Nature is the Unknown God

Temple of Zeus - Today Nature is the Unknown God Atheists and skeptics attack belief in God. They say that if God were real, He would show Himself in the method of their choice. They also charge that believers in God are merely worshiping a “god-of-the-gaps.” basis – meaning that when they don’t understand something, they simply say, “God did it!” We have repeatedly pointed out that we do not use gap arguments. We look at what the choices are and what the evidence supports using scientific methods and applying mathematics to test the alternatives. That is not inventing a god to explain what we don’t understand, unlike the Egyptian sun god (Ra) or the Greek god of the sky (Zeus). The picture shows the ruins of the temple of Zeus in Athens, the city where Paul saw an altar to the “unknown god.” Today Nature is the unknown god.

Most atheists and skeptics in their writings will assert that Nature established the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology. You see statements like, “it is nature’s way of doing things” to explain why things are the way they are. Nature is invisible, omnipotent, and omniscient. Why is it that atheists will say that believers in the God of the Bible are unintelligent, and those who believe in Nature are the thinkers? No one can tell us where Nature came from. Nature is the unknown god and the atheist’s “god-of-the-gaps.”

It is easy to attribute everything we know and don’t know to the great god “Nature.” Our world today is making the same mistake as Stoic and Epicurean philosophers in biblical times. Today’s philosophers do what their ancestors did when they attribute all unknown phenomena like dark matter and superstrings to Nature. They explain even what they do understand by using that same Nature god.

Paul, in Athens speaking to the educated philosophers of his day, said: “For as I passed by and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription ‘To the Unknown God.’ Whom therefore you ignorantly worship…” (Acts 17:23). Is Nature your god and chance his only tool? The God we discuss is a God in whom “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28) both now and in eternity. Nature is a false god and an invention of humans with no promise for anything beyond this life.
—- John N. Clayton © 2019

Hidden Messages in the Bible

Hidden Messages in the Bible - The NapkinWe have all seen dubious claims about hidden messages in the Bible. They include everything from numerology to codes with special meanings. The only place where hidden messages do unquestionably occur in the New Testament is in the book of Revelation. That book uses symbols that the Christian readers would understand, and the Romans would not. However, there are a few cases that we might call hidden messages in the Bible that Christian or Jewish readers might understand and which other readers would miss.

One such example is the description of the burial tomb of Jesus in John 20:1-9. “Then Simon Peter … went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen … as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen.”

Jewish protocol was that when the master of the house was finished eating, he would wipe his mouth and face and toss the napkin aside. That action indicated that the contamination was removed from him, and the event was ended. If he folded the towel and set it in order, that was a sign that he was not finished and would return to finish the meal or whatever he had been working on.

The folded napkin and the missing body sent a strong message to Peter and the women who visited the tomb. Jesus was indicating that He would return. It was a hidden message to the followers of Jesus that the Romans would not have understood. While it was not obvious or miraculous, it could be an important hidden message to those who were about to become the apostles of Jesus Christ.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Curse of Sin – What Is It?

The Garden and the Curse of SinMany Christians don’t have a clear understanding of the curses described in Genesis 3. God told Eve in verse 16, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children.” To Adam He said, “…cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground…” What exactly is the curse of sin?

We struggle with this account because of our assumptions about what life was like in the Garden of Eden and how it changed. Some have assumed that the environment changed and that humans were no longer gatherers, but that they had to develop agriculture to survive. Some have suggested that Eve underwent a physiological change so that the pelvic opening was reduced, causing increased pain in the birthing process. Some have felt that the Garden of Eden was essentially heaven, with no pain and no problems or work of any kind. That is not only a poor understanding of what heaven is about; it also raises more questions than it answers.

The Garden of Eden was a physical existence. Genesis 2:10-14 identifies a physical location with known rivers. Being physical means that the laws of physics and biology were in place. Adam and Eve were not in heaven, and they had work to do. In Genesis 2:15, God told Adam to take care of the Garden. The fact that thorns and thistles are mentioned in the curse tells us that they were in existence. The law of entropy was in existence, so things did age and die. Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 4:3-4 that God created every creature “to be received with thanksgiving … for every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving.” Pitcher plants ate bugs, and bats and lions were not vegetarians.

The message of the curse of sin is not primarily physical. Thorns, thistles, and sweat are more than just a complication to those involved in agriculture. They are symbols of pain and the difficulty of life away from God. It has been said that the least amount of pain a woman has is the birth process. The struggle and pain of raising a child to adulthood can far exceed the pains of labor and birthing. Eating the forbidden fruit was not just a physical action but disobedience to God. The separation that it produced between humans and God also caused separation in human relationships. Cain killing Abel was a part of the curse of sin. The adage known as Murphy’s Law, “if something can go wrong, it will,” applies to far more than the failure of mechanical things.

Revelation 22:3 gives some pictures of our heavenly existence. Notice the simple statement, “No longer will there be any curse.” In 2 Peter 3:11-13, we read that the physical world with its thorns, thistles, pain, and sweat will be dissolved. There will be a New Heaven and a New Earth. We will be free from the curse of sin and enjoy the blessings of being back in the presence of our Creator. That existence will truly be Heaven.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Why There Is No Demon Possession Today

Why There Is No Demon Possession TodayYesterday we pointed out that there was a reason for demon possession in the time of Christ. With God in the flesh on Earth dwelling among men (John 1:14), for humans to have a choice to reject God, there had to be a vehicle to allow that freedom. Satan offered that choice, and demon possession was the tool that allowed people not to be overpowered by the work of Jesus. We want to examine why there is no demon possession today.

There are eight reasons why we can be confident that we will never be taken over by demons and compelled to do something that violates our freedom of choice:

1. Prophecies of the work of Christ indicate an end to demons and unclean spirits. Zechariah 13:1-4 is one example. 1 John 3:8 and Colossians 2:15 tells us that Christ ended that kind of power of Satan.

2. Warnings to the Church do not include demons. There are many warnings: Acts 20:28-31, 1 Corinthians 4:14, Colossians 1:28, 2 Peter 2:1-3. Surely if demon possession were a threat, Christians would be warned about it.

3. The tools to resist Satan do not include exorcisms. Read James 4:7 and Ephesians 6:12-18. There is no mention of exorcisms in instructions to the Church.

4. Hebrews 4:15 tells us that Jesus was “tempted in every way as are we,” but no one believes Jesus was ever demon-possessed and needed an exorcism.

5. 1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us that nothing we face is any different from “what is common to man.” Demon possession is not “common to man.”

6. The Bible tells us that if we trust God, He will control Satan. See Job 1:12 and 2:6. God placed limits on Satan. Romans 8:28 tells us that God can turn Satan’s best shot into something good. See 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.

7. Pictures of the judgment do not show one single case of a person being condemned because of demon possession. See John 20:31 and Matthew 25:31-46. Passages like Philippians 2:12 and 2 Timothy 2:15 show us that what we do and how we live are the key to salvation, not just being lucky enough not to become possessed by a demon.

8. The methodology of exorcisms in the Bible does not match those of exorcists today. Acts 16:18 show us a biblical exorcism – “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ, come out of her.” I have observed modern “exorcisms.” They take hours of chanting and commanding and emotional manipulation. Only those authorized by Christ could perform exorcisms. See Acts 19:13-16 and Mark 16:17.

Those are biblical reasons why there is no demon possession today. Where you spend eternity is your choice. Matthew 10:28 tells us to fear Satan, but the Bible clearly teaches it is our choice whether to obey God or not. Relying on modern shysters who use religion to take money from people and gain political control over others is an opposition to the teaching of the Bible and a destructive activity. The message of Acts 19:13-16 rings true today.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Blaming Evil on Demon Possession

Blaming Evil on Demon PossessionCBS television has a new series titled “Evil.” The show deals with blaming evil on demon possession. In the first episode, a person tried to avoid responsibility for a crime by claiming to be demon-possessed. The story-line involves a psychologist trying to determine whether crimes were committed due to demon possession or psychological problems.

We need to say again that demon possession does not happen in the modern world. As we posted before, the priest who was the adviser in the making of the 1973 film “The Exorcist” explained his view of demon possession. He said that the demon-possessed “victim has had their freedom of choice taken away. The victim is no longer responsible for their actions.” That assertion is illogical and against all the evidence, and it is not what the Bible teaches. In both today’s discussion and tomorrow’s, we want to look at this subject.

First of all, let us point out that freedom of choice is a primary teaching of the Bible. God has always allowed humans to decide whether they are going to serve Him or serve Satan. There is a fundamental reason for this. Love cannot exist if there is no choice. That is true of all kinds of love. If there is sexual “love” without choice, we call it rape, and it has nothing to do with love. It is the exploitation and abuse of another human being. For someone to love you with any kind of love, there has to be the choice NOT to love you. God has always allowed humans to reject Him, and that is still true today.

When God came to Earth (John 1:14) in the form of Jesus Christ, there had to be a way for humans to reject Him. Christ performed miracles and gave people powerful tools for understanding. So that humans still had a choice, God allowed Satan to have extended power. In the Old Testament, there was no demon possession. The Hebrew word for demon (shaidim) is found twice–once in Deuteronomy 32:17 and once in Psalms 106:37. Both of those cases had to do with idol worship, not demon possession. Demons were a tool of Satan to provide a choice for humans. Freedom of choice was not taken away.

The spiritual battle continues, but Satan’s power is limited because Jesus is not here in the flesh, but the Holy Spirit is present in God’s people. Ephesians 6:12 spells this out, and Ephesians 3:10 talks about God’s plan to mount a war against Satan through the Church.

We cannot excuse our actions by blaming evil on demon possession. So how do we know that demon possession doesn’t happen today? We will consider that question tomorrow.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Textual Criticism and Biblical Inerrancy

Textual Criticism and Biblical InerrancyOne of the frequently asked questions that we receive is whether or not we believe that the Bible is inerrant. The problem with the question is that rarely does the questioner explain what they mean by the term “inerrant.” It has become fashionable to use the issue of biblical inerrancy to ridicule Christians. Fundamentalism claims to be a blind belief in the inerrancy of the Bible, and apparent errors in fundamentalist teaching call into question the credibility of the Bible. What is the relationship between textual criticism and biblical inerrancy?

Scholars have used a process called “textual criticism” to evaluate the biblical text. The translators of the King James Version of the Bible used what was called the Textus Receptus (Latin for “received text”). That refers to the dominant manuscript in Greek published in 1516 and available to the King James translators. Since 1516, there have been numerous discoveries of new manuscripts and fragments. In many cases, they are older than the text used by the King James translators. There have also been better understandings of what words mean and how the culture of the time understood those words. Sometimes the translators’ understanding of what the original writer was trying to say may have been affected by the translators’ cultural biases. Comparing the older and more credible manuscripts with the ones used by the King James translators shows some differences (errors), and that is what textual criticism is all about.

It is important to understand that this process of textual criticism does not make major changes in the meanings of words. In the New Testament, only about one word in 1,000 is in any way different between the Textus Receptus and the newer manuscripts. Even when there is a difference, it is rarely of any consequence. Sometimes it was because of a copying error. Sometimes a copyist put a comment in the margin as they translated and printers inserted it into the manuscript. Making the comparisons allows us to get better and better translations, and that is a good thing.

The problem is what we understand biblical inerrancy to mean. Inerrancy does not mean that a particular translation is without mistakes. It does not mean that one specific set of English words have biblical credibility, while others do not. Textual criticism and biblical inerrancy need not conflict.

The notion that those of us who believe the Bible is the Word of God have something to fear from textual criticism is misguided. It is the same kind of error that has caused some people to claim that a particular translation of the Bible is the only one that we can use. We can trust God’s Word, but we have to work to overcome the problems of culture and time. We must consider the changes in word meanings as well as mechanical issues of translation and reproduction. It may take some work, but we need not question the fact that “All Scripture is given by God and is profitable for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man (or woman) of God may be perfect, completely furnished to every good work” (2 Timothy 3: 16-17 from a combination of various translations).
— John N. Clayton © 2019

If I Die Now, Will I Go to Heaven?

If I Die Now, Will I Go to Heaven?“If I die now, will I go to heaven?” That is a personal question and one you need to answer for yourself and no one else. What we can do is to see what the Bible says about this. Here are some points for your consideration:

GOD WANTS YOU TO BE SAVED AND GO TO HEAVEN. This is clearly stated in the Bible. It is stated clearly and plainly in 1 Timothy 2:3-4 and 2 Peter 3:9. Titus 1:2 indicates that before the creation, God intended that people would end up in heaven.

GOD WILL NOT FORCE ANYONE TO GO TO HEAVEN WHO DOES NOT WANT TO GO. Joshua 24:15 states personal choice clearly saying, “Choose you this day whom you will serve.” Judas made a choice. Thomas and Peter made a choice. (See Matthew 26:69-75 and John 20:24-29.) As long as we are alive, we have that choice available, and both Thomas and Peter changed their minds. Judas could have, but he chose not to.

THERE ARE PASSAGES THAT WARN ABOUT FALLING AWAY FROM GOD AS JUDAS DID. See 1 Corinthians 10:12, 2 Peter 1:10, Hebrews 3:12 and 4:11. All of these passages in context show that those they were written to people whose hearts were so attracted to evil that they deliberately chose to reject God. None of these passages say that God rejected people who were trying to live as God called them to live.

THE BIBLE TELLS US TO BE SURE OF HEAVEN. Read 1 John 5:13, Romans 4:8, Romans 8:1 (and include Romans 7:14-24 in your reading), 1 Corinthians 1:18, Romans 5:1, 1 John 1:5-7, and Romans 10:9-15. None of these passages say we earn heaven, and all of them indicate that even though we as Christians sin, God provides for our continuous cleansing through the blood of Christ. (“Purifies” in 1 John 1:5-7 is an active verb.)

THE BIBLE MAKES IT CLEAR THAT SALVATION IS A GIFT. Romans 6:23 and Ephesians 2:6 state it outright. We don’t earn heaven. It is a gift given to us by the grace of God. Any gift has to be accepted. God’s gift is described in Romans 6:3-23. We receive the gift by submitting to God’s workmanship as Ephesians describes it. Baptism is a gift of God, washing away our sins and allowing us to walk in the light living a new life. When we reject baptism, we reject God’s gift, and all that comes with it.

Heaven is not a goal to be reached by what we do. What we do is a result of the gift of God working in us. We urge you to obey God and thus choose to accept His gift and answer “yes” to the question, “If I die now, will I go to heaven?”
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Religious Knowledge in America

Religious Knowledge in AmericaIn today’s anti-Christian climate, kids not only don’t know anything about Christianity or the Bible, but they are also profoundly ignorant about religion in general. In today’s world, religious knowledge is needed.

Pew Research Center has released some of its findings on what American kids know. Since a majority of kids go all the way through school with no education on religion of any kind, their ignorance of religious knowledge is profound. Here are some of the things the Pew Research Center found:

50% of high school students think that Sodom and Gomorrah were married.
A majority of Americans cannot name the first book of the Bible.
17% believe Ramadan is the Jewish Day of Atonement.
Many teens think “Moby Dick” is from the Bible.

This is not just a teen problem. George W. Bush was told about the Sunni and Shiite conflict in Iraq and responded by saying, “I thought the Iraqis were Muslims.” Jeff Stein of the New York Times reported that in his work with congressional leaders most didn’t have a clue about the difference. There have been attacks on Sikhs by people who thought they were attacking Muslims.

Atheists and secularists have been very successful at intimidating the leaders of education with threats of recriminations. The result is that the role of religion in America’s history has been lost in one generation. It isn’t a matter of separating church and state, but whether this purging has left modern Americans with a massive gap in religious knowledge. They don’t have an understanding of our country’s values and how faith in God has been a foundation that has produced the freedom we all enjoy.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Data from the Houston Chronicle, June 25, 2019 page F8.

Does God Cause Natural Disasters?

Does God Cause Natural Disasters?One of the struggles we all have is understanding why God allows disastrous events that cause massive destruction and suffering to humans. Atheists use this question as a club against faith, and it is perhaps their best weapon. The list of events that harm humans is huge – earthquakes, tornadoes, tsunamis, landslides, fires, floods, droughts, etc. At this time of the year, hurricanes are at the front of our awareness. Does God cause natural disasters to punish people?

If you have just seen a natural event take place that destroyed your home and killed a loved one, no rational explanation is going to be of any help. Our hearts go out to those of you who are trying to make sense of what seems to be a senseless disaster that has hurt them in ways that no one else can understand. We don’t want anyone to think that we have all the answers. If somehow we can remove ourselves from our own emotions, here are three things we need to understanding:

1) God does not cause disasters. The notion that God brings catastrophes upon people He doesn’t like, or people who violate His laws or commands is inconsistent with the nature of God. James 1:13 tells us clearly that God doesn’t tempt us in any way. The passage specifically deals with moral temptation, but verse 17 goes on to say that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above and comes down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” God brings good things. Jealousy or vindictiveness is not a part of His nature.

2) Human stupidity in the face of natural processes is a significant cause of calamity. Hurricanes are a classic example of this. The Earth has zones of climate that are made functional by natural processes which create climate zones. The Hadley Cell explains these zones, with different zones creating tropical rainforests and deserts. Those zones are balanced by natural processes such as hurricanes that carry water into what would otherwise be a desert. Thirty-degree latitudes north and south would be deserts if it were not for hurricanes that bring massive amounts of water to recharge water supplies. In the United States, northern Florida and southern Georgia would be deserts with no water were it not for hurricanes. Humans ignoring this system and building in areas known to be vulnerable to hurricanes while removing natural barriers such as mangroves causes much of the suffering and death.

3) Human mismanagement of God’s creation due to greed and ignorance is a major cause of human suffering. Genesis 2:15 tells us that God gave humans the assignment to take care of “the garden, to dress it and keep it.” We are the caretakers of what God has created, but selfishness and greed have caused significant suffering and destruction. We all know that polluting the air, rivers, lakes, and now the ocean has led to cancer and now appears to be affecting Earth’s climate. We all understand that exploitative agriculture has led to fires, erosion, dust storms, and insect swarms. Scientific journals are full of studies showing how human mismanagement of what God has given us is leading and has led to disaster.

Does God cause natural disasters? The answer is “NO!” It isn’t God’s will that humans suffer from natural disasters, but God has never promised us that He will protect us from ourselves. What God has done is to build a base by which His servants can help those who are suffering. The Church has a responsibility to show God’s love and compassion for the hurting. Atheists need to pitch in and help clean up the mess, not try to blame God. (Read Matthew 25:31-40.)
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Thomas Jefferson’s Bible

Thomas Jefferson's Bible examined in the book Doubting Thomas
Atheists and skeptics have done a good job of convincing many people that Thomas Jefferson was especially critical of the claims of Jesus being the Son of God,and that he was a closet atheist. I have heard (and repeated I am sorry to say), the claim that Jefferson’s Bible had holes all through it in which he clipped out anything he didn’t like. The story was that a good percentage of the pages of Thomas Jefferson’s Bible were missing. (I have commented that a lot of us do that mentally.) It turns out that most of what we have been told about Jefferson and his religious convictions are not true.

Mark Beliles and Jerry Newcombe wrote a book published by Morgan James in October of 2014 titled Doubting Thomas: The Religious Life and Legacy of Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson did clearly state that people should be free to believe or to disbelieve in Jesus, which no thinking American can deny. That view influenced his writing of the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom. He also wrote, but did not publish, a work which was designed to help Indians understand the philosophy of Christianity. It was titled The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth Extracted From the Account of His Life and Doctrines as Given by Mathew, Mark, Luke and John; Being an Abridgment of the New Testament for the Use of Indians Unembarrassed with Matters of Fact or Faith Beyond the Level of Their Comprehensions. (What a title!) According to Jefferson, this work was to help the Indians benefit from the moral teachings of Jesus Christ. Jefferson stated in a letter to William Canby on September 18, 1813: “Of all the systems of morality, ancient or modern, which have come under my observation, none appear to me so pure as that of Jesus Christ.”

When Jefferson was president he regularly attended the Christian worship services held at the U.S. Capitol building. He did not exclude miracles from what is called “The Jefferson Bible.” Matthew 10:8, Luke 14:1-6, Matthew 9:18-25, Matthew 9:20-22 and Matthew 9:27-31 are all in his Bible. However, he struggled with some doctrinal issues which he called “Christology.” He had an especially hard time with the Godhead.

He was not a theologian, but he clearly was a believer. He devoted a great deal of energy and time to understanding the teachings of Jesus Christ as indicated by Thomas Jefferson’s Bible.
— John N. Clayton © 2019