, Jochebed, hid her son against the laws of the Egyptian land. Rahab saved the Israelites from the Canaanites. A woman named Jael contributed to the victory of the Israelites by killing the enemy captain, Sisera (Judg. 4:17-21).

“What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31).

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A Collective Christianity?

Are We Moving Toward a Collective Morality?

I’m a big Star Trek fan.  So it delighted me when Paramount decided to resurrect the series in the early 1990s to produce “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”  Not long afterward, we were introduced to a new galactic villain, the Borg.  This menacing cyborg race was really a collection of races all jumbled together into a large collective.  The individuals of the race never spoke with first person singular pronouns, “I,” “me,” “my,” or “mine,” but always with the first person plural, “we,” “us,” or “our.”  There was no individuality in them whatsoever.  They lived to service the collective and their ethic

collective

Christianity is based on an individual, not the collective.

reflected this.  They held no value for the individual who were ruthlessly sacrificed for the welfare of the whole.  These individual cyborgs were impersonal, uncommunicative, and amoral.  They had no family structure, no education system, and no voice.  Their individual personalities were quashed by the voice of the collective which never allowed any trace of a persona to emerge.  They were the most frightening of enemies because once assimilated by them, one lost every vestige of personal identity.  However, one also lost any vestiges of responsibility as well.  The collective told you where to go, what to say, what to do and when to do it.  Nothing was done without the collective’s direction.

The Christian ethic fundamentally begins with the individual.  That is to say that when we look at the teachings of Christ, they are primarily directed at the individual and for the individual to make changes in his life.  The Sermon on the Mount, (Matthew 5-7), the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12), and the Great Commands (Matthew 22:37-40) are prescriptions given to individuals.  The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) illustrates Jesus’ “bottom-up” approach by instructing the apostles to make disciples out of individuals by teaching and baptism/restoration.  It is through this method of converting one person at a time that Christianity purports to change society at large.  That is to say, that by the gradual process of individuals becoming Christians, ostensibly, all of society may be transformed.

In order for Christianity to move forward, the truths taught must be eternal, timeless, and applicable to all men regardless of their race, society, temporality, gender, or class.  The standard of morality must be an absolute standard where the norms of behavior apply equally to all.  Of course, this entails that the standard must be absolute.  The standard must also be metaphysical, for it cannot have its ground or base in the material/physical world.

This ethic is also an ethic of freedom.  It is the individual’s acknowledgement and practice of truth that makes him free (John 8:31-32).  Nevertheless, Christianity upholds the absolute decision of the individual to either accept or reject it as a system.  As long as disciples are made through teaching and transformation, the freedom of the hearer of Christianity to reject the teaching is absolute.  Christianity does not force itself upon any individual.  It permits each individual to personally decide whether to become a Christian or not.

The combination of individuals together as Christians work from the bottom-up to form the next level of individual and personal transformation of society, namely, the family.  Christian men and women who marry become responsible to God in their procreation to produce godly seed (Malachi 2:15).  The conjoining of families together under Christian morality naturally begets the formation of the church: a society of individuals/families bonded together from the bottom-up to advance the teachings and practices of Christ through making disciples one individual at a time.  The church is both a religious and a moral institution.  The religious practices of the church undergird and support the moral and ethical actions of the individuals who participate in her fellowship.  Acts of worship are necessary practices for maintaining the ethical conduct of the individuals committed to Christianity.  They reinforce the fundamental commitment Christians maintain to the absolute ethic of the Divine.

Contrary to popular opinion, true Christianity does not desire to control the government.

A competing ethic is proposed by Karl Marx’s associate Frederick Engels.  He said:

We therefore reject every attempt to impose on us any moral dogma whatsoever as an eternal, ultimate and for ever immutable ethical law on the pretext that the moral world, too, has its permanent principles which stand above history and the differences between nations. We maintain on the contrary that all moral theories have been hitherto the product, in the last analysis, of the economic conditions of society obtaining at the time. And as society has hitherto moved in class antagonisms, morality has always been class morality; it has either justified the domination and the interests of the ruling class, or ever since the oppressed class became powerful enough, it has represented its indignation against this domination and the future interests of the oppressed. [1]

This ethic is neither absolute nor metaphysical.  It is relative to the “class” in which one lives.  It is grounded in the materialistic forces of the economy and perhaps more importantly, it is a top-down ethic. That is, the ethic of Marx and Engel proposes to change society from the top down through revolution.  In Marx’s Thesis 11 he states, “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.”  This is done through revolution and taking control of the government and then forcing these changes upon society as a class.  When this is done, ethics becomes what the state/government (under the control of Marxist ideology) says how individuals ought to behave.  Consistent with Marxist principles, individuals then ought to behave in concert what brings about the highest economic good for all, whatever that might be.

Also in contrast to the ethic of Christianity, this ethic entails the subjugation/marginalization of dissenters to the point that their freedom to decide is denied.  One cannot reject the top-down approach because then one becomes an enemy of the state/society.  Freedom of speech becomes non-existent.  Government controlled media becomes the order of the day.  The preaching and teaching of the gospel which emphasizes individual responsibility toward God must give way to the orations of the government.  Individual responsibility has no place in a society where the only responsibility is to the collective.

Moreover, the family, as an institution, serves no fundamental educational role in society.  Education is a product of the state and all education is both mandatory and free.  Hence, parents have no decisive role in their child’s learning.  They cannot refuse the state’s mandatory curriculum.

Neither does the church have any function in such a society.


[1] Engels, Frederick, Emily Burns, trans., Anti-Dühring. Herr Eugen Dühring’s Revolution in Science (Progress Publishers: Moscow, 1947), <http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1877/anti-duhring/ch07.htm>.

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Afterlife and the Quran

Afterlife and the Quran

The Quran’s portrayal of afterlife and the spirit realm is a confused hodge-podge of borrowed ideas from a variety of sources, as well as the author’s own misconceptions. While the Bible does not clarify every aspect of life beyond the grave, nor answer every question that one might have about that realm, it nevertheless affords a consistent, cohesive, definitive treatment of the subject that contrasts sharply with the Quran. Consider, for example, the Quran’s handling of the concepts of heaven and paradise [NOTE: Quranic references are taken from the Muslim translations by Pickthall (n.d.) and Ali (1934).]

SEVEN HEAVENS?

The Quran makes repeated reference to the existence of seven heavens. Consider the following allusions: “He it is Who created for you all that is in the earth. Then turned He to the heaven, and fashioned it as seven heavens. And He is Knower of all things” (Surah 2:29, emp. added); “Say: Who is Lord of the seven heavens, and Lord of the Tremendous Throne? They will say: Unto Allah (all that belongeth). Say: Will ye not then keep duty (unto Him)?” (Surah 23:86-87, emp. added); “The seven heavens and the earth and all that is therein praise Him” (Surah 17:44, emp. added). Speaking of the creation of the Universe, the Quran states: “Then He ordained them seven heavens in two Days and inspired in each heaven its mandate; and we decked the nether heaven with lamps, and rendered it inviolable” (Surah 41:12, emp. added). Noah’s admonitions to his contemporaries included reminders of Allah’s creative activities: “See ye not how Allah hath created seven heavens in harmony, and hath made the moon a light therein, and made the sun a lamp? (Surah 71:15-16, emp. added; see also 23:17; 65:12; 67:3; 78:12).

In sharp contrast to the Quran’s “seven” heavens, the Bible speaks of only three. The “first heaven” is the Earth’s atmosphere—the “sky”—where the birds fly (Genesis 1:20; 8:2; Isaiah 55:10; Luke 13:19). The “second heaven” is “outer space”—where the Sun, Moon, and stars are situated (Genesis 15:5; 22:17; Deuteronomy 4:19; Nahum 3:16). These two heavens together are referred to in the first verse of the Bible: “In the beginning, God created the heavens (plural—DM) and the earth” (Genesis 1:1, emp. added). The “third heaven” in biblical thought is the spirit realm beyond the physical realm where God and other celestial beings reside (Deuteronomy 10:14; 26:15; 1 Kings 8:27,30). It often is referred to as the “heaven of heavens”—a Semitism wherein the genitive is used for the superlative degree—meaning the highest or ultimate heaven (cf. “Song of songs,” “King of kings,” “Lord of lords”). While the Bible uses the number seven frequently, it never mentions anything about any so-called “seven heavens”—even in the apocalyptic book of Revelation where the number seven is used figuratively and prominently (54 times). The Quran’s allusions cannot be rationalized as poetic or figurative, since none of the Quranic citations gives any indication of a figurative use.

Where did the Quran get its notion of seven heavens? Uninspired sources clarify the circumstance. Jewish rabbis frequently spoke of seven heavens (Ginzberg, 1909, 1:9; 1910, 2:260,313; 1911, 3:96; 1925, 5:9-11,23,30). They also spoke of seven gates to hell (Ginzberg, 5:19,267; 1928, 6:438), another feature copied into the Quran that is in conflict with the Bible: “And lo! for all such, hell will be the promised place. It hath seven gates, and each gate hath an appointed portion” (Surah 15:43-44). Additionally, the Quran’s use of the phrase “the seven paths” (Surah 23:17) is a Talmudic expression (Rodwell, 1950, p. 145).

PARADISE

The term “paradise” is of Persian derivation, and referred to “a grand enclosure or preserve, hunting-ground, park, shady and well-watered” (Thayer, 1901, p. 480). The Jews used the term as “a garden, pleasure-ground, grove, park,” and came to apply it to that portion of hades that was thought “to be the abode of the souls of the pious until the resurrection” (p. 480). With this linguistic background, the word is used in three different senses in the Bible: (1) it is used in the Septuagint (Genesis 2:8,9,10,15,16; 3:2,3,4,9,11,24,25), the Greek translation of the Old Testament, to refer to the literal Garden of Eden on Earth where Adam and Eve lived (Septuagint, 1970, pp. 3-5). It normally is translated “garden” in English versions; (2) it is used one time, in a highly figurative New Testament book, to refer to the final abode of the saved, i.e., heaven (Revelation 2:7); and (3) it is used in connection with the hadean realm. The Hebrew Old Testament term for this waiting place is sheol, and the New Testament term is hades. The Quran shows no awareness of these biblical distinctions. Instead, it advocates the existence of seven heavens (as noted), paradise (which apparently is among the seven heavens), and hell (an evident reflection of the uninspired influence of both Jewish and Persian sources of the sixth and seventh centuries).

According to the Bible, hades is a broad term that designates the receptacle of disembodied spirits where all humans who die await the Lord’s return (Luke 23:43; Luke 16:19-31; 2 Corinthians 12:4) prior to the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:35-54), the Judgment, and the final disposition of all humans to one of two ultimate eternal realms, i.e., heaven or hell. This realm encompasses two “compartments”: one for the deceased righteous, and one for the deceased wicked. The area inhabited by the righteous is “paradise,” while the area for the wicked is “tartarus.” Very little information is actually given in the Bible in the way of description regarding hades. In fact, the only descriptive detail provided (Luke 16:19-31) indicates that within hades, (1) paradise is described as a place where one is “comforted” (vs. 25), and (2) it is separated from tartarus by “a great gulf ” (vs. 26). That’s it! Absolutely no additional elaboration is given regarding paradise—no couches, no maidens, no rivers of water, no gold goblets. Hades, within which are paradise and tartarus, is, in fact, a temporary realm that will be terminated at the Judgment (Revelation 20:13-14). From that point forward, only two eternal realms will exist: heaven and hell.

The only detailed description given of heaven in the Bible is in the book of Revelation—a self-declared apocalypse (apocalupsis—“revelation”—1:1), i.e., a symbolic, figurative depiction that is not to be understood literally (see Swete, 1911, pp. xxii-xxxii; Gasque, 1975, 1:200-204; Thomson, 1939, 1:162-163). Hence, the “street of gold” (21:21), “pure river of water of life” (22:1), “tree of life” (22:2), and cube-shaped, walled city situated on twelve foundations of precious stones with pearl gates (21:19-21) are explicitly stated to be strictly figurative (“signified”—1:1). The Bible seems to go out of its way to avoid attempting to describe a nonphysical, spiritual, eternal realm to humans who live in a physical, finite realm. It says just enough to “whet the appetite” of an honest seeker of truth, without succumbing to the mistake of overwhelming the reader with a wholly carnal impression of heaven. The Quran commits precisely this blunder. Paradise is repeatedly represented in literal, materialistic terms:

Therefore Allah hath warded off from them the evil of that day, and hath made them find brightness and joy; And hath awarded them for all that they endured, a Garden and silk attire; Reclining therein upon couches, they will find there neither (heat of) a sun nor bitter cold. The shade thereof is close upon them and the clustered fruits thereof bow down. Goblets of silver are brought round for them, and beakers (as) of glass (bright as) glass but (made) of silver, which they (themselves) have measured to the measure (of their deeds). There are they watered with a cup whereof the mixture is of Zanjabil, the water of a spring therein, named Salsabil. There serve them youths of everlasting youth, whom, when thou seest, thou wouldst take for scattered pearls. When thou seest, thou wilt see there bliss and high estate. Their raiment will be fine green silk and gold embroidery. Bracelets of silver will they wear. Their Lord will slake their thirst with a pure drink. (And it will be said unto them): Lo! this is a reward for you. Your endeavour (upon earth) hath found acceptance (Surah 76:11-22, emp. added).

But for him who feareth the standing before his Lord there are two gardens. Which is it, of the favours of your Lord, that ye deny? Of spreading branches, Which is it, of the favours of your Lord, that ye deny? Wherein are two fountains flowing. Which is it, of the favours of your Lord, that ye deny? Wherein is every kind of fruit in pairs. Which is it, of the favours of your Lord, that ye deny? Reclining upon couches lined with silk brocade, the fruit of both gardens near to hand. Which is it, of the favours of your Lord, that ye deny? Therein are those of modest gaze, whom neither man nor jinni will have touched before them, Which is it, of the favours of your Lord, that ye deny? (In beauty) like the jacynth and the coral—stone. Which is it, of the favours of your Lord that ye deny? Is the reward of goodness aught save goodness? Which is it, of the favours of your Lord, that ye deny? And beside them are two other gardens, Which is it, of the favours of your Lord, that ye deny? Dark green with foliage. Which is it, of the favours of your Lord, that ye deny? Wherein are two abundant springs. Which is it, of the favours of your Lord, that ye deny? Wherein is fruit, the date—palm and pomegranate. Which is it, of the favours of your Lord, that ye deny? Wherein (are found) the good and beautiful—Which is it, of the favours of your Lord, that ye deny?—Fair ones, close—guarded in pavilions—Which is it, of the favours of your Lord, that ye deny? Whom neither man nor jinni will have touched before them—Which is it, of the favours of your Lord, that ye deny? Reclining on green cushions and fair carpets. Which is it, of the favours of your Lord, that ye deny? Blessed be the name of thy Lord, Mighty and Glorious! (Surah 55:46-78, emp. added).

In addition to the multiple gardens or paradises (55:46,62; cf. 83:18-19; Lings, pp. 95,202) with couches, green cushions, carpets, silk attire, silver bracelets, goblets and beakers of silver, shade, branches and foliage, fountains and springs, dates and pomegranates, youthful servants of everlasting youth and fair virgins, paradise also will include golden trays or dishes (43:71), flowering meadows (42:22), a pure wine (non-intoxicating—56:19) sealed with musk and mixed with water from the heavenly spring of Tasnim (83:25-28), multiple storied halls or mansions (29:58; 34:37; 39:20), fowl flesh (56:21), thornless lote-trees (56:28), and clustered plantains (56:29). The references to paradise in such materialistic terms go on and on in the Quran (cf. 15:45-47; 18:32; 22:23; 35:33; 37:41-49; 38:51-53; 44:51-55; 47:15; 52:17-28; 88:8-16; et al.). The contexts in which they occur discount the standard Muslim explanation that they are “figurative.” In fact, one verse even equates the fruit on Earth with the fruit in paradise: “And give glad tidings (O Muhammad) unto those who believe and do good works; that theirs are Gardens underneath which rivers flow; as often as they are regaled with food of the fruit thereof, they say: This is what was given us aforetime; and it is given to them in resemblance” (Surah 2:25, emp. added).

One would think that Muslim women would feel short-changed in the afterlife. Paradise for men will include access to maidens: “pure companions” (2:25; 3:15; 4:57), “fair ones with wide, lovely eyes” (44:54; 52:20—or “beautiful, big and lustrous eyes”—Ali; cf. 55:72) like “hidden eggs (of the ostrich)” and “hidden pearls” (37:49; 56:23), “those of modest gaze” (37:48; 38:53—or “chaste women restraining their glances, [companions] of equal age”—Ali; cf. 55:56; 78:33), who are “good and beautiful” (55:70), “virgins” (56:36), “whom neither man nor jinni will have touched before them” (55:56,74). Such lascivious, lustful appeals to sensual and sexual passions are transparent—and typical of male authors unguided by a higher power.

Additionally, the Quran and the Bible conflict with one another on the matter of marriage in the afterlife. The Quran unquestionably indicates that marriage will persist in paradise (Surah 13:23; 36:55; 40:8; 43:70). In fact, God Himself will perform the ceremonies: “Lo! those who kept their duty will be in a place secure amid gardens and water-springs, attired in silk and silk embroidery, facing one another. Even so (it will be). And We shall wed them unto fair ones with wide, lovely eyes” (44:54, emp. added; cf. 52:20). But Jesus soundly refuted this notion in His interchange with the Sadducees: “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven” (Matthew 22:30).

The emphasis on food, drink, and physical pleasures in the Quranic depictions of afterlife reflect a perspective that one would anticipate from a desert-bound Arab Bedouin. This preoccupation with carnal things and material comforts exposes the description as uninspired, and stands in stark contrast with the Bible’s handling of the subject. So also with the redundancy of repetitious phrases: “gardens underneath which rivers flow” (used 32 times in Pickthall—see Al-nasir). The Quran’s treatment of the afterlife verifies its human origin.

REFERENCES

Al-nasir, Jamal (2000-2003), Holy Quran Viewer (London: Divineislam.com), [On-line]: URL: http://www.divineislam.com.

Ali, Abdullah Yusuf (1934), The Qur’an (Elmhurst, NY: Tahrike Tarsile Quran), ninth edition.

Gasque, W.W. (1975), “Apocalyptic Literature,” The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, ed. Merrill Tenney (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).

Ginzberg, Louis (1909-1939), The Legends of the Jews, trans. Henrietta Szold (Philadelphia, PA: The Jewish Publication Society of America), [On-line], URL: http://answering-islam.org/Books/Legends/v1_3.htm.

Lings, Martin (1983), Muhammad (Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions International).

Pickthall, Mohammed M. (n.d.), The Meaning of the Glorious Koran (New York: Mentor).

Rodwell, J.M., trans. (1950 reprint), The Koran (London: J.M. Dent and Sons).

Septuagint Version of the Old Testament (1970 reprint), (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).

Swete, Henry (1911), Commentary on Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1977 reprint).

Thayer, Joseph H. (1901), A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1977 reprint).

Thomson, J.E.H. (1939), “Apocalyptic Literature,” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, ed. James Orr (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974 reprint).

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