One Year Ago, Apologetics Saved My Life– A simply wonderful, raw, existential post on the necessity of apologetics for the life of faith.
The Number of Textual Variants: An Evangelical Miscalculation– Humans are fallible, and as such we often get things wrong. Daniel Wallace has written an excellent article to correct a common miscalculation made in apologetics works regarding the number of textual variants. Thankfully, the response from many authors has been to request changes in their works and strive to correct the error. Even better, it is worth noting Wallace’s conclusion: “All this is to say: a variant is simply the difference in wording found in a single manuscript or a group of manuscripts (either way, it’s still only one variant) that disagrees with a base text.”
Why does God allow so much natural evil from phenomena like earthquakes?– Wintery Knight has gathered together a number of resources to present a sound response to the challenge of “natural” evil like earthquakes, tsunamis, and the like.
Natural Selection is Empty– A short but fairly technical write-up on a work by two atheists which argues that natural selection is incapable of being the lynchpin of the argument for the origin of species.
Book Plunge: There was no Jesus, There is no God– A lengthy critique (with great discussion afterwards) of a recent self-published work arguing that there was no Jesus and is no God.
Unless you’ve been living in a Hobbit-hole somewhere (forgive me!), you know that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was just released in theaters. Short, spoiler free review: It was amazing, go see it. Hereafter, I offer my thoughts on the themes present in the film from a Christian worldview perspective, followed by some links to great posts on the movie and related items. Yes, there are SPOILERS ahead.
An Unexpected Journey
Yes, there is an unexpected journey which begins in this film, believe it or not. Yet the journey was not just unexpected but also vehemently resisted. Bilbo Baggins did not want to go. He was too comfortable with his armchair, his full cabinet, and his total lack of adventure. He was comfortable in his home. He liked it there, and as long as nothing was bothering him, he’d like to stay put, thank you very much.
I can’t help but think of how so many people today are in that same position. We are too comfortable in our pleasant (or at least largely undisturbed) lives, living as though we haven’t a care in the world. We avoid those things which make us uncomfortable. We don’t want to think about them, and we’d rather not even say the words that have anything to do with these hard topics which have become our “adventures.”
For the Christian, this is especially poignant. The scene where Bilbo finally decides to go on the journey has him waking up the next morning after his refusal. He sees his hobbit-hole cleaned up and looking as though the previous night had never happened. But then he sees the contract from Thorin Oakenshield on a table. He picks it up and realizes what he has been called to do. He has to step out and live that life in the great beyond. It is as Gandalf tells him: the world is not contained in books and maps, it is “out there.” Similarly, we cannot become too comfortable in our lives. We are to be in the world, changing it through our actions and through the call to repent and believe. Yes, we can have all the books, we can pray the prayers, but what are we doing? Are we running, leaping, yelling like Bilbo to join the adventure, to spread the Gospel?
When the party comes to Rivendell, they encounter Saruman, who had summoned Galadriel. After a brief conference on whether the dwarves should continue their quest and a debate over the existence of a Necromancer, Galadriel privately confronts Gandalf. She asks him why he chose a Hobbit, Bilbo, to embark on such a dangerous quest as a burglar. Gandalf’s insight is telling. He says that “Sarumon thinks evil must be defeated with great power.” But Gandalf is not so convinced. He argues that it is the little things, the everyday choices, which can lead to the defeat of evil. When enough choices are made for good, evil cannot overcome the turning tide against it. Bilbo is weak, but he will become strong in his actions. He will be used for good, despite not having great power.
We can fight evil in that same way. The choices we make everyday have larger consequences. How will I spend my time? Will I make that nasty remark? Will I forgive? There is big evil in this world, but it can be fought, by God’s grace.
Its Reality and Our Resistance
Evil is real. There is evil everywhere in the world, and we need only to look at the headlines to see it. Gandalf is aware of the rising evil in Middle Earth as well. The evils which confront the adventurers are “big.” There are trolls, stone giants, a goblin with a grudge, and more. They are resisted at every turn.
Who can help but see how this theme ties into the last one? Christians are called into a world of big evil. We are called to go into a world which is resisting them–often violently–at every turn.
Evil seeks places to dwell. The things which are evil must be actively resisted, for any foothold evil gains, it will utilize. Bilbo, Gandalf, Thorin, and Radagast the Brown must all fight against evil as it seeks its foothold in their lives. Radagast is a particularly poignant example. He runs through the forest, fighting evil as much as can be done. He is eccentric and seems crazy, yet he does what he can to fight the evil which seeks to penetrate at every level into the forest. Our hearts are too often willing dwelling places for evil. We must fight it.
Courage is the strength to show mercy. Gandalf urges Bilbo to remember this as he considers the adventure. A mercy shown can have important ramifications in the future, as those who know not only the Hobbit but also the Lord of the Rings trilogy should note. By sparing Gollum, Bilbo opened the door for the defeat of a much greater evil far into the future. What mercies can we show? Certainly, we don’t often have a life-or-death situation placed at our feet, but we have the capacity to show mercy on a day-to-day basis.
Evidence and Will
Saruman was confronted by Gandalf with evidence for the existence of a great evil, a Necromancer, who had been discovered by Radagast. Saruman–perhaps already in the thrall of Sauron–seeks any avenue to redefine the evidence. He says that Radagast cannot be trusted, for he is too eccentric and perhaps crazy. Saruman says Radagast spends too much time in the forest, eating mushrooms. Even when confronted with physical evidence, a blade full of evil, he seeks to offer an alternative explanation.
This dialogue between Gandalf, Elrond, Galadriel, and Gandalf is a powerful example of how our will can change the evidence. If we do not wish something to be true, we will seek every avenue to escape its truth. Perhaps Saruman was not yet in the thrall of Sauron, perhaps he merely did not want to think evil could gain such a foothold in his world, but he nevertheless made a decision to doubt his brother wizards. If he had trusted them, he perhaps would not have trodden down the path he takes in Lord of the Rings.
Back Again- Conclusion
JRR Tolkien wrote one of the greatest fantasy epics of all time. He was also a deeply thoughtful Christian. The themes which appear throughout his novels are portrayed vividly on screen. I urge readers to see this movie. When you put on those 3-D glasses, don’t forget to put on your worldview glasses as well. What themes are occurring in this film? How do they relate to my worldview? What worldview can account for these things? The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was a fantastic exploration of these themes. We are called to live in the world, we are called to adventure, no matter how much we want to resist. We are called to Christ.
The Call to Adventure– What does the call to adventure mean? Garret Johnson offers a thought-provoking look at the call to adventure in literature and how it can inform our worldview.
Tolkien Experts Talk About His Christian Themes– A video with a number of experts on Tolkien offering their thoughts on the Christian themes in his body of work. Definitely worth watching.
Big Truths from the Hobbit– An excellent post calling Christians to step out of their hobbit-holes.
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.
There is a day that is burned into the memory of a generation–a day in which so many things we thought were harmless were turned against us. On September 11th, 2001, the United States was attacked by terrorists who flew planes into our buildings. The World Trade Center collapsed as we watched. We listened with pride about the men and women on United Airlines Flight 93 who died in order to prevent another attack.
We found out later box cutters were used to take over the airplanes. It was airplanes–a mere form of transportation–which were used to cause so much destruction. Harmless things became weapons.
But what does it all mean? How are we to come away from such an event unscathed? Something as simple as a box cutter was used against us. Can we trust anything? Is the person who invented the box cutter to blame? What about the manufacturer? What of the airplanes? Should we never fly again?
I can’t help but think about the ultimate when I am faced with the immediate. And the ultimate leads me to think of God. God created our universe, and as He created, He called each new creation “good” (see Genesis 1:4ff). But bad things started happening fairly quickly. Sin entered the world, and it wasn’t long before we had genocides, racism, hatred, terrorism, hunger, and you name it. The evils perpetuated by man would take too long to enumerate, and we can easily think of more.
Ultimately, God created the world as “good.” It was we who turned these good things against each other, it is we who actively seek to hurt, harm, and destroy each other. It is our free will that has turned things which are good into things used for evil.
On this 10th anniversary of 9/11… I sit back and ponder such things. It’s easy to throw blame around when we think about evil. It would be easiest to blame God. “Why don’t you prevent these evils, God?” But then we forget about the kinds of things God made, and how He only made them good.
The question is not: “Why did God create these things [free will, among others]?” The question is “Why have we used these things for evil?”
“Are We All Moral Monsters?” Clay Jones looks at how 9/11 has awakened us to mortality in new ways.
Simply Incoherent– Christopher Hitchens argues that 9/11 is evil. But on his ontology, evil makes no sense.
From Ground Zero to 10 Years Later–September 11, 2011– a reflection on 9/11
Did God Allow the Attacks on 9/11 for a “Greater Good”?– A post writing against ‘greater good’ theodicies. Not sure I agree entirely, but I think there are some great difficulties with the ‘greater good’ theodicy which Erik Manning draw out.
Where was God on 9/11?– A reflection on 9/11 along with a point-by-point critique of Rabbi Kushner’s response to 9/11.
Do all roads (and flights) lead to God?– A critique of religious pluralism.
Two Ground Zeros– From the horrors of 9/11 to the hope of Christ.
Suffering and the Cross of Christ– Christ helps us explain suffering.
Atheism, Evil, and Ultimate Justice– God will provide ultimate justice.
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.
The Bible has been compared to an anvil–no matter how hard people beat on it, it remains firm, it stands strong. I love this comparison, and I have my own to offer. The Word of God is like a sword being forged. It is under attack by others, who beat on it with hammers, trying to destroy it, yet in all their attacks, the Word only gets sharper, and its blade more keen. The Word stands.
This post is the third in a series I’ve been working on which discusses Bible Difficulties–hard passages in Scripture. Other posts in the series can be accessed here.
One of the most commonly-cited difficulty with Scripture is the charge that God commands wicked actions. I’ve offered other defenses of such charges before (see here and here), but here I’d like to examine one specific case (and I will likely do so in the future as well). Today I’ll discuss the case of Jericho found in Joshua 6:21-24 (found in context here).
These verses say: “They devoted the city to the LORD and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys… Then they burned the whole city and everything in it, but they put the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron into the treasury of the LORD’s house.” (Joshua 6:21, 24).
Why is this passage difficult?
Surely this is a hard truth! Men, women, children, and animals are destroyed due to God’s command.
There are a number of ways commentators address these verses and others like them. I’m going to outline my own view, which is a synthesis of many others.
Most importantly is the idea that the entirety of Scripture witnesses of God’s relationship to man. This is made specific in the revealed incarnation of God into the person of Jesus. Thus, verses like these should be seen in light of the whole of Scripture. More on this in a bit.
The second most important point is that God is, necessarily, sovereign. Sovereignty implies that God is in absolute control of the universe. This point is so important because it is the case that God has created all living things and has sustained them by His grace. Thus, all things owe each second of their lives to Him. We don’t deserve anything, only God deserves anything–which is our adoration, thanksgiving, and praise.
Now, before getting into a Scripture-in-context argument, we can examine this individual case. The charge is (essentially) that God is unjust for allowing and endorsing the total destruction of Jericho, including women, children, and animals. Geisler and Howe make the fivefold argument, found in The Big Book of Bible Difficulties, that
1) The Canaanites were far from innocent. The Canaanites abhorrent immorality is described in Leviticus 18, which includes descriptions of such Canaanite practices as child sacrifice (see Leviticus 18:21, 24, 25, and 26). These people were not walking around minding their own business. They were a dangerous, defiled nation (Geisler, 137).
2) God had given Palestine more than 400 years to repent, starting with the promise to Abraham in Genesis 15:16. The people of the land, however, had not repented (137).
3) In regards to killing everyone, including women and children, the fact of the matter is that they were part of a people whose depravity was such that anyone who came in contact with it was polluted (see Leviticus 18 once more). Geisler and Howe further put forward the controversial view that children who die before the age of accountability go to heaven (they cite 2 Samuel 12:23 for this) and so God was being merciful by bringing them to Him rather than having them condemned for eternity (138–I am not endorsing the latter part of this argument, but I think it was worth repeating here).
4) God’s sovereignty means that He who has created life may also take it (138).
5) The threat of such a vile, violent, and corrupt people meant they must be eradicated so as not to lead astray God’s chosen people, who had already shown themselves susceptible to such apostasy (138).
I think that Geisler and Howe make a fairly credible defense here, though I think a high understanding of Christology can enhance the defense further. The Lutheran Study Bible commentary about “Divine Warfare” states that “Satan and man’s sin started warfare… Christ’s divine warfare [his death and resurrection] achieves victory and salvation… divine warfare [is] God’s just punishment [for] human sin… the Church’s warfare is spiritual… a Christian view of warfare must distinguish Law from Gospel” (376). These points combine to show a Christian understanding of such passages:
As I mentioned above, Christ can be seen as the key to understanding even these passages. Paul, in the book of Romans, writes that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23). There is no one righteous, not even one (3:10). Thus, all deserve death and punishment similar to that of Jericho. However, God, in His mercy, sent His Son to die once for all sinners, thus opening salvation to all who believe. This is by faith, not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9). Therefore, when viewing a difficult passage such as this, as Christians, we can see a distinction between Law and Gospel. God’s Law is evident in His Just dealings with sinners–the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23a)–while also remembering that God’s mercy is in all things, for “the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6:23b).
Further, one very important point to make in all matters like this is that the Christian understanding includes the belief that all things have eternal relevance. Things that happen in this life have repercussions for the next. As such, any understanding of temporal suffering should take into account God’s plan of eternal salvation for all who believe.
Geisler, Norman and Thomas Howe. The Big Book of Bible Difficulties. Baker Books. 1992.
The Lutheran Study Bible. Concordia Publishing House. 2009.
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.