Normalizing Murder, Part 2

Details of bony structures in 14-week-old fetus from an ultrasound equipment manufacturer.

Last week, we looked at the first eight of sixteen statements phrased as fill-in-the-blank sentences that are showing up on billboards in Cleveland, Ohio supporting the barbaric practice of abortion. Today, I’d like to work through the remaining eight.

  1. “Abortion is  life-saving. “ The irony of this statement would be comical if it weren’t such tragic disinformation. A successful abortion necessarily kills an innocent human. That’s not life-saving; that’s life-destroying. And while there are still cases where carrying the baby to term truly endangers the mother’s life, such as ectopic (tubal) pregnancies or uterine cancer where treatment may kill the baby and non-treatment may kill the mother, these are the exception and make up a minuscule portion of abortions. Interestingly, former US Surgeon General C. Everett Koop said in 1980, “In my thirty-six years in pediatric surgery I have never known of one instance where the child had to be aborted to save the mother’s life.” Even Alan Guttmacher, former president of Planned Parenthood, stated in 1967 that “Today it is possible for almost any patient to be brought through pregnancy alive, unless she suffers from a fatal illness such as cancer or leukemia, and, if so, abortion would be unlikely to prolong, much less save, life.”[1] And genuine life-saving technology has only improved since then, thus further reducing the likelihood of actually needing an abortion.
  2. “Abortion is  a parenting decision. “  If so, then it’s a tragic and often uninformed or misinformed parenting decision. Unfortunately, too many mothers believe the lies that their baby is simply a “clump of cells” or “a parasite”, or “only a potential human”, and make bad, irreversible “parenting” decisions. But parenting is more than just biology. A parent protects, nourishes, and loves their children, and prepares them for adulthood. To have the child killed is antithetical to the common idea of what makes a “good” parent, for it is opposed to a foundational goal of parenting: desiring the good of your children.
  3. “Abortion is  liberty. “  I think this misunderstanding comes from the notion of liberty being unrestrained ability to do anything you desire. That is simply untrue. I am never free to murder my neighbor, nor am I free to steal his car for the fun of it. Liberty is the freedom to do what is right. Freedom of choice does not entail the freedom to choose wrong or to violate someone else’s rights, which is precisely what happens when the unborn baby is deprived of that most fundamental right – the right to one’s own life.
  4. “Abortion is  a second chance. “ The hidden assumption of this statement is that bringing a new life into the world is a) a mistake, and b) one that can simply be erased  like an Etch-a-Sketch via abortion. Even if a baby is “unplanned”, or “inconvenient”, or the result of a one-night-stand, affair, or even a rape – are any of these a good reason to kill an innocent baby? Where is the baby’s first chance to live and make a difference in this world?
  5. “Abortion is  hope. “ Hope achieved at the expense of another’s life is not any kind of genuine hope to offer people, but is only the vice of selfishness repackaged as a virtue. Thinking the deliberate killing of a child brings hope is to assume the child is some kind of anchor holding the mother down, and that abortion can realize the hope of release from such a weighty burden. Yet this goes completely contrary to the beautiful, nurturing nature of motherhood, that routinely sacrifices self for the child. Our next generation isn’t a burden holding us down, but rather our successors that we give a step up to so that they can achieve more than we did, just as we tried to build on what our parents did for us. Abortion actually turns the advancement of civilization on its head.
  6. “Abortion is  health care. “ Calling the ending of someone’s life without their consent “health care” is just as much Orwellian “newspeak” as calling a government propaganda department the “Ministry of Truth”.[2] When the intent of a procedure is to take a healthy living human and make them dead, that is as far from health care as can be conceived.
  7. “Abortion is  sacred. “  This is perhaps the most egregious of the slogans. I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume the intended meaning here was “entitled to reverence and respect” or “highly valued and important”, and not the religious uses of the word “sacred”. Even so, those are hardly words that should be used to describe what is at best a tragic loss of life, even in the rare cases when a mother’s life is in danger.
  8. “Abortion is  right for me. “ Dear reader, if you are considering an abortion, I hope these previous 7 responses, and the 8 from last week, have helped you see why abortion is not right for you. All of the statements examined these two weeks try to deflect your attention away from one simple question: is the object of discussion an innocent… living… human… person? If it is (and I believe there are good reasons to say it is), then there are no good reasons that can justify killing it.

What are some alternatives to abortion that would be right for you? The times that stretch us beyond what we thought we could withstand are often the times we grow the most. If you don’t feel like you could take care of a baby, consider the generations of women before that opted to push through the trials and raise a kid amidst financial uncertainty, poverty, food scarcity, war, and a host of other struggles. How many of us were “unplanned”, and caused years of sacrifice for our parents? And yet, if that was you, aren’t you glad you got the chance to live? But if your situation really does preclude raising your child, adoption is another option. Is your pregnancy burdensome? As difficult as it may seem, it is a temporary burden, while abortion is an action with permanent consequences. Seek support during this difficult time and persevere until birth so that someone else can offer your child the opportunities you can’t. In closing, everyone comes to this decision with their own story, their own questions, and fears, and concerns. If you’re trying to decide between abortion and giving birth, let me point you to a nationwide toll-free number you can call or text anytime to talk to someone about your specific situation. There is likely a pregnancy resource center near you that may even be able to offer you services like ultrasound, but this number will get you started, wherever you are in the US: 1-800-848-LOVE (5683).


[1] Koop and Guttmacher quoted at http://abort73.com/end_abortion/is_abortion_ever_justified, accessed 2018-01-14. Although I prefer to set eyes on primary sources to confirm a quote is authentic and in context, I was not able to find the sources referenced online or for sale in print. If you have a copy of Guttmacher’s book Abortion–Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow: The Case for Legalized Abortion Now (Berkeley, CA: Diablo Press, 1967), or the May 1980 issue of Moody Monthly  that you would be willing to donate or sell me, please contact me.
[2] George Orwell, 1984. A good read, I might add.

Normalizing Murder, Part 1

Image of fetal face, not from a pro-life website, but from an ultrasound manufacturer. Abortion kills a living human person.

Some billboards are going up in Cleveland promoting abortion. Now, I’m used to the typical lines like “It’s my body” and so on. I can at least understand the confusion with ideas like that; the proponent assumes that just because something is inside one’s body, then it is one’s body. My response is simple – get a DNA test done on the baby (or fetus if you prefer), and if it comes up identical to your DNA, go for it. You would have my blessing to proceed with an abortion, for it would simply be part of your body. Of course, that is an impossibility, for the mother only provides half the chromosomes to the fetus. Therefore it is impossible for it to be part of the mother’s body. From within moments of conception, the baby is a genetically distinct human. But these new billboards are so brazen in their disinformation, that they require a response. The billboards simply show a short fill-in-the-blank sentence, “abortion is _____”, with the blank filled in with one of 16 different false conclusions. As the tragic anniversary of Roe v. Wade approaches this month, and we mourn the loss of nearly 60 million Americans over the last 45 years, let’s look at the first 8 of these faulty arguments this week, and the remaining 8 next week.

  1. “Abortion is  normal. “   The word “normal” can have a technical  meaning in fields like statistics and engineering, but in everyday usage, normal means regular, common, or natural. Induced abortions ended approximately 19% of pregnancies in the US in 2014.[1] Clearly, the regular, natural result of a pregnancy, if not interrupted, is childbirth, not abortion.
  2. “Abortion is  necessary. “  Abortion is certainly not necessary, in general. If the human race is to continue to survive, childbirth is necessary, but not abortion. I’m guessing – hoping – they are referring to the specific cases where the mother’s life is in imminent danger. Is there any other case where the idea of a necessary death could even be contemplated? Even when presented with the apparent need to kill one to save the other, versus losing both, it is still a decision of last resort arrived at after exhausting other options. But those cases are the exception even in times and places of poor medical care. In light of  current medical advances, there are becoming fewer and fewer cases where a nonabortive solution can’t be found. The primary case is ectopic (tubal) pregnancy, which is an almost guaranteed death sentence for both mother and child if allowed to proceed, although even in that dire situation, there are a handful of cases where mother and baby both survived an ectopic pregnancy (with 3 in the UK between 1999 and 2005). However, these are an extremely small percentage of abortions. If this is the scenario pro-abortion activists want to appeal to, then OK; let’s ban all abortions except where it is actually necessary. Since the vast majority of abortions are elective, I suspect the argument for necessity is simply a bluff needing to be called.
  3. “Abortion is  your right. “  While abortion or a right to privacy are never mentioned in our Constitution or Declaration of Independence, the right to life is recognized and protected in both documents.[2] But since the abortion supporters bring up the subject of rights, it’s worth reminding everyone of something  R.C. Sproul used to say: nobody has the right to do what is wrong. It’s also been said in various ways since the 1800’s that the right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins. Rights come with responsibilities, and if your right to do something is reasonably restricted when it would only harm another person, how much more should that alleged “right” be restricted when it would kill an innocent person?
  4. “Abortion is  gender equality. “ This is an interesting one because sex-selective abortion kills more females than males worldwide. After years of preferentially aborting baby girls, areas like China and India are beginning to see substantial deficits in the number of women compared to men. Just from a practical standpoint, it really makes no sense for feminist women to support a procedure that actually kills more women than men worldwide. But then today’s feminists aren’t like the real pioneering feminists who were staunchly opposed to abortion.
  5. Abortion is  a  family value. “ To say that killing a family member is somehow a family value is simply bewildering. Enough said.
  6. “Abortion is  good medicine. “ Actually, abortion violates the Hippocratic Oath, from whence we get that most basic, founding medical principle of “Do no harm,” the idea that doctors should be about healing their patients, not harming them. But perhaps you might think Hippocrates was only referring to those who had been born. After all, he did live 2400 years ago and couldn’t possibly know what we know now about babies from genetics and embryology (which has only strengthened the argument against abortion, by the way). You might be tempted to think that, except that Hippocrates specifically prohibited a doctor from performing abortions in his famous Oath. Yes, it was bad medicine back then, and it’s even clearer now that things like ultrasound have opened a window into the womb.
  7. “Abortion is  safer than childbirth. “  This is based on the presupposition that the mother is the only patient involved. When we correctly understand that the unborn baby is a living human person, then we understand that every successful abortion kills at least one of the patients (and sometimes both).
  8. “Abortion is  a blessing. “ This is perhaps the most selfish of all the billboard slogans, for depriving someone of their very life, without their consent, is only a blessing if you don’t want that person alive. This slogan perverts the traditional view of children as a blessing and substitutes their death as the blessing.

Abortion is often a sensitive and emotional subject, but that is because the stakes are so high. It’s either no big deal and all these billboards trying to justify it are needless, or the human race has killed 1.4 billion of its most defenseless members without provocation – just since 1980 [3] – and it’s actually the most important issue facing humanity. There really is no in-between. If the unborn baby is a living human person, innocent of any wrongdoing, then abortion is murder, and abortionists are not doctors but serial killers. And if we continue to ignore the holocaust happening right in front of us, our generation will be just as shamed in future history books as the households of American slave owners and the Germans who lived near the Nazi death camps and looked the other way.


[1] http://abort73.com/abortion_facts/us_abortion_statistics/
[2] Preamble to the US Declaration of Independence, and the 14th amendment to the US Constitution.
[3] See www.numberofabortions.com for more tragic abortion stats.

Another New Year and Still No Return of Christ

One of many predictions of Christ’s return that didn’t pan out.

As I write this, another year has passed into history, and a new year has crested the horizon. Skeptics like to point out that Christians have been saying Jesus is coming back soon – any minute now – practically since He left. “Enough already! Haven’t all these failed predictions convinced you Christians that none of this is true?” they ask. What of that? Does Christ’s not returning as He promised (yet) show Christianity to be false? Let’s work through that today.

First off, does Jesus say exactly when He’s returning? No. Predictions of exact dates are based on the all-too-fallible interpretations of mere humans. And Jesus specifically said that no man knew the day or the hour of His return [Matt 24:36,42,44], so these attempts to predict such a date are actually contrary to what Christ taught. While we are to pay attention, be prepared, and live accordingly [2Pet 3:11,14], we portray Jesus as a liar if we try to say He is returning at such-and-such a time. But why was God so vague in all the end-time references in the Bible? Why “tease” us like that? I would suggest that maybe He wanted to prepare us for what was to come, but not let our procrastinating tendency get the better of us.  What if God had actually said that Jesus would come back on March 11th of the year 4377? Honestly, I don’t think many of us would have a real sense of urgency about broadcasting the good news of salvation to those who need to hear it if we knew the deadline was thousands of years away. Meanwhile, people are dying every day separated from God. The situation has been, and continues to be, urgent, but our limited perspective blinds us to it. Given a definite date, far beyond the end of our lives, we would say it wasn’t a problem, forgetting that the task of evangelizing the world is a long-term project (humanly speaking). Simply put, we would blow it off, while the world lay in dire need of the Good News we so casually held onto.

Secondly, this ridicule of skeptics due to Christ’s delay is exactly what Peter says will happen in his 2nd letter, when he warns that mockers will come, asking where Christ’s return is, and saying that all has been the same since the beginning of creation. But Peter reminds his readers that it hasn’t really been the same since the beginning – God judged the earth once with a flood, and will judge the earth again. Third, Peter offered his readers an important reminder that I want to focus on today: “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” [2Pet 3:9]

People tend to think about the Second Coming of Christ as something that can happen at any time, and should’ve already happened since it was anticipated so long ago (by human standards). OK, fine – let’s look at the alternative. What if Christ delays coming back for a million years? Or a hundred million years? Our sun has enough hydrogen to burn for several billion years, and geologically, the earth is good for several hundred million more years of supporting advanced life forms. So is there any reason He couldn’t delay a really long time from our perspective? We humans tend to have short attentions spans (Twitter, anyone? Just saying…), and we tend to think that any delay is an unreasonable delay.  But what would be the end effect of such a long delay? We Christians would have more time to evangelize the world so that in the end, the number of people that died without hearing the Gospel would be minuscule compared to the overwhelming masses of people over thousands (or millions) of years who did hear and had the opportunity to repent. For instance, imagine if He had returned in His disciples’ lifetimes, as they appeared to have been expecting. It’s estimated that only 1 out of every 360 people in the known world were committed Christians in AD 100, after the disciples had been evangelizing the world for 70 years. But that ratio has been decreasing ever since. Now, almost 2 millennia later the number is closer to 1 in 7.[1] Even in human terms, I can understand waiting 2000 years to allow those kinds of numbers of perishing people to come to Christ. While I don’t think a time would ever come when the world’s population is entirely Christian, or even majority Christian [Matt 7:13-14], I could see a time when the number of people unable to hear a gospel presentation and decide for themselves whether to accept or reject Christ approaches zero. Is that God’s plan? I don’t know, but it could explain why He tarries, “not desiring that any should perish” [v9].

As Bill Mounce says, eschatology (the study of end times) is primarily ethical. It’s not intended to provide a detailed map of future events, but rather tell us how we should live in light of what’s coming, being always ready, and working faithfully until He returns.[2] Christ’s not returning yet is not reason to doubt His eventual return, but to be grateful for His patience in allowing more people the opportunity to hear and choose wisely. It’s also a reminder for us Christians that our work is not yet done, and as long as there are still people dying without Christ, it is incumbent on us to not slack in our service of bringing them the Good News, no matter the cost. So I ask you today, to not let another year slip away unprepared to stand before Christ, for whether Christ ever returns in any of our lifetimes, we are nevertheless guaranteed an appointment before Him after our deaths [Heb 9:27]. Make sure you’re ready, and then help others do likewise.


[1] Lausanne Statistics Task Force, as cited by William Lane Craig in On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision (David C Cook, Kindle Edition), Kindle Locations 2707-2708. Ratio of 1 in 7 is the estimated number of committed Christians to non-Christians, in 1989. Nominal Christians are not included in either category. If all nominal Christians were included with non-Christians (worst case), the current ratio would still only increase to 1 in 9. Such estimations are necessarily imprecise, for only God truly knows the heart, but this does, it seems, provide a lower bound on the ratio of Christians to non-Christians worldwide.
[2] Bill Mounce, in his lecture on Mark 13 in Biblical Training Institute’s Academy curriculum.

The Twin Pillars of Christmas & Easter

National Building Museum, Washington DC, 2017. Author’s photo.

As the Christmas celebrations wrapped up, a friend shared the following quote yesterday from atheist New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman:

The God of Christmas is not a God of wrath, judgment, sin, punishment, or vengeance. He is a God of love, who wants the best for people and gives of himself to bring peace, joy, and redemption. That’s a great image of a divine being. This is not a God who is waiting for you to die so he can send you into eternal torment. It is a God who is concerned for you and your world, who wants to solve your problems, heal your wounds, remove your pain, bring you joy, peace, happiness, healing, and wholeness. Can’t we keep that image with us all the time? Can’t we affirm that view of ultimate reality 52 weeks of the year instead of just a few? I myself do not believe in God. But if I did, that would be the God I would defend, promote, and proclaim. Enough of war! Enough of starvation! Enough of epidemics! Enough of pain! Enough of misery! Enough of abject loneliness! Enough of violence, hatred, narcissism, self-aggrandizement, and suffering of every kind! Give me the God of Christmas, the God of love, the God of an innocent child in a manger, who comes to bring salvation and wholeness to the world, the way it was always meant to be.”[1, emphasis mine]

I get it. We tend to like the “God of Christmas”: the God who sends Jesus to be born as one of us, the God who so loved the world that He sent His Son for us, the God who is “pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus, our Immanuel!”[2] Unless you have some psychosis where you resent being loved, who wouldn’t want “that God”? But here’s the thing. God isn’t one-dimensional. We often complain about books and movies where the character development is shallow, and each character has one personality trait that is exaggerated to the exclusion of all others. Then, why do we want God to be equally one-dimensional? Can He not be loving and just? But justice requires the judgement that Bart resents. Can He not love us, and punish evildoers? It’s hard to complain of the “problem of evil” if you specifically reject a God who judges and punishes evil.

What I think Bart is missing is that the “God of Christmas” is necessarily the same “God of the Cross”. You can’t have the manger without the cross, or the cross without the manger; they are twin pillars  in God’s plan of redemption.  We must not forget that the birth of Christ is not really functional without the other pillar: Easter. These two events, separated by about 33 years, mark the beginning and completion of a critical phase of God’s redemption plan established before the world was even formed. If Jesus had simply materialized at the cross to be a sacrifice for our sin, he wouldn’t have lived a sinless life [2Cor 5:21, Heb 4:15] to be an unblemished sacrifice [Heb 9:14]. If Jesus had been born and lived His perfect life, only to die the familiar and final death of men, then He would’ve been a great teacher and role model, but not our redeemer bringing eternal life, and we would be no better off than before He came. We can’t have one without the other. While we may feel more comfortable with the lowly child Jesus, the incarnation through a virgin birth was the necessary beginning that must end in the crucifixion and resurrection. The purpose of Jesus becoming that “innocent child in a manger” that would satisfy Bart, was to become the sacrifice that would satisfy the wrath of God that Bart resents.

Does wrath make you uncomfortable? It should. Left to face the perfectly fair justice of God on our own, wrath is rightly ours to bear. But that doesn’t have to be our fate. For God so loved the world, that He sent His Son [Jn 3:16], not to stay a sweet lowly baby, not to merely be a good teacher, and not to be an interesting story to ponder centuries later, but to be the mediator between us and God [1Tim 2:5], to be our great High Priest [Heb 2:17-18, 7:25], to pay the price for sin that we might receive the free gift of God [Rom 3:23-24, 5:8, 6:23]! There is no dichotomy here – the  God of Christmas and the God of the Cross are one and the same. For that sweet baby came to be our ransom and take the wrath of God; and the cross and subsequent resurrection were the culmination of God’s love for us in sending Jesus to redeem us, and Jesus’s love for us in sacrificing His life for us. Christmas and Easter are both necessary pillars supporting God’s plan for our salvation. So give me that God, that is big enough to orchestrate a plan so much grander and better than anything Bart Ehrman, or me, or anyone else could ever come up with. Give me that God, who is loving and just, whose wrath is righteous, who is the only one who can be trusted with vengeance, who judges fairly and consistently, yet whose mercy and grace are unfathomable.  Give me that God, who loved me while I was His enemy, with a costly, sacrificial love, but also loves me enough to not let me stay wallowing in my sin. Rather He disciplines me, convicts me, molds me, even though it’s uncomfortable, but it’s for my own good, even when I can’t see that far.

In short, give me… the God of the Bible.


[1] Bart Ehrman’s blog, from Christmas Eve, 2017, https://ehrmanblog.org/christmas-reflection-2017, accessed 2017-12-26.
[2] Charles Wesley, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”, verse 2.

Where to Start?

Photo Credit: FreeImages.com/Krista Johanson

I was reading some more of atheist Dan Barker’s book “godless”, and came across this passage:

“I have often heard Christians say we must ‘start with God.’ … Isn’t that interesting? Would they say we must ‘start with unicorns’ or must ‘start with UFOs?’ We can only start where we both agree, and proceed from there. We both agree that there is a natural universe – no argument there. It is the religious persons who maintain additional ‘supernatural’ or transcendent assertions that go beyond what we both accept. It is unreasonable and unfair for them simply to fold their arms and demand that I disprove their allegations. Any impartial investigator will agree that we should start with what we do know, and then proceed from there. We should start with nature. We should start with the nonexistence of God and then the believer should argue for God’s existence, not demand that atheists argue against it. The burden of proof in any argument is on the shoulders of the one who makes the affirmative claim, not the one who doubts it.” [1, emphasis in original]

What do you think? Does he have a legitimate point? Let’s work through that today.

Let me first just agree with Dan on his last statement about the burden of proof. He is correct: anyone making positive propositional statements bears the burden of proof for those statements. With that in mind, let me quote the closing sentences of Dan’s previous paragraph: “…the probability for the existence of a supernatural being can be safely dropped to zero. In the name of honesty, it must be dropped to zero.” (emphasis in original) Dan, I’m afraid, took on a monumentally heavy burden of proof with that proposition. I’m no UFO hunter, but I’m not about to make the bold claim that the probability of UFOs are zero. To prove a universal negative requires either proving a self-contradiction that makes it deductively impossible, or observing all possibilities to verify inductively that the object in question does not exist in some unobserved state. However, the concept of God is not internally inconsistent, like speaking of a square circle would be, where we can truly say it cannot exist, by definition. Nor is Dan Barker omniscient, and able to search all time and space, and alternate dimensions, and so on, to verify the non-existence of God. I think I would reconsider that proposition if I were Dan.

Moving on, I agree that starting with common ground is a great place to start. That saves two opponents the trouble of arguing back and forth trying to establish such common ground. And we do both agree that a natural universe exists; we can both observe it, and we can both make rational inferences about it. So I’m perfectly OK starting with nature. But did you notice the switch Barker did? First he wrote that we should “start with nature”, but then in the very next sentence, he wrote that “we should start with the nonexistence of God….” Not so fast there, Dan. Those aren’t the same. If we start with nature, then we are starting with raw observational data of the world around us, working to establish probable causes for what we observe. One of those possible causes is God, no matter how small you personally feel that possibility is. Therefore, you can’t rule that out beforehand. This is actually the logical fallacy called “begging the question”, or “assuming what you set out to prove”. [2] Now, if he had eliminated God as a possible cause in the course of the investigation, that would be one thing that we’d have to look at more closely later to find where he went wrong. However, defining Him out of the investigation before you even begin is like deliberately putting blinders on before watching a lab experiment, and wondering why you can’t explain the results: you only saw half the experiment!

As a former pastor, Dan Barker should know that the Bible encourages us to look at nature. Passages like Psalm 19 tell us that “the heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” [Ps19:1]  Paul tells us in the New Testament that “since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” [Ro 1:20] And when we look at nature, we find a lot of things that need explaining. We see an absolute beginning that requires a Beginner; we see an incredibly fine-tuned cosmos that requires a powerful super-intelligence beyond imagination; we see amazing code written in our every cell that points to a Master Programmer; and we see beauty that has inspired artists and poets in every generation to try to represent it to their audiences. In short, we see that nature speaks of something beyond nature, something supernatural. Contrary to what Dan Barker assumes, when we have an open mind as we “start with nature”, we are compelled toward God, not away from Him.


[1] Dan Barker, godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists (Berkeley: Ulysses Press, 2008), p. 92.
[2] Peter Kreeft, Socratic Logic (South Bend: St. Augustine’s Press, 2010), p. 94.

Hell vs Love

“Hell”, photograph by Robert Doisneau, 1952

Is the concept of hell as a place of eternal punishment incompatible with the concept of a loving God? I’m reading a couple of books right now written by atheists who both view hell not only as a moral outrage, but as contrary to the nature of God as loving. Are they right? Let’s dig in to that tonight.

Atheist David Madison wrote in 2016, “Hell and eternal punishment fall into the category of the cruel and unusual. Pain and torture that go on forever can’t be part of sound theology. ” [1] Eight years prior, Dan Barker wrote, “Love is not hatred or wrath, assigning billions of people to eternal torture because they have offended your fragile ego or disobeyed your rules….” [2] Of course, Richard Dawkins gave his own sensational statement on hell back in 2006: “I am persuaded that the phrase ‘child abuse’ is no exaggeration when used to describe what teachers and priests are doing to children whom they encourage to believe in something like the punishment of unshriven mortal sins in an eternal hell.” [3] But this opposition to hell is hardly limited to the so-called “new atheists.” Bertrand Russell, back in 1927, stated that “There is one very serious defect to my mind in Christ’s moral character, and that is that He believed in hell. I do not myself feel that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment.” [4]

With that brief survey of some of the objections to hell, lets consider a couple of responses.

  • Is damnation an act of ego-driven hatred masquerading as love, as Barker alleges? Actually, this has nothing to do with ego or hatred, for it is justice, not love, that condemns people to hell. Too many people construct a very one-dimensional image of God they can feel justified in rejecting, and this is just such a case. Yes, God is loving; but He is also holy, righteous, just. One might be tempted to say that the love of God should override this harsh justice, yet people don’t seem to approve if a human judge lets an unrepentant criminal go unpunished. But in God’s solution at the cross, love actually satisfied the need for justice rather than ignoring it. While God’s justice condemns us to an eternal punishment we all deserve, His sacrificial love offers us freedom if we’ll accept it.
  • Is the duration of the punishment unloving or inhumane? These skeptics, and many others, specifically object to the “everlasting” part of hell. There are two responses here. First, this objection stems from a lack of appreciation of the seriousness of sin – any sin – from the view of a perfect judge. We tend to excuse “little sins” and “white lies” and such, but anything less than perfection is a failing grade before a perfect God. True justice, when perfection is the standard, requires any infraction, no matter how minor in the defendant’s eyes, to be a guilty sentence. Another response to this objection is that the sin and lack of repentance of those condemned to hell don’t seem to stop once they get there. I don’t want to read too much into a story, but it is worth noting that in Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus the beggar [Lk 16:19-31], the rich man, while being tormented in hell, continued acting selfishly toward Lazarus, even as he asked favors of Lazarus. If one never repents of sin (i.e. turns from it), then one continues in sin, and therefore in condemnation. Thus, the eternal nature of the punishment may very well be due to the eternal continuation of the sin.

Does the existence of hell rule out the love of God? Not when understood in it’s context. As Douglas Groothuis points out, “The doctrine of hell does not stand alone as a kind of ancient Christian chamber of horrors. Rather, hell is inseparable from three other interrelated biblical truths: human sin, God’s holiness, and the cross of Christ…. Only by understanding hell can we grasp the immensity of God’s love…. This is a costly love, a bloody love that has no parallel in any of the world’s religions.”[5] The tragic fate awaiting so many is not something Christians relish. On the contrary, it is concern and love for our fellow humans that drives us to warn them of the disastrous path they are on. It is a love motivated by that costly love with which God first loved us. If you are one who has rejected God because of the offensiveness of hell, I ask – no, I plead – that you reconsider, and accept God’s free gift of salvation. For in the end, if you will not have His love, sadly, you will have His justice. Choose wisely, friend.


[1] David Madison, Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: A Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith (Valley, WA: Tellectual Press, 2016), p. 277. Kindle Edition.
[2] Dan Barker, godless (Berkeley: Ulysses Press, 2008), p.89.
[3] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Mariner Books, 2008), p. 358.
[4]  Bertrand Russell, “Why I Am Not A Christian”,  a lecture given March 6, 1927, to the National Secular Society at Battersea Town Hall, England.
[5] Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2011), Appendix 1: “Hell on Trial”, p. 658,660.

How Apologetics Builds a Tougher Faith

Question: would you rather find out the roof over your head was ready to collapse before it actually happened, or after? Afterward doesn’t really help, does it? Now, a question for the Christians out there: would you rather find out where your trust in God is weak before it gets put to the test, or afterward? Maybe for some of you, if you were honest, you might say, “I claim I trust that God is good, and that He is sovereign… but if I ever got cancer, or my child died, or something bad happened on a massive scale (like a tsunami), my trust in God would be destroyed.” Honesty is good; it’s hard to fix a problem if we ignore it or gloss over it. But would your sudden distrust in God, or even a change to disbelief in His very existence, change anything about Him? If He exists and is truly good, and omnipotent, and omniscient, and sovereign, would your changing belief about Him change anything about Him, or just about you? Just you, obviously. Someone can not believe I’m an engineer all they want, and it does nothing to my credentials or occupation. Likewise, God is independent of our changing views of Him. So the issue here isn’t really about God, but rather the frailty of our trust in Him. How do you toughen up a frail faith? Let’s work through that today.

I used to work as an engineer at a company that made steel roof joists – like what you see when you look up in any of the big box stores like Wal-Mart. One of the things we did was destructively test a sampling of our joists to make sure they behaved the way they were supposed to. The picture at the top of this post was one such test. You don’t want to design a roof for 30 pounds per square foot of snow load, and cut things so close that an extra inch of snow one year collapses the building. With that in mind, the Steel Joist Institute required us to have a factor of safety of 1.65: each joist needed to be able to handle an overload of 65% of its design capacity.  However, we didn’t want to be right at that minimum where everything had to go perfectly in production to meet it. Everyone involved in designing and building the joist are fallible, after all. So we liked to see tested joists not failing until loaded to twice what they were designed for. And those overload conditions did happen over the years. I remember a case where a roof drain got plugged on one building during a bad storm, and the roof collapsed under the weight of an unplanned rooftop swimming pool. Thankfully, it failed when nobody was in the building. As it turned out, that was several times what the roof was designed for, and even in failure, the joists performed amazingly well.

We began to look for ways to make our joists tougher – that is, able to handle more permanent deformation (i.e. overloading) without breaking. We found that highly-optimized open-web trusses tend to have common failure locations, like the 2nd web from each end that is noted in the picture. Under normal loading, that web has the highest compression load of any of the webs. Why does that matter? Have you ever stood on an empty soda can? If you stand on it carefully and evenly, you can put your full weight on the can without it flattening. But if you wiggle a little (adding some eccentricity to your compressive load), the can immediately crushes without any warning. That sudden buckling is what we wanted to avoid happening in our joists. Instead, we wanted the long, drawn-out failure mode of tensile yielding that gives lots of warning first (like how silly putty or the cheese on pizza stretches a long ways before it finally pulls apart). Getting back to our joists, since that second web will tend to fail first, strengthening that one member on each end can significantly increase the failure load, and the chance for people to evacuate an overloaded building. I personally got to repair a joist that had failed in testing at that web, and then watch the amazing performance as it was retested. Not only did it pass the test, it maxed out the test equipment! Such a small change for such dramatic results. That test convinced me of the value of thinking about how my designs react when taken outside their design envelope.

Now, what on earth does any of this have to do with Christianity or apologetics? The Bible tells us that we are in a spiritual war, whether we realize it or not. Chances are good that at some point in the Christian journey, your trust in God will be severely challenged – overloaded, so to speak. How will you react? Are there weak links in your life that look solid until they’re actually put to the test? I’ve seen too many tragic cases of people claiming to be Christians and leaving the church after exposure to some event or some unforeseen objection “destroyed their faith”. Maybe they grew up insulated from any objections, or worse, were told that asking questions was bad. Their trust in God was just a house of cards waiting to collapse the minute someone brought up some of the objections of atheists like Richard Dawkins or Dan Barker (as answerable as those are). Or maybe they grew up thinking that Christian faith was some kind of charm against bad things happening to them (in spite of the overwhelming testimony of almost every book of the Bible, many of the early church fathers, and the long bloody history of martyrdom of Christians the world over up to the present day). That’s called being set up for failure. But apologetics helps us in the following ways:

  • It strengthens those weak links by forcing us to examine ourselves [2 Cor 13:5] and reinforce our areas of distrust with true biblical knowledge, supporting evidence, and sound reasoning rather than just gloss over them. For some, that self-examination may even make them aware that their faith is just a charade and that there is no actual relationship with Jesus as Lord supporting their “Christian” life. That’s an important oversight to correct!
  • In seeking to give an answer to those who ask for the reason for the hope that we have [1Pe 3:15], apologetics forces us to look at our beliefs from an outside perspective, anticipate questions, and actively search for answers so that we might be prepared. Knowing why you believe what you believe will strengthen your trust in God even if nobody ever asks you about your beliefs.
  • Apologetics reminds us that we don’t have a “blind faith” but rather a very well-grounded faith in God. Even when we don’t know the answer to every question, we are reminded that we can trust God based on the positive answers we do have. That is the very opposite of the “blind faith” skeptics like to assume Christians rely on.

May you be ever-growing in the knowledge of the truth of God, knowing with certainty in whom you have believed, understanding more each day how trustworthy God is, never failing to persevere through the trials that must surely come. Grace to you 🙂

The Design of Salvation, Part 2

“Christ with Thorns”, by Carl Heinrich Bloch, 1865-1879.

Last week, we looked at some other ways God could’ve designed our salvation, although none of them really seemed adequate. We started off confirming that we really do need salvation; but then saw that we can’t buy eternal life, or be born into it, or get it by title or position, or earn it through good deeds, or pass a test to get it. And God’s perfect justice prohibits Him just ignoring our rebellious condition and rewarding us anyway. That’s the bad news. But this week, let’s dig into the beautiful distinction that separates Christianity from all the man-made religions of the world, and what makes the gospel truly… “good news”.

What is that distinction? Grace. “What does that even mean?” Glad you asked!  God’s grace can be defined as His “goodness toward those who deserve only punishment.” [1] Salvation is a free gift of God [Rom 6:23, Eph 2:8-9], for that’s really the only way we could get it. God is never obligated to show us this favor, and the fact that He does makes faith (or trust) in Him the only reasonable response on our part.[1] Like any gift, it has to be accepted to be effective. If it’s the dead of winter, and I’m homeless and freezing, and someone gives me a big down jacket, but I don’t accept it and actually put it on, I still freeze to death!

A gift is, by definition, free to the recipient. And while God’s grace is free, it isn’t cheap. How so? As Herman Bavinck puts it, “God must punish the wrong. God is love, indeed, but this glorious confession comes into its own when love in the Divine being is understood as being a holy love in perfect harmony with justice. There is room for the grace of God only if the justice of God is first fully established.”[2] And how is that perfect justice satisfied? Jesus, the second person of the Triune Godhead, became as one of us, but lived the perfect life we never could, and then died in our place, paying the penalty we all deserved. [Rom 5:8] We each sin, and the penalty for sin before a perfect and just God is eternal separation from Him. But Jesus became our proxy, our representative, our substitute. And while I could never pay off the penalty for my sin (hence the eternal aspect of it), Jesus’ sacrifice was a sufficient and complete payment. Because of the sacrifice of Jesus, this gift offered to us freely cost more than the worth of the whole universe.

And what is this gift? And how do I accept it? This is none other than the forgiveness of our sins and eternal life. If you read last week’s post and understood that you don’t meet God’s perfect standard and that He doesn’t grade on a curve, then you understand that you are, like every other human ever born, a sinner. And as mentioned above, the penalty for sin is severe: death and eternal separation from God. As AA would say, admitting you have a problem is the first step; but that’s not enough. Repentance is more than just acknowledgment of a problem or even remorse over it. It is a renouncing of sin and commitment to forsake it. But we are enslaved by sin, and only Jesus can break its power over us. [Rom 6:6,22, Jn 8:34,36] We must turn from sin and to Christ, looking to Him alone, and trusting in His work to make us acceptable to God. [Heb 12:2] This trust is also called faith. Paul wrote to the Romans that if one confessed with the mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believed in his heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, they would be saved. [Rom 10:9-11] It’s two sides of the same coin: the sincere heartfelt trust in Jesus’ saving work (which was proven sufficient by His being raised from the dead), combined with genuine repentance of past sin and commitment to follow Christ wholeheartedly (summarized in confessing that He is Lord of your life), will save you. You can’t have Him as Savior and not as Lord. [Jn 8:31,14:23]

Why would God do any  of this? The answer is… love. That word has been watered down a lot in recent years. People say they love a lot of things these days – food, their favorite sports team, a hobby, and on and on. But love isn’t simply a feeling of enjoyment or a momentary attraction. Emotions come and go, and are often quite selfish in origin, but love is a willful giving of oneself to another. Paul writes to the Romans that “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Love in word only isn’t really love, for love necessarily results in action, as God’s love for us certainly did.

In the end, God’s way of doing thing really is the best choice among the alternatives for accomplishing His purpose in saving mankind from its rebellion, reconciling us to Him, redeeming us and repairing our brokenness, and ultimately, bringing glory to Himself, for He is worthy of it. Despite the “armchair quarterbacking” of skeptics, the gospel message really is the best way to balance sovereignty and free will, and allow the maximum number of people to voluntarily take part in God’s redemption.  Only God’s grace walks that fine line between love and justice, making God “the just and the justifier”, as Paul wrote. [Rom 3:26] Only God’s grace makes the ground level at the foot of the cross for men and women of every nation to come with open hands to receive what they could never earn, whether rich or poor, old or young, powerful or destitute, educated or ignorant. Only grace could meet all God’s design parameters and accomplish His purpose with such elegance and faithfulness to His perfect nature.


[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), pp. 200-1.
[2] Herman Bavinck, Our Reasonable Faith (Grand Rapids Eerdmans, 1956) p. 260.

The Design of Salvation, Part 1

“Golgota” by Mihaly Munkacsy, 1884

There are many critics of how the Bible describes God’s plan to save the human race, but it’s far easier to criticize someone else’s design than to work through what’s actually the best choice to accomplish a particular goal yourself. If you had the job of providing a means of salvation to a stubborn and rebellious people – many of whom don’t even think they need to be saved from anything  and want to actively resist any rescue attempt – how would you do it? How would you design salvation?  Let’s look at some alternatives and see whether those criticisms are really justified or not.

First off, is salvation even necessary? In case you haven’t read the newspaper, watched the news on TV, or gotten on the internet in a while, it’s pretty obvious that the world is a messed-up place. People are messed up. We like to think we’re not as bad as _____. Just fill in the blank with the person or group you tend to look down upon, because we all do that. Comparison comes naturally to us. But the fact is, none of us are perfect. A lot of times that doesn’t bother us because we assume that God grades on a curve. “Nobody’s perfect, but my saintly old grandma would surely get bumped up to a high A. I may not be as good as her, but I’ll certainly still pass, probably with a high B, or maybe even a low A. People like Hitler will obviously get an F. That guy that cut me me off on the highway the other day may be a borderline C, but God certainly wouldn’t fail me – I’m a good person.” Right? Well, God doesn’t grade on a curve, and there’s only 1 passing score: perfection. That’s bad news for all of us. Turns out, we’re in the same boat as Hitler and all the “really bad” people  that we feel so superior to according to our subjective grading curve. We have a serious problem, and need a serious solution. What are some options?

  • Would you make salvation dependent on earthly power? Is eternal life a gift not to be wasted on the masses? Are only the movers and shakers – the Pharaohs and Caesars of world history – worthy of it? Most of us are in that category of “the masses”, and probably wouldn’t pick that option. But historically, those in power wouldn’t have minded rigging the system to favor the powerful. However, power can actually be a hindrance in that it tends to blind us to our real needs that only God can meet. [Mk 8:36] Thankfully, God makes salvation available to the leaders of superpowers and the untouchable outcasts in the filthiest slums, and everyone in between.
  • Would you make salvation dependent on wealth? How much should tickets to Heaven cost? What value do you place on eternal life?  Judging by how much people will spend on surgery to try to retain the fleeting looks of youth, I imagine eternal life could fetch quite a price – maybe enough to price most of us out of the bidding.  There are many people with prideful hearts that would love to simply throw some money at God to purchase life eternal rather than pay the costlier price of submitting themselves to Him. “$100 to go to Heaven when I die, and I can live however I want until then? I’m in!” But what about when the price is $10,000?  $1 million? $1 billion? Even if it’s only a few dollars, any price you could come up with would be out of reach for somebody. Of course, there’s also the question of whether you would really enjoy Heaven if you just bought your entrance guarantee and spent the rest of your life living like the devil. Yet God makes salvation available to all, from the richest fat cat to the most destitute, bankrupt beggar.
  • Would you make salvation dependent on knowledge? Would people need to pass an exam, or be some type of Illuminati? Would you have a bridgekeeper asking obscure trivia like in Monty Python’s Search for the Holy Grail?[1] The Gnostics believed one needed “secret knowledge” beyond what the ignorant masses could ever hope for. I remember struggling in certain classes in college, and the frustration of being the student that just didn’t understand what everyone else seemed to grasp so easily. It was frustrating then, and it was just a class grade on the line, not eternity! So as much as I appreciate knowledge and enjoy learning new things, I thank God He didn’t make my salvation dependent on how much I know. On a related note, what if I’m in a car accident and suffer brain trauma and have amnesia and mental retardation as a result, or if I develop Alzheimer’s and can’t even remember what I learned the day before? Would my loss of knowledge put my salvation at risk? Thankfully, it’s not our IQ or our learning that saves us, for God makes salvation available to the genius and the dunce alike, to the scholar with a string of letters after his name and the illiterate orphan.
  • Would you make salvation dependent on race or ethnicity? The idea of one group of people being intrinsically more valuable than others is generally reprehensible to us now, but preference for those like us still creeps in to our thoughts, it seems. I can’t help but notice (and be amused at) how very white and European Jesus – a Jew from the Middle East – has typically been portrayed by Western artists in the centuries since. Yet God is no respecter of such shallow traits like nationality or skin color. He makes salvation available to the Jew and the German, the Russian and the American, and every other nationality there is. Likewise for every skin color: “red, brown, yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight”, as the old children’s song goes.
  • Would you make salvation unconditional? Everybody goes to heaven/paradise/eternal bliss in the end? That sounds very loving and good at first. But it seems like it might be a little awkward if you were an innocent victim brutally beaten to death, and you meet your very unrepentant murderer in heaven. Might you feel a little slighted? Might you wonder where justice is when the victim and the laughing victimizer get the same reward? We have to minimize the justice of God for this option to appear feasible. Yet God offers salvation lovingly while still being just.
  • Would you make salvation dependent on good deeds? That is the probably the most common approach in man-made religions. And I get it: we understand the need for justice, and so we naturally think good should be rewarded and bad punished. But what about the one who realizes the error of his ways late in life? What good can he possibly do at the end to offset a life of selfishness, greed, dishonesty, theft, or murder? What hope is there for him? Or what of the child who gets hit by a car before she has much opportunity to earn credits in her “account”? But even with a long life of good behavior, it’s still not perfect behavior, and so it still falls short.  Works appeals to us because we do understand working and earning benefits, but also because we don’t understand the hole we’re actually in. So we think it is something we can work our way out of. In reality, if it’s on us to get ourselves out, the situation truly is hopeless.

I have to say, I’m not very impressed with any of the alternatives above. Are there other alternatives to what God did that you can think of that might’ve worked better? I don’t think there are, but I’d love to hear if you think I’ve missed something. It’s easy to criticize a plan without actually having a better option. But it’s when we work through the problems and consequences of alternatives, that we see the superiority of a plan we might’ve dismissed at first. Design is all about making choices to accomplish a specified purpose, and now that we’ve eliminated some alternative choices, join me next week for Part 2, where I’ll look at God’s actual choice for offering salvation, how it accomplishes His purpose, and why it really is the best design for rescuing us from our desperate situation.


[1] If you don’t know what I’m talking about there, your life is incomplete. Watch that scene from Monty Python on YouTube to catch up: https://youtu.be/Wpx6XnankZ8

Impatience & Arrogance

“Torah Scribe”, by Maurycy Gottlieb, 1876

“Patience is a virtue, and I want it now!” Or so goes a common joke. But seriously, it’s frustrating being patient, and especially learning patience, but have you ever considered how impatience is really driven by arrogance? When I’m impatient with someone, I essentially say that my desires are more important than theirs, that I take priority. And honestly, even if my desires actually are more critical than someone else’s in a particular situation, does getting impatient ever help the situation? Not that I’ve seen.

Yet, we tend, in our culture, to be very impatient with God when it comes to His revelation in Scripture. Too often, skeptics – and even Christians – dismiss parts of the Bible that aren’t immediately obvious to them. Christian theologians over the centuries have devoted their lives to studying the Bible, and the Jews studied the Torah for centuries before that; and yet we sometimes think that if it isn’t fully understandable in five minutes, it’s a waste of time. However, we don’t have the same opinion of things like learning music, or calculus, or art, or really anything else. Rather, we fully expect worthwhile subjects to take a long time to understand, and maybe a lifetime to master. So what does it say about us when we have so little patience for learning theology – the study of God? I suggest that it’s arrogance on our part based on how little we really value the Word of God. Of course, I don’t expect the skeptic to value it, but it is disappointing to see so many apathetic Christians willing to dismiss tough sayings in the Bible so casually. Then again, tough sayings are what Jesus used in John 6 to weed out the “fans” from the serious disciples [John 6:60, 66-67]. But woe to those He finds to be only fans.

Even if we do awake from our slumber and spend our lives in pursuing a deeper knowledge of God, will we figure out all those troublesome verses? Not necessarily, and I’m OK with that. Here’s why. Ever since Newton’s time, we have had a good, but very incomplete, understanding of two of the most basic things in the universe: gravity and light. Are they particles or waves? Scientists observed properties that fit both categories for both entities, and have had to just live with a paradox – a wave-particle duality.[1] For instance, regarding light, Albert Einstein stated: “It seems as though we must use sometimes the one theory and sometimes the other, while at times we may use either. We are faced with a new kind of difficulty. We have two contradictory pictures of reality; separately neither of them fully explains the phenomena of light, but together they do.” Recently, evidence was found that seems to have confirmed gravity is a wave [2], but several generations of scientists have had to live their entire lives not knowing the answer to that question. Newton could describe the effects of gravity on objects via his universal law of gravitation, but he couldn’t explain how those effects were actually accomplished. And neither could anyone else with certainty for the next 3 centuries. Even now, future evidence may be found that contradicts how we interpreted the “gravity wave” emanating from a distant black hole collision in 2016. And yet, those scientists, past and present, did not think there was no answer to paradoxical things like light and gravity, or that the answer wasn’t worth seeking. Rather, they sought it all the more diligently. Somehow, though, we have the audacity to think that a difficult biblical passage doesn’t warrant a little humility and extra effort on our part? It takes us centuries to figure out the details of some of the basic operations of the physical universe, and we expect the Creator of that universe to be simpler to figure out? I don’t see that as a reasonable assumption. On the contrary, it stands to reason that the One who created the universe is greater than His creation, and that an infinite being might be a little beyond the grasp of His finite creatures.

In closing, I would encourage you to work through the tough questions; study, research, wrestle with them, and seek the answers from the Author of both the easy and the difficult passages. But don’t ignore the obvious answers you do have in front of you because you haven’t found an agreeable answer to your particular question on a more obscure issue. Don’t focus, as too many do, on secondary issues as reasons to reject God, while conveniently ignoring the primary questions the Bible does answer clearly. Don’t reject the God who must necessarily exist simply because you can’t reconcile two seemingly contradictory passages in His message to us. For in the Bible, we have something that, taken as a whole, explains the human condition better than any other worldview, even if we don’t understand every part of it exhaustively. And that should temper our impatience and its underlying arrogance, and remind us of our finitude and the wisdom of humility.


[1] http://www.fnal.gov/pub/science/inquiring/questions/graviton.html
[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/12/science/ligo-gravitational-waves-black-holes-einstein.html

At the intersection of faith and design