Did Jesus Use Hate Speech?

Did Jesus Use Hate Speech?

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a child of hell as you are” (Matthew 23:15). Did Jesus use hate speech when He spoke those words?

In today’s world, making any negative statement about the LGBT lifestyle might put you in jail or at least under threat of a lawsuit. Sweden passed a law in 2003 and Finland in 1995 demanding discipline for anyone who says anything negative about the lifestyles of others. J.K. Rowling, the popular author of Harry Potter fame, has been “canceled” in England because she stated that males cannot become females. The question is not whether she is right or wrong, but whether in society today it is permissible to say anything critical of anyone else. George Orwell wrote, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

Those of us who are Christians and try to follow biblical teaching do not believe that anything in the scriptures qualifies as “hate speech.” What Jesus said in the passage above is not hate. We need to define what the phrase “hate speech” means. Webster simply says hate is “strong dislike.” We would add that the words “hate speech” describe what leads to physical action against a person. Most people would say it is okay to hate an idea. We can hate the idea of rape or prejudice without an individual being involved. When Jesus taught his followers to turn the other cheek and to love their enemies, He was certainly not advocating hate speech.

Did Jesus use hate speech in Matthew 23:15 when He expressed rejection of the Pharisaical system that injured other people as well as themselves? We have the moral teachings of the Bible because alternatives to those teachings hurt others and damage the people who promote those alternatives. No one following the teachings of Jesus would do any physical harm to anyone, no matter what their lifestyle. This is in stark contrast to the alternative teachings that would enact beatings, imprisonment, and even death.

In 1906, a British writer summarized Voltaire’s philosophy with the statement, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Others have repeated that phrase many times to describe the freedom of speech principle. Did Jesus use hate speech? No, and neither should His followers.

We live in a world where freedom of speech is becoming threatened, and those in power are trying to limit what someone can say. Ultimately Christians may be faced with the same situation that Peter and John faced in Acts 4:19. Their response to those who would shut down their freedom to speak was, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

— John N. Clayton © 2021

The God Question

The God Question

We frequently receive the God question from skeptics. Their challenges are something like this: “Since humans created God to explain what they didn’t understand, and since we now can explain everything, there is no need for God.” This relates to the “god of the gaps” argument, which simply says that people invented God to fill in the gaps in human understanding. There is no question that various cultures and religions have used that way of thinking. When people didn’t understand what caused volcanos, they invented a god or goddess to explain them. Even today, some people in Hawaii sincerely believe that volcanos are sacred and have a supernatural origin.

The “god of the gaps” thinking is rooted in ignorance, but so is the question, “Who created God?The problem with the God question in this form is that the questioner has a concept of God which is physical and, in some cases, human-like in form and function. The biblical concept of God is unique in that it challenges us to think more deeply than any physical or human makeup.

The question also assumes that there was a time when God did not exist. The problem with that thinking is that God created time. In Revelation 22:13, God says, “I am the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” Personified Wisdom speaks in Proverbs 8:22-23 and says, “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His way, before His works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning before the Earth ever was.” Peter wrote that “with the Lord, a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a day” (2 Peter 3:8).

God is not a man (Numbers 23:19) nor like any physical being. “God is a Spirit” (John 4:24) and does not possess flesh and blood (Matthew 16:17). Acts 17:28 tells us that “..in Him we live and move and have our being.” We find those descriptions difficult to understand because they are outside the realm of our experience. Modern science tells us that there are dimensions beyond our own three dimensions of X, Y, and Z. Mathematics tells us that there are eleven spatial dimensions, but we cannot even define our fourth dimension of time.

The God question that atheists and skeptics bring up shows that they fail to understand that God is outside of time and space and, therefore, He always existed. Quantum mechanics has shown us a whole new realm of physics where some of the laws of classical physics no longer apply. No well-educated person would deny the studies of quantum mechanics which fill modern scientific journals. The only question remaining is whether the things that lie in the quantum world are without design or purpose and therefore show no intelligence behind them. The quantum world is incomplete because it offers no reason for there being something instead of nothing.

The concept of good and evil offers an answer to the God questions. It tells us why there is something. John 1:1-5 provides a glimpse into that question when it says, “In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God.” The word “logos,” from which we get the word “logic,” involves the metaphysical concept of right and wrong. The purpose of human existence is the struggle between good and evil.

Job stretched his mind to understand that he was a major player in the war between good and evil in Job 42:1-6. Understanding God’s nature and that we are beings created in His image opens a new understanding of the God question. It shows us the fallacy of asking, “Who created God?” and expecting a physical answer. God fills the cosmos (Jeremiah 23:23-24), and our studies into the nature of matter have opened a whole new door to better understanding the God question.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Christ’s Resurrection Conquered Sin And Death

Christ’s Resurrection Conquered Sin And Death

Each week as Christians meet, we remember Christ’s resurrection and victory over death. Annually we must not forget that at the time of Passover, Jesus became the sacrificial Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. (John 1:29) But without the resurrection, the sacrifice would be meaningless. As Paul wrote, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless” (1 Corinthians 15:17). Our faith is not worthless because Christ’s resurrection conquered sin and death.

How do we know that is true? Some unbelievers argue that the resurrection is just a myth that arose many years later. The evidence against that idea is numerous and strong. The apostles carried the message of Christ’s resurrection to the ends of the Roman Empire for the rest of their lives. That was even though they had nothing to gain except a life of persecution ending in execution. If they had not seen the resurrected Christ, they would not have spent their lives proclaiming the message that Christ’s resurrection conquered sin and death.

Skeptics have often used the argument that the gospels were written years later to “prove” that the resurrection was a myth that developed during those years. However, before any of the four gospels were written, Paul wrote to the church in Corinth in A.D. 57. In it, he included an oral tradition that gives a summary of the gospel message.

Today we have access to writing materials, books, and computers. We are accustomed to writing things down. In the first century, there were no computers, printed books, or pamphlets. Even simple writing materials were scarce and precious. People memorized important things by summarizing them efficiently and then passing them on as oral traditions. The early Christians used that method. Here is the first part of an oral tradition that Paul wrote down in that first letter to the church in Corinth:

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to…”

The oral tradition then goes on to list some resurrection appearances of Christ. Then Paul adds himself to the list of those who saw the resurrected Christ. (You can read it for yourself in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8.) Of course, the “Scriptures” that Paul refers to are the Old Testament prophecies of Christ since the New Testament was not yet written.

When did Paul receive this tradition? He probably received it no later than A.D. 36 when he first visited Jerusalem. (See Galatians 1:15-18.) He possibly received it earlier than that in Damascus when, as Saul the persecutor, he encountered Ananias and received his sight. Ananias preached the gospel to him, and “Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus.” Whether in Jerusalem or Damascus, Paul received the oral tradition of Christ’s resurrection no more than five years after the event. That tradition was not a myth that developed years later after the eyewitnesses had died.

Each week, as we celebrate the fact that Christ’s resurrection conquered sin and death, we can trust the story is true. We have that oral tradition written down, but we would do well to memorize it as the early Christians did.

— Roland Earnst © 2021

Simplified Cosmological Argument

Simplified Cosmological Argument

It is always interesting to read or hear arguments by atheists and skeptics about what we feature in this column. One recent phone call said, “The creation is too complex for rational discussion. All I know is that God didn’t do it.” In response to that, we want to look at the simplified cosmological argument.

The mechanics of matter/energy interactions are indeed complex.
However, it is an ignorant argument to suggest that since they are difficult to understand, you can reject God’s existence. Here is the simplified cosmological argument for God as the creator that anyone can understand, even without understanding scientific theories.

STEP 1: BELIEVE THAT YOU EXIST. If you don’t believe that you exist, then the whole discussion is untestable, can’t be falsified, and is beyond scientific investigation or debate.

STEP 2: BELIEVE THAT THERE WAS A BEGINNING TO THE PHYSICAL UNIVERSE. All observations and the laws of physics demand a specific start to the creation – be it the “big bang” or some other description.

STEP 3. BELIEVE THAT THE BEGINNING WAS CAUSED. If there was a beginning to the physical creation, something or someone had to be the cause. Matter/energy can not create itself.

STEP 4: DECIDE WHAT THE NATURE OF THE CAUSE WAS. You have two choices here. Either the cause was an intelligence, or the cause was blind, mechanistic, opportunistic chance.

STEP 5: EXAMINE THE EVIDENCE. What does the evidence show? Is chance a statistically reasonable possibility? Is there evidence of design and purpose in the creation?

STEP 6: DEAL WITH THE QUESTION OF WHY THERE IS SOMETHING INSTEAD OF NOTHING. Philosophers can debate this as long as they wish, but if the cosmos is a product of blind chance, then there is no meaningful purpose to human existence. It also means that evil does not exist, and all events on the planet revolve around the survival of the fittest. If there is an intelligence that resides in a personal God, then evil exists, and the war between good and evil gives a purpose for all human existence.

The book of Job explores these points, and Jesus Christ clearly laid out our purpose in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 – 7. You are here for a reason. Not only do “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalms 19:1) but so does the Earth, and so do God’s people. That is the simplified cosmological argument.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Do Mutations Show Poor Design of Life?

Do Mutations Show Poor Design of Life?
SARS-CoV-2 Coronavirus with Spike Proteins

During the virus pandemic, we hear a lot about mutations. Do mutations show the poor design of life? Skeptics use the flawed design argument as proof that there is no creator God.

Several misunderstandings are involved here. First, a virus is not living according to the usual definition of life. To be called living, something has to be able to move, breathe, respond to outside stimuli, and reproduce. Viruses don’t breathe, nor can they move or even reproduce on their own.

The mutations that are causing the COVID-19 virus to change have to do with spike proteins that allow the entry of a virus into cells. One recent mutation called E484K made enough of a change in the spike protein to allow a new attack on human cells. You can sort of compare a spike protein to a key to open a door into a cell. Various animal cells open to different spike proteins. The Journal of Medical Internet Research reported that “The ever-increasing interaction between humans and animals is one leading factor in facilitating the emergence of new pathogens.”

This is an oversimplification, but the point is that the body’s design keeps us alive. Medical science is advanced enough to understand this design and to do something about it. Scientists have been studying this group of viruses for many years, making it possible to develop a vaccine in less than a year instead of several years. It is only because we understand our bodies’ design and how the cells work that we now have a defense against COVID.

Do mutations show poor design of life? The answer is “no.” There are two messages here. One is to get the vaccine whenever it is available to you. The second is to understand the incredible design of living things. Once again, we are reminded of God’s design in creation. We are not a product of blind chance.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Practical Value of Christ’s Teaching on forgiveness

Practical Value of Christ's Teaching on forgiveness

Many teachings of Christianity offer solutions to the problems we face in the 21st century. Skeptics claim that the Bible is an ancient book of myths with no relevance to life in the modern era. That is not true! The practical value of Christ’s teaching on forgiveness speaks to divine inspiration and validates the Christian life.

One area that relates to depression and mental illness is how we forgive people who have wronged us. The evolutionary explanation tells us to live by the survival of the fittest, and getting even is a key to survival. In reality, that doesn’t work, but Christ’s teaching on forgiveness does.

Trying to demonstrate your superiority by getting even contaminates all human relationships. I have seen unbelieving friends and family members spend much of their lives trying to get even with someone who wronged them. People are often estranged from siblings, parents, or children because they follow an unchristian approach to perceived wrongs.

Christ taught a different approach. In Matthew 6:14-15, Jesus told his followers, “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will forgive you, but if you do not forgive those who sin against you, neither will your Father forgive you your trespasses.” This is in such contrast to human nature that in Matthew 18:21-22, Peter asked Christ how many times he must forgive a brother. Peter thought he was generous by suggesting a limit of seven times. Jesus responded by saying seventy times seven. He didn’t mean 490 times. He was saying that forgiveness of a brother, friend, or even an enemy is unlimited.

The practical value of Christ’s teaching on forgiveness is proven by the fact that failing to forgive will eat you alive, mentally and emotionally. Most of us have no problem forgiving the mistakes of a small child an unlimited number of times. We need to have that same spirit in dealing with family members and others. If you are a Christian and someone has wronged you, don’t carry a grudge and build a wall between you and that person.

Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Our capacity to forgive is one of the most critical demonstrators of that love. If you are not a Christian, I suggest that there is help from God in feeling forgiveness, leading to better mental health and freedom from depression. The practical value of Christ’s teaching on forgiveness demonstrates that it is not based on human wisdom.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

The Value of Gold

The Value of Gold

I recently came across an incredibly ignorant statement blaming God for causing all the strife in the world. The reason this person gave was that God created gold which causes class distinctions, wars, and constant conflicts. Humans have indeed fought over gold, but it is also true that the value of gold to human existence is much more than a source of wealth and prestige. Gold is one of the most useful things God has given us.

A single ounce of gold can be drawn into a thread 50 miles (80 km) long without breaking. Gold is not just ductile; it is also malleable so that it can be pounded out into sheets. It reflects infrared radiation making it useful for coating spacecraft and the suits that astronauts wear. Because of its resistance to tarnish, people have used gold in jewelry, but its practical uses far outshine any aesthetic value. Since it doesn’t tarnish and is an excellent conductor of electricity, engineers use gold plating on critical electronic contacts.

Gold can be combined with other elements for a variety of uses. The value of gold includes the use in medicine. People have used gold in medicine throughout human history. Doctors today use injections of gold salts to reduce the swelling and pain of rheumatoid arthritis. Oncologists use gold to help shrink cancerous tumors.

One might ask, “Why is gold so rare?” Actually, it isn’t. Researchers at Arizona State University showed that the sewage produced each year in a city of a million people includes 2.6 million dollars worth of gold and silver and the oceans contain 20 million tons of gold. There are 244,000 tons of gold on our planet, but we have already extracted about 80% of the world’s supply. We are now finding massive amounts of gold in space objects. Scientists believe that a metallic asteroid named 16 Psyche has a core of almost solid gold, perhaps worth a few hundred quintillion dollars.

The value of gold is not its financial worth but its properties, giving it an incredible number of uses. Humans have treated gold as a symbol of beauty and value and often fought over it. But like everything God has created, gold is a blessing for which we should be thankful and not greedy.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Data from Reader’s Digest, March 2021, pages 28-30.

Why Do We Need Mountains?

Why Do We Need Mountains?

A skeptic recently complained that mountains are a mistake. “They block travel, cause avalanches, create deserts, and are just a general nuisance. If God were the creator, He wouldn’t have made these huge obstacles to human well-being.” In response to this skeptic, we consider, “Why do we need mountains?” For one thing, mountains are a very practical solution to one of humanity’s greatest needs–water.

In a basic geography or meteorology class, we learn about orographic uplift and rain shadows. As air comes across a flat area, it picks up moisture. But to make rain, there must be more than just water. Condensation requires a cool enough temperature and nuclei on which the water vapor can condense. Mountains provide both the cooler temperatures and the condensation nuclei.

As air pushes up the side of a mountain, it cools, and stirred-up dust provides condensation nuclei. For that reason, it is frequently very rainy on the windward side of the mountain. On the other side, the air is dry because all of the moisture has been removed.

Mountains can also capture and store water as ice and snow. Scientific American (January 2021) published an article with data on how many people get their water from the mountains. There are 78 regional mountain chains or “water towers” that deliver water to almost two billion people and surrounding ecosystems. Without mountains, the amount of land that would be hospitable to humans would be much more limited.

In addition to mountains capturing and storing water, they have also created underground aquifers. Glaciers generated in mountain areas have carved out huge valleys, depositing sand and gravel in permeable layers that allow massive amounts of water to seep into the ground. Here in southern Michigan, continental glaciers produced aquifers that supply us with water. In a large area of the Midwest United States, an underground aquifer called the Teays River has supplied adequate water for agriculture.

God has provided a massive and effective water system for nearly all continents, primarily because of mountains. Why do we need mountains? We need them for the water that allows irrigation as well as drinking and other uses. Mountains are beautiful, they provide recreational activities for humans, and they literally water the world for human survival.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

The Message of the David and Goliath Story

Skeptics will go to almost any length to discredit the Bible. Science News (December 19,2020-January 2, 2021, page 14) published an article titled “Goliath Was Not So Giant After All.” The biblical record says that Goliath was six cubits and a span tall. The Science News article says four cubits and a span and then says, “…but don’t take that measurement literally.” The article misses the message of the David and Goliath story.

Fixed standards precisely define today’s measurement units. The ancient cubit was roughly defined as the distance from the tip of the middle finger to the elbow of an adult. Obviously, not all adults are the same size. So a cubit could vary between 17.5 inches and 21 inches (about 444 to 530 mm). The Science News article says that Goliath would have been 7 feet 10 inches tall. The New Bible Dictionary puts Goliath’s height at 10 feet six inches and says that archaeologists have found skeletons that tall in Goliath’s Philistine region of Gath. (We have not seen evidence for that.)

The Science News article bases their contention that Goliath was not a giant on the basis that Gath, the city from which Goliath came, had walls that were four cubits and a span wide. The author of the article is Jeffrey Chadwick of Brigham Young University, an archaeologist who has been involved in excavations around Gath. Chadwick says his discoveries show that the biblical descriptions of Goliath’s stature are metaphorical and not literal. According to him, 1 Samuel 17:4 is merely saying that Goliath “was as big and strong as his city’s walls.”

Lost in the debate about Goliath’s size is the fact that Goliath’s city of Gath was destroyed about 2850 years ago. That fits the time-frame of David’s defeat of Goliath and the conquest of his army. The bottom line is that the biblical record accurately describes what happened. It tells us that Goliath was a huge warrior and David was a small shepherd boy. The city walls’ size would have no more relevance than saying that the height of the doors of American buildings is the average height of NBA basketball players. We can’t know the exact size of Goliath, but that isn’t the message of the David and Goliath story. Despite the odds, David trusted God, and through him, God brought victory to His people.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Star of Bethlehem and the Planetary Conjunction

Star of Bethlehem and the Planetary Conjunction

People give many different explanations of what the ”wise men” saw that led them to the Christ child. (See Matthew 2:1-12.) One of those explanations says there was a planetary alignment in the constellation Virgo (the Virgin). Since the magi may have been Zoroaster astrologers, they knew Christ had been born and followed “the star.” There is no connection between the star of Bethlehem and a planetary conjunction.

This December 21, at the winter solstice, there is a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. If you go outside about an hour after sunset and look to the southwest, you will see that the two planets are separated by less than a minute of arc, even though they are hundreds of millions of miles apart. If your eyesight is not very good, they may look like one very bright star.

This planetary conjunction is an exciting astronomical event, but it is not a good explanation of the star of Bethlehem. Whatever the magi saw, it could not have been a celestial star. Herod could have seen a celestial star for himself and would have had no reason to question its appearance as Matthew 2:3-10 describes. He could have had his people follow the star to find Christ and kill him.

Matthew 2:9 tells us that the star “went before them until it came to rest over the place where the young child was.” The closest star to planet Earth, outside of the Sun, is Proxima Centauri, and it is 4.2 light-years away. No stars move that way, and a planetary alignment is not a star.

The Bible does not present the star of Bethlehem as a natural object but as a miraculous act of God. Anytime the Bible says something is a miracle, it becomes a matter of faith, not science. How Jesus rose from the grave is not something we can scientifically explain. You either accept it, or you reject it, but all attempts to explain it naturally fail–and there have been many.

The star of Bethlehem was a miracle to show God’s acceptance of the Gentiles and to give Mary and Joseph the resources to move to Egypt and avoid Herod’s infanticide. The star of Bethlehem was not a natural event, but today’s planetary conjunction is. As we said yesterday, today’s event is not an omen and has no religious importance, but it is a rare, predictable astronomical event.

— John N Clayton © 2020