Frightening Polarization and Violence

Frightening Polarization and ViolenceFor 51 years, we have presented public programs on scientific evidence for the existence of God and the validity of the Bible. During that time, we have seen a lot of violence, going beyond verbal threats. I have had a pie thrown at me during a lecture. Someone smashed the windows of my truck with a hammer. Personal property at my home was set on fire. In a few situations, I have been shoved, pushed, or hit with a stick. Those incidents have always involved disgruntled individuals with an ax to grind who felt that I was persecuting them. In each case, the damage was minimal. Receiving threats is common for anyone who takes a strong position on God or politics. The frightening polarization and violence is a whole different matter if those threats are physically carried out.

We regularly get reports of violence against believers in God who are public about their faith and why they believe. We recently heard of a threat against Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos by Austin College professor Robert Rancho. He posted a statement that “.. I’d be ok if Betsy DeVos was sexually assaulted.” Nahweed Tahmas tells of being punched, kicked, and spat on for stating his patriotic beliefs because he is a conservative with a positive message about God. I want to emphasize that the problem is not that some people may not agree with the position of some public speakers. I don’t agree with some things these two people have presented. The problem is that we have reached the point in America today where it is acceptable to use violence when we disagree with a public speaker.

The frightening polarization and violence are being addressed by an organization called The Leadership Institute in Arlington, Virginia. Dealing primarily with incidents of campus violence, The Leadership Institute is organizing and recruiting people on all campuses to report abuses. While the Does God Exist? ministry does not have a political agenda, we do understand that we are all affected by the polarization of Americans that encourages militarism and physical retaliation for perceived injustices.

Years ago, I worked with a group in London, England, who were reaching the British people. They said they had arranged a public meeting for me, and they led me to platform in a city park. “Start telling your message,” they told me. As I spoke, a crowd gathered, and I wondered if I was physically safe. The group was polite, paid attention, asked good questions, and stated objections in a pleasant way.

I wonder if that could happen in America today? I suspect that in many places, it could not. A physical, political organization that encourages the use of force is not the answer. Jesus went up onto a hill, and people came to him (Matthew 5:1-2). When He had physical opposition in Nazareth, He simply passed through it and went on His way (Luke 4:16-30). We need to present our case as Jesus did, with patience, love, and consideration, not increasing the frightening polarization and violence in America today.
— 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

Would E.T. Live by the Bible?

Would E.T. Live by the Bible?The movie E.T. has been getting a revival of interest because of a renewed interest in UFOs and claims of alien visitation. The media has given much attention to exoplanets – planets orbiting stars other than our Sun. With all this attention to life in space, it is no wonder we get the question of whether they would follow the teachings of Christ. “Would E.T. live by the Bible?” is mostly idle speculation, but there is a point to be made.

We have made the argument that the teachings of Jesus show wisdom and design beyond that of mere humans. You can’t take the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5–7 and not see that if all humans lived by those standards the Earth would be at peace and most of our problems would be gone. Even from a purely intellectual standpoint, it seems that an advanced civilization would have come to the point of realizing that war, fighting, selfishness, and greed are destructive and should be weeded out of the culture. Would E.T. live by the Bible? He would if he is smart.

I am reminded of a radio debate I had many years ago in Washington D.C., moderated by Larry King. The atheist representative was advocating humanism, but he and I were finding a lot to agree on. The show came to a halt when a listener called in and asked the atheist, “What would you do if a little green man landed in the Whitehouse lawn in a flying saucer, got out with a Bible in his hand and said ‘Has Jesus Christ been here yet?’” My atheist friend responded, “Punt.”
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Great Auk and Human Stewardship Failure

Great Auk and Human Stewardship FailureIt was a flightless North Atlantic bird that stood upright 30-33 inches (75-85 cm) tall and weighed 11 pounds (5 kg). Its small wings were less than 6 inches (15 cm) long. It’s also the story of the great auk and human stewardship failure.

The fact that the great auk couldn’t fly and that it was large enough to provide a meal for hungry sailors is a major reason why it became extinct. People also killed them for their feathers. As the great auk was nearing extinction, people killed the last ones to stuff their skins and display them as trophies in museums and private collections.

Though the great auk couldn’t fly in the air, it did fly underwater. Some might say this bird was poorly designed with its large body and small wings. But underwater, those wings became fins to pursue and catch fish. Larger wings would have been a hindrance underwater. The large size of this bird gave evidence that it found abundant food and had no need to fly in the air.

Great auks had few predators, but since they couldn’t fly and were slow on land, they became easy prey for humans. When it was evident that they were becoming extinct, great auks became more valuable. Collectors wanted a stuffed bird for a trophy, and museums wanted one for display. At last, there was only one breeding pair and one egg left on Eldey Island off the coast of Iceland. On July 3, 1844, three men climbed up on Eldey Island, killed the last two birds, and smashed the egg. The great auk was no more.

The picture shows a monument to the great auk in Iceland facing toward Eldey, the rocky island where the birds made their last stand. It tells the sad story of the great auk and human stewardship failure. God gave humans the duty to care for His creation. He commanded Adam and Eve to “rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Genesis 1:28). Jesus told us that God cares for the birds. (See Matthew 6:26 and Luke 12:6.) The Apostle Paul in Romans 13:4 talks about human rulers. He wrote that they are “God’s servants for your good.” I think we can apply that concept of rulers to our duty toward the living creatures God created. We are stewards entrusted with caring for the world God gave us, including the living creatures.

Today there is a lack of regard even for human life. For the sake of convenience, people kill babies before they are born. Others set out to kill as many people as possible using guns or vehicles. The great auk and human stewardship failure is a reminder of how many times humans have failed to keep God’s commands. “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love that he had for us, made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by Grace!” (Ephesians 2:4-5 CSV).
— Roland Earnst © 2019

That’s Not Fair

Thats Not Fair“That’s not fair!” We hear that not only from adults but even from young children. It seems that the concept of fairness is something that we don’t have to learn. It’s built into us. We see injustice in the world or in our personal space, and we cry out, “That’s not fair.”

Where do we get that concept of fairness and justice? Could it be that our Creator placed it within us? In the DOES GOD EXIST? ministry, we talk about evidence for the existence of God. We see design in the universe, in living things, and in our own bodies. Is it possible that we can also see evidence of God’s existence in our desire for justice? Could it be that the God who is just and loving has placed the passion for justice within us? After all, He created us in His image. One of the great frustrations we face is our inability to rid the world of injustice. But more than that it seems that we can’t even rid ourselves of injustice. We often act in our own self-interest even when it causes undesirable consequences for others. It’s easy for us to see injustice in other people but difficult to see it in ourselves.

Christians have often been champions of justice in the abolishing slavery, in the struggle against human trafficking, and in helping the poor and oppressed around the world. When we demonstrate a passion for justice, we are emulating the life of Jesus. He was concerned about the poor and oppressed, the suffering, the neglected, and the outcast. He wept at the tomb of Lazarus as He could see the pain and injustice that sin had brought into the world. The Bible records Jesus weeping again as He approached Jerusalem for the last time. He wept because He pondered the fact that the people had not learned His message of love and justice. They were seeking someone to forcefully overthrow their evil Roman occupiers without realizing that Satan occupied their hearts.

The suffering of Jesus on the cross was the greatest injustice in the history of the world, but He did not say, “That’s not fair.” He demonstrated the greatest act of love by crying out, “Father, forgive them.” Jesus overcame injustice with love as He prayed for those who crucified him. If those of us who claim to be Christ-followers can learn to show love and seek justice for others, we will be the greatest possible witness for God’s existence. “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
— Roland Earnst © 2019

What Day Was Jesus Crucified?

What Day Was Jesus Crucified?We get questions from people challenging the accuracy of the Bible. One of those challenges is whether Jesus really rose from the grave in three days as Matthew 12:40 states. To answer that, we must ask, “What day was Jesus crucified?”

The problem people point to is that if Jesus died on Friday, the numbers don’t add up. We can solve that problem if we don’t assume that Jesus died on Friday. The word “Sabbath” comes from the Hebrew “Shabbat” meaning to rest from labor. In addition to the seventh-day Sabbath, the Jews were commanded to observe a special Sabbath at the Passover. (See Leviticus 23:4-8 and Exodus 12:16.) Most people are familiar only with the seventh-day Sabbath, so people have assumed that this is the Sabbath associated with the death of Jesus. That would mean He was crucified on Friday.

John 19:31 tells us that the day after the crucifixion was a high Sabbath or special Sabbath. That would mean it was the Passover Sabbath. That Sabbath would have been observed on Friday followed by the seventh-day Sabbath on Saturday. That would indicate that Jesus was not crucified on Friday as generally assumed. He would have been crucified on Thursday. John 19:14 also supports the Thursday crucifixion by stating that it was the preparation day for the Passover.

There is a book titled Prelude to Glory written by Wayne D. Leeper which goes into this in much more detail. Not only does it deal with the question of what day was Jesus crucified, but it also explains many other details of the crucifixion and resurrection. You can borrow a copy from this ministry or purchase it HERE.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Christ and Creation

Christ and CreationOne of the more difficult ideas for humans to grasp is the concept of what God is. Closely related to that is the problem of how Christ could be divine and yet live as a man in the flesh here on Earth. We need to examine how the Bible presents Christ and creation.

First, we must understand that God is a non-physical being existing in a higher dimension. The fact that Jesus was divine is a critical issue to the Christian system. Since Jesus was divine, His existence (like God’s) must not be physical even if He manifested Himself for a short time as a man. A popular idea in secular and even religious circles today is that Jesus was just a very good man and moral teacher. That modernist idea compromises the concept of Jesus dying to save a lost world of sinners.

The Bible presents Christ and creation by making it abundantly clear that Jesus existed before the creation. It portrays Him as independent of the limitations of time. Beginning in John 1:1, we read:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him; and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. …. (verse 14) And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us…”

To understand this passage, we must understand the real meaning of the word translated “Word” in these verses. The word used in the original Greek is “logos.” To Greek philosophers, this word meant the first cause of all things. The fact that the first cause became flesh clearly indicates that Jesus is the subject of the verses.

In John 8:58, Jesus further illustrates this point by saying, “…Before Abraham was, I am.” John 16:28 indicates Jesus came into the world by coming forth from the Father, thus indicating His existence prior to that coming forth. John 17:5 makes it even more evident when Jesus says, “And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.” Colossians 1:15-17 deals with Christ and creation by identifying Jesus’ role in the creation with these words:

“Who is the image of the invisible God, the sovereign of all creation. For in him all things were created, both in the heavens and on Earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-all things have been created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

If we understand the nature of God, all of this makes a great deal of sense. God, being the Creator of our three-dimensional world, can interact with the world in any way He wishes. We can manipulate and totally comprehend the markings on a two-dimensional sheet of paper because we exist in a higher dimension. So it is with God and us as Acts 17:28 indicates “we live and move and have our being” in God. This is our relationship to the Creator and clarifies how God can do the things He has done in human history.

Jesus was in the form of God (Philippians 2:6) but came to Earth and became flesh to provide a bridge between God and us. Hebrews 4:15 tells us, “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” We do not have a God who is removed and remote from our problems. We will not be able to say on the day of judgment, “Lord, you don’t know how it is on Earth.” God bridged the gap and eliminated that excuse. Jesus felt every temptation we feel! We can see the wisdom of God in this, and it should excite us and encourage us as we strive to follow the example Jesus gave.

The more we understand of Christ and creation, the more we comprehend the significance of Christ’s sacrifice for us. As we understand the beauty and wonder of creation, we are awe-struck by the excellent planning and wisdom. Let us praise our great God who loves us and has bridged the gap as only He could do.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Intellectually Honest Skepticism

Intellectually Honest SkepticismAs I speak on college and university campuses, a large number of people (both atheists and religious) find a statement I like to open with to be astounding. The statement is, “You can intelligently and logically and rationally believe in God.” There is an immediate air of doubt in the minds of many who cannot or do not want to believe it. I don’t know how many of them change their minds in the course or our lectures. Skepticism abounds today, but what we need is intellectually honest skepticism willing to seek the truth.

Certainly one major factor has been that various churches, groups, and individuals have dogmatically forced a creed of creationism upon all members. Those creeds frequently fly in the face of both science and common sense. The more capable and clearest thinking young people who refuse to be force-fed this dogma, simply leave the church. Many of the leading atheist speakers in the United States today came from a church background.

The growth of aggressive atheism is another factor leading many to think that intelligent, logical belief in God is impossible. Attractive websites and high budget, colorful printed materials promote naturalism, if not downright atheism. Saturated with scientific materialism and locked into a mindset that anything religious is automatically wrong, they claim to be the only voice of reason, logic, and competent science.

Instead of skepticism referring to a healthy, scientifically rigorous approach to issues and solving problems, the word has become synonymous with an anti-religion mindset. It is evident that, in a great many cases, the atheist community has completely taken over the concept of skepticism.

I want to suggest that intellectually honest skepticism is Christian in nature, and it is the approach Jesus used in His ministry and teachings. In fact, the Bible condemned religionism more strongly than atheism. The Bible makes only fleeting references to atheism. (See Romans 1:19-23.) The strong condemnation statements of Christ, and the Bible writers in general, come down on the religious leaders who force their traditions on the population. The teachings of Christ focused on attitudes and how we treat each other. The religious establishment constantly criticized Christ because He did not adhere to their traditions. His teaching was logical, practical, and pragmatic not built on the traditions of the past. He asked questions and awaited logical responses.

Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (5th Edition) defines a skeptic as “one who carries a critical or incredulous attitude into his inquiries.” Skepticism is defined as “the doctrine that all knowledge is uncertain.” This does not mean that skeptical minds reject anything that is not physical. Limiting our belief system to only what we can see, smell, touch, feel, and hear precludes all kinds of things. A vast percentage of nuclear physics, quantum mechanics, relativistic physics, and even some mathematics depends upon knowledge that does not involve the senses.

Intellectually honest skepticism demands inquiry and also recognizes that knowledge is uncertain because humans are uncertain. This does not mean that there is no such thing as truth. It just means that skeptics should be aware of their own limitations and of the human capacity to misjudge. Intellectually honest skeptics know the danger of preconceived ideas and their approach should be humble, open, and careful. Being skeptical does not mean that a person has no beliefs, morals, or convictions. I can have strong convictions and beliefs and can communicate those to others and still have the ability to change my beliefs and understandings.

Unfortunately, skepticism in today’s American culture is at least as dogmatic as ultraconservative, fundamentalistic religion. Any skeptics who would question Darwin, would likely be castigated by their peers. There is a need for intellectually honest skepticism in the world. I am a skeptic in approach, but there are some basic things that my skeptical approach has led me to believe strongly. If we reason together in an open, skeptical way, we can learn. Blind, closed skepticism and blind, closed dogmatism are impossible to tell apart to those who are seeking the truth.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Mormon Doctrines Change with the Times

Mormon Doctrines Change with the TimesOne of the unique qualities of the teachings of Jesus and the Bible is the fact that they are timeless. By contrast, Mormon doctrines change with the times.

When you read the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), they are as accurate and relevant today as when Jesus spoke them. There has been no need to bend the teachings of Christ to fit the current issues such as women’s rights and racial prejudice. Jesus treated women, other races, and all people with respect. His dialogue with the Samaritan woman in John 4 shows how Jesus dealt with both women and racial prejudice. As Galatians 3:28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS or Mormons) re-write the Genesis account to fit their theology. They have an endowment ceremony called exaltation in the secret temple drama that is open only to the faithful. It depicts the story of Adam and Eve and “their journey from the Garden of Eden to entering into God’s presence.” The instructions, passwords, and handshakes in the ritual are considered necessary for eternal life.

The instructions come from the Book of Moses, which is part of the Mormon scriptures known as the Pearl of Great Price. Women have not been allowed to speak in the endowment ceremony. On January 3, 2019, the Salt Lake City Tribune announced that women will now be allowed to speak. In some parts of the ceremony, women were required to cover their faces with a veil, and that also was eliminated.

The roles of women and Afro-Americans have changed radically in the past 50 years in Mormon teaching. Cults and human religious groups like the Mormon doctrines change with the times, but the biblical teaching remains unchanged. We need to rely on the timeless Word of God, not the writings of religious leaders like Joseph Smith.

For more information, go to www.utlm.org where Sandra Tanner, a former Mormon, has a detailed discussion of Mormon doctrines. It is also available in the May 2019 issue of the Salt Lake City Messenger, 1358 S. West Temple, Salt Lake City, UT 84115.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Bible in the Information Age

Bible in the Information AgeAn article questioning the relevance of the Bible in the information age appeared in the Rochester (Indiana) Sentinel on May 8, 2019. The article was titled “The Bible Versus Information Age,” and in it, Dave Gudeman wrote:

“As long as you have a church that doesn’t question the Bible…you will have a stagnant congregation with little spiritual life…When a pastor is willing to ask what his or her congregation believes about the Bible, about God, about their faith and their beliefs about who Jesus is and then be willing to build their congregations around those beliefs, you would have the fastest growing church in town.”

I don’t question the reality of that statement, but what you would have is a social club, and not the Church Jesus died to establish. Earlier in his column, Mr. Gudeman wrote that many young people questioning the validity of the Bible “…leads me to wonder if the Bible can stand up to the scrutiny and logic of today’s information age of the internet.”

If you are a thinking and questioning adult, you know that the Bible can do more than stand up to the “scrutiny and logic.” The Bible in the information age is the same as it always has been — a tool to help young and old learn what works, what is true, and what is not.

The number of scams and immoral promotions on the internet is massive. A large percentage of the pornography being absorbed by young people today is coming from the internet. We have cited case after case on this website of misinformed or deliberately misrepresented information on the web. Our own array of sites beginning with doesgodexist.org and including “evidence4god” on Facebook has made use of the information age to show the strong evidence for God and to give answers to faith questions people ask.

The difference is whether you want a big church or an informed group of believers who work together to teach and provide accurate information while practicing what Jesus taught. That includes feeding the hungry, clothing those who need clothes, ministering to people in prison, bringing medical care to children. It also includes exposing misinformation such as the idea that somehow, humanity has outgrown the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Bible in the information age.
—John N. Clayton © 2019