The Concept of Repentance

The Concept of RepentanceOne of the most misunderstood aspects of the Christian faith is the concept of repentance. Many atheists, as well as some Christians, view repentance as a negative, oppressive act in which an individual is forced to verbally deny some pleasure that the religious establishment condemns. The fact is that the biblical concept of repentance is a positive, progressive movement toward the future.

The Old Testament refers to God repenting. Genesis 6:6-7 says, “It repented the Lord that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.” Exodus 32:14, Judges 2:18, 1 Samuel 15:11, and many other passages speak of God repenting. There is a Hebrew word “nacham,” which expresses God’s repentance. God is immutable in His being but changes his relationship and attitude.

The concept of repentance in humans uses the Hebrew word “shoob,” describing a positive, progressive change. Second Kings 23:25 says of Josiah that “there was no king before him which repented to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might.” Many versions translate this concept to “turn” from destructive behavior to a positive one.

Repentance is a major theme of the New Testament. Examples are Acts 17:30, Mark 1:4 and 6:12, Luke 5:32 and 24:47. The word is also used in reference to congregations, as in Revelation 2:5,16 and 3:3. The Greek word used to describe this process is “metanoia,” with “meta” meaning change and “noia” referring to the mind. Vine’s Dictionary of Bible Words defines repentance as “a radical transformation of thought, attitude, outlook, and direction.”

Biblical examples give us a clearer picture of the concept of repentance. The city of Nineveh in Jonah 3:5-10 changed from a corrupt, immoral, violent, destructive place to one of peace and care. Zacchaeus in Luke 19:8-9 changed from a corrupt tax collector to an honest and generous supporter of the poor. The Prodigal Son in Luke 15:19-21 changed from a drunken customer of the pleasure industry to a responsible citizen, and the Jews in Acts 2:38-41 changed from hypocritical, selfish legalists to benevolent Christians.

Repentance is not religious enslavement of humans, but a positive change. Jesus said in Matthew 3:8, “Bring forth fruits which prove your repentance.” Ephesians 4:22-24 speaks of “being mentally and spiritually remade … with a new nature made by God’s design.” Colossians 3:9-11 speaks of “putting off the old man with his deeds and putting on the new man which is being remolded in knowledge.” Repentance is not a one-time thing. It is a positive change that we all need to make. Who would not like to see repentance in the politicians and rulers of the world, especially if that change involved the love and peace of Matthew 5 – 7?
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Decline of Faith in God

Praying to God in spite of Decline of Faith in GodOne of the frustrations we face is the decline of faith in God. Along with that is the fact that many congregations and preachers don’t recognize the problem. We were encouraged to see Phil Sanders point out the problem in the November (2019) issue of The Search Light, the newsletter of SearchTV.org.

Here are some of the comments Sanders presented, and to which we say “Amen.” He pointed out the obvious fact that there are atheists who don’t believe in God. But he also noted that there are practical atheists who may or may not intellectually believe in God, but who leave no doubt by the way they live that God does not matter. He reminds us that research has shown that the “nones” are the fast-growing religious group in America today. They are the people who claim to have no religious affiliation and are, therefore, practical atheists.

Sanders also pointed out some disturbing data, including the fact that 26% of the American population has no religious affiliation, up from 17% in 2009. Those who describe themselves as Christians are 65%, down from 77% a decade ago. That trend carries across the board among churches. Congregations of the Church of Christ have lost 192,224 adherents in the past 12 years, an average of 16,000 per year. In 2018 there were 11,965 congregations of the Church of Christ in the U.S., and in 2006 there were 12,963. That is an average loss of 83 congregations per year, or one every 4.4 days. Since 1980 the decline has been 6.3%.

DOES GOD EXIST? has worked to fight this decline of faith in God since this ministry started in 1968. We help people build their faith in God, and we do it 24/7. We encourage you to go to our main website doesgodexist.org and see what we have available to help individuals and congregations. You can read all of Phil Sanders’ article at THIS LINK.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

How to Become More Spiritual

How to Become More SpiritualWe recently received a question that perhaps all of us need to consider. The questioner wanted to know how to become more spiritual. We don’t find the word “spiritual” in the Old Testament of the Bible or in the gospels. It doesn’t refer to someone walking around piously, or a person who is in constant verbal prayer to impress others. It is not a “goody two shoes” word, and in fact, it can refer to evil and Satan. Ephesians 6:12, for example, says: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against SPIRITUAL wickedness in high places.”

Vines Dictionary of Biblical Words says that the word “spiritual” refers to “Things that have their origin with God and which, therefore, are in harmony with His character.” Romans 7:14 tells us that the law is spiritual, but it could not make humans spiritual. James 2:10 points out that if you are guilty of breaking one part of the law, you are guilty of the whole law. If you get arrested for stealing, the fact that you didn’t murder anyone will not exonerate you. The only way we can become more spiritual is through the grace of God and the power of the blood of Christ. First John 1:6-10 how to become more spiritual by “walking in the light,” and having a unique relationship with God through Christ.

Much of the New Testament instruction is aimed at helping Christians become more spiritual. Galatians 6:1 talks about using whatever strength we have to help each other, and verse 2 talks about bearing each other’s burdens. We can grow in sympathy, understanding, compassion, and all that goes into being a more spiritual person. Music can help us grow spiritually. Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:13-17 talk about “spiritual songs.” Songs like “If I Have Wounded Any Soul Today” and “Trust and Obey” sung in our car as we drive or in our homes as we do our daily chores can help us. Praying to grow in spirituality is another excellent tool.

Learning and increasing in our knowledge of God and His Word can help us become stronger spiritually. Second Peter 3:18 states this directly, and 1 Peter 2:2 speaks of having a desire to grow. Ephesians 4:11-15 says that knowledge is a part of spiritual maturity, and Colossians 1:9-12 speaks of learning to know God. All of these Bible passages tell us how to become more spiritual.

Skeptics and atheists who follow “survival of the fittest” as the core foundation of their lives have no interest and no capability to be spiritual in a positive sense. “Spiritual wickedness in dark places” is well defined as “Things having their origin in Satan and which, therefore, are in harmony with his character.”
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Why Do We Have Mosquitoes?

Why Do We Have Mosquitoes?Every summer and early fall, the newspapers start talking about how horrible mosquitoes are. Then I have to deal with questions of why mosquitoes exist. If there is a kind and loving God, why do we have to worry about the diseases that mosquitoes carry? I have heard some people give rather foolish answers to this question, and I don’t wish to over-simplify in discussing it. But why do we have mosquitoes?

Many years ago, one of my professors at Notre Dame was Dr. George B. Craig, whose specialty was mosquitoes. He was “an internationally recognized expert on the biology and control of mosquitoes” according to a publication of the National Academies of Sciences. As one of his students, I learned some fantastic things about mosquitoes. Mosquitoes are pollinating insects. Most species of mosquitoes pollinate plants and don’t “bite” anything.

The word “mosquito” is Spanish for “little fly” and there are some 3500 species of them. The larvae of the mosquito are a significant part of the diet of fish and other water creatures. The mutation which turned some of them into bloodsuckers seems to have come into existence in recent history. It appears they were not created that way, and certainly have not always carried malaria and other diseases. The fact that there were no mosquitoes in Hawaii until the white man came to the islands with water barrels containing mosquito larvae is another important point to consider. The question of “why do we have mosquitoes” won’t always get answered to everyone’s satisfaction, but at least we can raise some points to make people think.

The design of the various food chains on Earth is very complex. This is especially true in freshwater areas with unique problems. In Alaska, for example, the necessary minerals for plants and the food sources for bears come from the salmon runs that bring the nutrients. The soil is sparse and nutrient-poor, and much of the year, the cold prevents normal food chains from functioning. Insects provide a significant means of moving nutrients through the system, so they are the base of the food chain in those freshwater systems. Without mosquito larvae to feed the freshwater creatures, including the salmon, that life would not exist.

Research has not given us enough data to understand how mutations in insects allow them to become disease carriers. There are multiple possible answers to that question, and future discoveries will make it more clear. Those of us who live in the north may not like the mosquitoes that make our outside activities uncomfortable, but we know how to cope with them. Why do we have mosquitoes? As we tie our dry flies to fish for trout and salmon, we see why the beauty of the north is at least partially rooted in things that complicate our lives. Mosquitoes are among those complications.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Ancient Torah Scroll in Library of Congress

Ancient Torah Scroll in Library of Congress
Library of Congress

Skeptics often challenge the accuracy of the Bible manuscripts. The idea is that copies have been made of copies, causing errors to creep in as each copier makes mistakes and repeats the errors of previous copyists. Also, words change their meaning. An obvious modern example is the word “gay,” which does not have the same meaning now that it had 50 years ago. It is true that the original documents written in the first century do not exist. However, the Dead Sea Scrolls contain Old Testament documents from before the time of Christ. In January of 2018, the Library of Congress announced that it had obtained the oldest complete ancient Torah scroll sheet totally legible to the naked eye.

So how do we determine the accuracy of Bible manuscripts? We use copies of the biblical manuscripts that are very old and compare them to the documents that were used to produce a particular translation of the Bible. Gary Rendsburg writing in Biblical Archaeology Review (November/December 2019, page 51), said this about the Torah scroll in the Library of Congress: “The document is nothing short of outstanding! Compared to the other old Torah scroll sheets and fragments surveyed, this sheet, composed of five columns of text, is perfectly legible. Every single letter can be read easily.”

So how does this ancient copy of the Torah line up with the five books of Moses found in your Bible? The answer is “very well.” There is nothing in this oldest Torah manuscript that changes anything stated in the Bible you have. The copyists were very careful not to make mistakes. While some paraphrase Bibles might inject modern human bias or error, that is generally not true of the academic translations of the Bible. This ancient Torah scroll validates the Pentateuch, but similar techniques confirm other passages in the Old and New Testaments. We can trust what we read in modern translations of the Bible.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

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

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

Promise and Hope of Christianity

Promise and Hope of ChristianityWe can’t win with the atheist press, because atheists attack us for anything we do or anything we don’t do. If Christians are not involved in the latest natural disaster relief effort, atheists criticize that non-involvement. They ignore the fact that virtually no atheist organization has ever consistently engaged in disaster relief. When Christians are involved, critics question their motives and challenge their financial involvement. The atheist critics are overlooking the promise and hope of Christianity.

Our small congregation here in Michigan has a food pantry that serves around 100 people in our area. We and are constantly reminded by the state that we cannot allow our name to be on anything we give people because that is considered to be self-serving.

An atheist spokesman recently told me that he would never become a Christian because he wanted to enjoy life and be happy. He said he wanted no part of being poor and miserable by giving everything away. He was very familiar with Matthew 25:31-36 where Jesus says that service to others is a measurement by which we will be judged. The Bible urges Christians to be the “light of the world” (Matthew 5:14), to do good to all (Galatians 6:10), and to be helpful to the weak (1 Thessalonians 5:14-16).

What atheists and many believers alike are forgetting is the promise and hope of Christianity. Jesus came “that (we) might have life, and that (we) might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). The Bible teaches that we should take care of our bodies. Ephesians 5:29 tells us, “No man ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes it and cherishes it…” The body is the temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16-17), and God’s Spirit lives within us ( 2 Corinthians 5:5). Acts 2:40 finds Peter telling the crowd at Pentecost, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”

The Bible is concerned about more than our physical well being. A more significant threat to an enjoyable life and happiness is our mental condition. Jesus cured extreme mental illness in the wonderful story of Luke 8:26-40. Psalms 139 and Psalms 23 provide the viewpoint of a child of God who is mentally stable, satisfied with life, and confident about the future. The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 -7 provides ways of living at peace with good mental health. Romans 8:28 gives a level of confidence no atheist can comprehend. In Philippians 4:11-13, Paul expresses a view all Christians can have. “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am in, to be content. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.”

I have lived as a vocal, campaigning atheist, and I have been with loved ones who lived and died as atheists. Atheism is not a happy philosophy or religion, and it makes no promises about the future but eternal blackness at best. If I found there is no God, I would still want to live as a Christian, because the promise and hope of Christianity now and in the future is priceless. The peace that the Holy Spirit brings assures me that God is real.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

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