Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Is There a Time to Kill?



I am a man of few emotions.  Yet emotions were high as I heard the news of the horrific violence happening across the world from where I live safe and secure.  News of innocents by the thousands being killed and tortured.  It reminded me of the things I read in history books, suffering at the hands of humans so high, because of a reason as primitive as a difference in religion.

Emotions from an unemotional man is what drove me to begin this article on violence.  My goal is not to try to persuade you to see this topic my way, but I do want to provide an adjustment in the lens through which you see so that you can form your own perspective with a greater degree of clarity.

Where do you believe is the place for violence, if any, in this world?

Violence is such a broad subject, so let me narrow it down a bit.  After all, it would be hard to argue against inflicting pain in general, as sometimes pain is necessary for healing to begin, ask the surgeon.  When it comes down to it, I believe even the average pacifist will allow that sometimes it's necessary to inflict pain on another person in order to prevent an even greater amount of pain in the end.  But even this is such a broad, grey area, and very situational.  I'll narrow it down a bit more.

Killing.  Even if we could understand the time and death for causing the death of another person, we would have a great deal of insight.  This understanding doesn't come easy, and the world is full of disagreement.  However, let's look at the value of the human life before we discuss the ethics of ending it.

One cannot put a quantifiable measure on the life of a human; human life is priceless.   I hope we are in agreement so far.  This subjective viewpoint of mine is shared by most other people, and it should be.  Just as we see, think, breath, have emotions and a desire to be happy, so do other people.  We form relationships with other people, and these connections are worth more than material things, or at least it should be.  The death of a loved one is devastating.

Yet, in order to look at things objectively, we need to step back a bit from our own bias as a member of the species we are referring to and look at our origin.  If you think you know where I am going with this and you don't like it, don't stop reading.  I have all sorts of writings that aim to preach and persuade, and this is not one of them.  Hear me out.

There are two main opinions on our origin.  One is that we are a result of chance and nature taking its course, and the other is that an intellectual being aided our formation.  Let's take a look at these two in order to determine how much a human life is worth.


If We Weren't Created

A secular viewpoint devoid of any deity would place our objective value no higher than that what our own intellect would allow.  That is, what gives us our value is our advancement in the evolutionary chain.  We are important and our lives are sacred by virtue of our ability to comprehend our existence at a higher level than the animals.  Please, if I'm getting things wrong, let me know, as this is not my viewpoint and I'm not sure if I'm representing it fairly.

But still, the naturalist would argue that just because they might not necessarily believe in God, their lives have value nonetheless.

Okay.  I mean, of course I have arguments against this belief.  I would claim that if we no more than just a highly advanced species of animal, any deaths is just a result of nature taking its toll and no solid moral structure may be attributed to the subject.  Yet, for now, I'll try to go on without being too antagonistic of this point of view.

The naturalist may not have the same moral foundation as the theist, but this isn't to say that they are without a guideline to judge something as right or wrong.  After all, they could say that anything that furthers the cause of the well being of the human species as a whole is the right course of action.  So therefore, it's right to protect lives of humans, for they are part of the community of beings that we ourselves belong to.

Tell me, naturalist, secularist, atheist, how does killing fit into your world view?  When is okay for one person to take the life of another?  Can we be agreed that it's not okay to kill based on ethnicity, gender, or religion?  After all, all sorts of diversity in the belief systems of man can be allowed while still allowing for the overall human population to flourish - as long as it's not a world view that believes in killing for the aforementioned reasons.


If We Were Created

Created man has a value greater than his ability to live or attribute to the general health of the human population.  This is, at least, if our Creator created us on purpose with a reason, and not by accident.  We'll say that whatever deity made us gave us a function or a purpose.  Even if our purpose is unclear, the whole existence of the supernatural opens up the possibility that our lives may not end at death, at least not the lives of our hypothetical spirit or soul.

Let me be clear that I'm not only stating this as a Christian, but as an objective thinker:   the mere possibility that we have an immortal spirit able to survive an infinite amount of time should make us hesitant to kill for any reason at all.  After all, how can we know what awaits us after death?  Although some have claimed to have passed through death's gates, seen into the afterlife, and returned, we as members of a different club have no way of being certain of the specifics (and although this is a bit off topic, I would argue that the people with after death experiences shouldn't see that as definite proof - see my page "Our Spirits After Death").

If your viewpoint of your deity allows for the killing of others for reasons of race or religion, I'm sorry that you feel that way.  I disagree with you, and you are wrong, but I love you.  I hope you come to a frame of mind that's not only healthier to the rest of the human race, but to you as well.

If you're not sure what your deity would allow in the way of killing, I suggest you keep on reading and perhaps you'll discover a perspective that you find agreeable.


What Does the Bible Say About Killing?

After all, if our origin is indeed the result of the God of the Bible, he would have the final say in what is permissible.

A few phrases against killing from the Bible (NIV):

Exodus 20:13 - You shall not murder

Ezekiel 18:32 - For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD.  Repent and live!

Matthew 5:39 - But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.

Matthew 22:39 - And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbour as yourself.'

Proverbs 20:22 - Do not say, “I’ll pay you back for this wrong!” Wait for the Lord, and he will avenge you.

Romans 12:19 - Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

A few phrases that seem to allow for killing in the Bible:

Numbers 25:16-17 - The Lord said to Moses, “Treat the Midianites as enemies and kill them.

Jeremiah 44:30 - This is what the Lord says: ‘I am going to deliver Pharaoh Hophra king of Egypt into the hands of his enemies who want to kill him, just as I gave Zedekiah king of Judah into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, the enemy who wanted to kill him.’”

Jeremiah 50:21 - “Attack the land of Merathaim and those who live in Pekod. Pursue, kill and completely destroy them,” declares the Lord. “Do everything I have commanded you.


So is Killing Okay or Not?

I believe it's easiest to explain my point of view, which is also backed by what we find in the bible, with an illustration (which I heard from John Piper).  Suppose an employee is stealing from an employer, whether it's stealing money or resources or not doing the job that they are getting paid to do.  The employer may desire to show mercy in response to this misconduct.  However, in the interest in keeping their company and its values afloat, it may be necessary to discipline this employee, perhaps by firing them.

This world has values that it upholds.  Values like the sanctity of life.  If the world as a whole does nothing to prevent killing, their failure to act or react shows how strongly they feel about this moral value.

When we look at the Bible to see where killing is outlawed, and where it is commanded, a pattern shows up.  When an individual kills for their own selfish desires, it is wrong.  However, when the killing is done on behalf of an organization or entity in charge of upholding moral values, it is sometimes permitted given the situation.  For hypothetical instance, it's not okay for Joe to kill Jim for money, but it's okay for Joe to kill Jim because he is in the opposite army.

The Bible says that we are to respect our authorities:

Romans 13:1-4 - Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.  Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.  For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended.  For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.

Notice how this passage allows for rulers to "bear the sword," in other words, act with violence?  This is matched by how John the Baptist didn't tell the soldiers to leave their position when they approached him in Luke 3.

So, in my opinion, one should detest killing, as we are to love our enemies.  However, in order to uphold the sanctity of human life we should do our best to dissuade those who don't have this value, and kill because of it, even if it means we ourselves need to kill to do so.  I believe killing may be a necessity, but only as a last resort.

If you don't call yourself a Christian, feel free to skip on to the next section. 

As a Christian, I see souls as being immortal and falling into one of two categories:  the saved and the not saved.  As a member of one of the saved, I would lay my life down for the one who wants to kill me, as they are assumedly in the "not saved" category and their soul would be sentenced to eternity in Hell should they die.  Of course this means as a Christian, my ethics would guide my actions down a different path than many others, and at times this may lead my decisions to be seen with confusion or disdain by others.

 
Current Events

Today the big world news is centered on Ukraine and the tension between Russia and the members of NATO.  As much as I do not want to downplay the serious nature of this event, I wish to shift our attention instead to another, less prevalent but still infamous issue:  ISIS.

Short for Islamic State, the extremist group ISIS is responsible for horrors so evil that it's hard to wrap my head around the fact that this is still happening today's day and age.  Their acts of terror consists of beheading public figures and putting it on the internet for the world to see, keeping girls and women captive and using them as sex slaves, torturing and killing people by the hundreds, forcing people out of their homes by the tens of thousands.

Recently I saw/heard a couple of questions posed by the media that concerned me.  They were asking "do you think that ISIS poses a threat to Canadian/American security?"  To me, this is the wrong question to be asking.  The right question would be, "is ISIS a significant enough force of evil that the world should step in and stop them?"

The reason I am singling out ISIS amongst an unending stream of deaths, including devastating loss of civilians in the Gaza conflict, is because I believe there is a difference between a group of innocents dying as undesirable collateral damage, and peaceful civilians being the target of violence.


Just one human life is so sacred, so important, so valuable that the loss of any single one is devastating.  This whole topic has moved me emotionally.  Thanks for listening and allowing me to vent a bit.  I hope that my words have helped you somewhat your personal perspective.

Friday, 5 September 2014

All Scripture



2 Timothy 3:16-17 - All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

How perfect is the word of God, actually?

Even though I am a Christian, this is a huge question on my mind.  After all, the Bible is only as useful as its trustworthiness.  If the Bible is not perfect, how do I know which parts I can trust, and which parts I can't?  How do I know anything in it is true if some part of it is proven to be false?


Different Manuscripts, Different Words

One doesn't need to be smart or go to seminary or have theological debates to see how this question can arise.  All one has to do is open up a copy of the Bible.  On the bottom of bible is all sort of footnotes that are easy to ignore.  Yet if one doesn't ignore it, they can see that there's statements such as "some manuscripts do not include ______"or  "some manuscripts have say ______."  If there are differences between manuscripts, how do we know the manuscripts haven't been changed from their originals?

After doing research, we can discover how much discrepancies between manuscripts there really are, and it's a mindboggling high number.  Yet, as much discrepancies as there is, there is very few consequential discrepancies:  there are very little differences between manuscripts that would have any kind of significant impact on overall belief system of Christians.

One reason there are so many differences between manuscripts is because we have so many manuscripts of segments of the Bible.  The fact that the majority of them are so similar is actually more of a convincing point of how trustworthy they are rather than the opposite.  For instance, three witnesses of an event all telling relatively the same story is much more convincing that all three are being honest.  There may be a few differences in wording and perspectives in their stories, but as long as the main message behind their words remains constant we attribute truth to their words.  In fact, one person's perspective may fill in information that is lacking in another person's perspective, helping build the story.


The New Testament, For Instance 

I once saw a secular lecture on how the gospels were written, and the running theme was that certain writers were borrowing information from earlier gospels (I believe Mark was shown to be the earliest one written, and thus the shortest).  Of course, the skeptic may want to use this as proof that the writers were not actually eyewitnesses, or even using the accounts of eyewitnesses, but rather fabricating stories based on previous stories.

But that's far from a sound argument.  A believer in the inerrancy of the gospels could easily say that yes, the older gospels were referred to in writing newer ones, but only because one person's perspective and memory could only accomplish so much.  If the early Christians had indeed witnessed Jesus preach and do miracles, they wouldn't want to only report their own perspective, but a more complete story, and so using earlier gospels as reference would be convenient.


The Skeptic's Main Argument

So far in this article, I have not revealed enough for us to be certain one way or the other about how perfect the Bible is, looking at things objectively.  After all, just because there are many copies of the same thing doesn't mean that this thing is true.

I have heard many theories of why the early Christians would hold onto a false belief.  Most of them don't fly, including the theory that the disciples wanted to get fame and power.   By spreading the testimony of Jesus' divinity, they were putting their lives in danger, and they knew it.  If they wanted earthly advancement, this would be the wrong way to go about it.  This is especially true for Paul, who wrote a large portion of the New Testament.  Formally Saul, the self-proclaimed apostle of Jesus had all sorts of fame and power before his conversion.  He went from having prestige among the Jews to being the target of their persecution.

I'm open to any additional thoughts on the matter, but to me the skeptic's most convincing argument is that the reason Christianity spread so fast wasn't because it was necessary true, but because it gave the commoners and underprivileged something to believe in that would make their lives bearable.  After all, if God really loved them so much that he would send his son to save them, they didn't have to be overcome by earthly hardships because they know that they are loved and that "Heaven" is in store for them.  They clung to the belief out of necessity; believing anything contrary to Christianity was far less appealing, especially since it takes relatively the same amount of faith to believe in one unseen entity as another.


My Counter Argument

If you have already read "From Science to Jesus - PartIII: Science and Jesus," you'll know the bulk of my argument against what I believe is the skeptic's best attempt at calling the New Testament false.

The atheist discounts the role of miracles in the spreading of Christianity.  If the disciples and early church believers were really performing miracles, as the New Testament claims, this would easily explain not only the fact that Christianity became so popular, but the rapid speed that it did so.

It would be super hard to explain the intense shockwave Christianity had on the world without the real, visceral, experience of the supernatural in one form or another.  If the religion was made up, there would be no real miracles to be seen.  Sure, there would be the placebo effect or the overall power of positive thinking, which can be a formidable force, but not so formidable that could convince mass amounts of people to start spreading lies.

Plus, if the earliest Christians' main goal was to present an appealing belief system that would make earthly life more bearable because of the hope for a better afterlife, there would be so much better ways to go about it than Christianity.  After all, it would have been so much easier to leave out the part where Jesus claimed to be the only way to get into Heaven.  The attitude of many in society today, particularly among the "spiritual but not necessarily born again Christian," is a good example of how the trend is for the majority of people to believe something more because they wish to than because they find the majority of evidence proves it to be true.

The people who reportedly initiated Christianity were Jews, and a large portion of them already believed in a God who loved them and in an afterlife to hope towards.  The commoners and underprivileged already had a large number of religions to believe in without Christianity, and there was no reason for masses of them to abandon tradition, and in a lot of cases, their families and friends, to turn to this belief system unless it presented something special and real that they were not able to get from just any religion.

Well maybe the early disciples weren't making things up, per se, but were still deluded into thinking what they were spreading was the truth."  Although this would be more motivation for an evangelizing and missionary spreading spree, there would have to be a large number of people deluded.

And what would they be fooled about?  Jesus' death?  Jesus' resurrection?  After all, Jesus' death and resurrection is the foundational miracle of the Christian faith.

Once one truly understood the nature of crucifixion and the torture Jesus went through, believing anything other than the fact that he died would be delusional.  I know there's many (many, many, many) people who believe Jesus didn't actually die.  Although I prefer not to, if I am pressed to, I will dig up resources and information on this topic.

In Acts 1:3 we read that Jesus gave the disciples many proofs that he was alive.  The disciples were only as deluded as the modern day scientist, going with the evidence.  And it wouldn't just be a handful of deluded people either, 1 Corinthians 15:6 tells us that Jesus appeared to over five hundred people.

The Christian can take comfort knowing the truth of Jesus' death and resurrection.  But the Bible contains more than just this monumental event, and this article is our journey to discover if we can trust in the rest of God's Word.


Scripture

 Before we start asking the question of how the Bible is infallible, we must first ask the question of what is meant by "Scripture."  We can't very well say "Scripture is that which is God-breathed, and it's God-breathed because it is Scripture."

I found this link helpful in finding out how the Bible was originally put together:
http://www.biblestudytools.com/bible-study/topical-studies/who-decided-what-went-into-the-bible.html

 The critic might wince every time people describe the formation of the Bible with words along the lines of "God decided what would be in the Bible."  This, of course, can be said to be a circular argument as well:  "God is real because the Bible says he is, and we can trust the Bible because God says so."

However, we have more than just a the word of a hypothetical deity to go on in figuring out what is meant by "Scripture."

The Old Testament was the group of books already accepted by Jews as Scripture, being as it consists of "the Law and the Prophets."  It contains literature both in the historical genre as well as prophesies.  We are able to see the Law as Scripture not only because it contains the fundamental traditions connected to Judaism before Christianity, but because the historical aspects of it have yet to be proven wrong by the historical data we are able to gather by other means.

The prophets that are alongside the Law gives it some additional support.  The God of the Old Testament showed himself to be real when he spoke through the prophets of things that hadn't happened yet, and their prophesies came true.

When the Gospels, the eyewitness accounts of Jesus and his teachings, came around, the early Christians had no problem accepting as Scripture.  After all, as I have aforementioned, eyewitness accounts of Jesus miracles made it easier for its recorded accounts to be accepted.

Although the nature of the complete canon (list of books) of the Bible is not universally agreed upon, the basic, Protestant canon consisting of sixty-six books are generally accepted as Scripture by any Christian institution.

There are so many manuscripts out there, which one is the actual "Scripture?"

Good point.  Even if the original documents were accepted as Scripture, it doesn't mean the copies we have now are loyal to the original and should be regarded with the same reverence.  But it can also be said that the more true the copies stay to the original, the more we can attribute them with truth.  We may or may not have original manuscripts, but we can discern by the copies we have of the original that they are close enough to be regarded as Scripture; through studying our available resources we can see that they are saying the same thing as the original.

Which Scripture is referred to in 2 Timothy 3:16?  People may wish to claim that Paul was only talking about the Old Testament because at that point the gospels and letters had not been collected and formally labelled as the New Testament.  There's also this verse that goes along with this mindset:
Romans 3 (NIV):  1What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God.

Is Paul writing this alongside the claim that his own writing is also "Scripture?"

In Ephesians, Paul claims that to have special access to divine inspiration:
Ephesians 3:1-5 (NIV) -  For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you,  that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly.  In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ,  which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.

Since Paul is claiming to have access to information unknown to previous generations given to him by the power of the Holy Spirit, I would personally say that Paul himself would indeed refer to his own writings as Scripture. 


God-breathed

It is a big deal to call any literature "the Word of God."  Connecting the Bible to God not only implies that the Bible is perfect, but that God, as the driving force behind it, must shoulder the responsibility of any of its faults.

The image people have of God is only as trustworthy as the basis they have for forming this image.  A faulty foundation for a belief will lead to a faulty image of God.  It's imperative for Christians that the Bible is proven to be inerrant, or else we won't be able to trust our viewpoint of who God is.

Fortunately we can be assured that Scriptures are God-breathed; we can take comfort in knowing that although the words in the Bible were indeed penned by man, they were written under inspiration of his power.  Although I've already touched on these points before, here's reasons why I stand by the claim that all Scripture is God-breathed:
- it says it is
- prophesies therein have come to pass
- the God of the bible is still active today just as throughout history
- there is no other presented worldview by which we can see the evidence in this world and have it make sense.  Especially when you take into consideration the question of morality, the supernatural, and justice

I already know the firepower the skeptic has on their side.  I know about the list of supposed contradictions in the Bible.  I plan on addressing these concerns eventually, as I do not want to leave the skeptic with an ounce of an excuse not to believe the Bible is truth.  For now, I wish to leave you with the following conclusions I have made about the Bible:
1.  The original writings of the Scriptures were inspired by God, and the copies we have now don't differ in any significant way; the manuscripts we are using as source material do not differ so much that the message behind their words change in a way that the main message behind their words are not certain. 
2.  The original writing of the Bible was perfect.  The way we interpret the Bible is not perfect.   We cannot blame God for the failure of language to convey his message exactly the same throughout the course of history.  Even though language is constantly changing, the Word made flesh, Jesus, never changes and is the center of the message of the Bible.
3.  When we read the Bible, we need to take verses in the proper context - not only in the context of the surrounding text, but in the context of the audience that the text was initially written for.
4.  Because the whole of Scripture is true, we can't pick and choose the parts we want to believe.  You either need to accept the whole thing, or reject it as any kind of solid basis for truth.



It's All Good

So far the only part of 2 Timothy 3:16-17 that I have addressed is "all Scripture is God-breathed."  But it was not a mistake that I included the whole of the two verses at the very start of this article:  we need to go from the claim of the initial prepositions to its practical implications.

"All Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching..."  We can go to the Bible as a source of knowledge, a textbook of the way things really are.  There may be parts of the Bible that we don't understand, but there's still a great deal that it's very clear about.  We can proclaim these things as truth.  We can use the Bible to educate people on the way things are.

"...rebuking, correcting..."  We know things are wrong by measuring it by the standard the Bible sets.  Yes, when rebuking or correcting others we need to make sure we are doing it in a way that is loving.  Yet, something that is unloving is letting a person live on in ignorance until it becomes the death of them without at least attempting to set them on the right path that leads to eternal happiness.

"... and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."