Is Isaiah 38:1-4 a Clear Example of God Lying or Changing His Mind?

Question:  How is Isaiah 38:1-5 not either God lying or God changing His mind?

Answer:  Here is the passage:

In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him, and said to him, “Thus says the LORD: Set your house in order, for you shall die, you shall not recover.” Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD, and said, “Please, O LORD, remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.  Then the word of the LORD came to Isaiah: “Go and say to Hezekiah, Thus says the LORD, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will add fifteen years to your life.

In a sense that is like asking,  “Why pray, we can’t change God’s mind? ” There is no doubt some mystery as to how prayer works. I would argue that God does sovereignly determine the course of life’s events but knows in His plan that we will pray and plans on answering those prayers.  But what about this particular incident with Hezekiah?

We see the same pattern with Hezekiah as we do with Jonah, when God tells the people of Nineveh through Jonah that in three days they will be destroyed but he only tells them that so they can have a chance to repent.  He only sends Isaiah to tell Hezekiah he is going to die so that Hezekiah has a chance to pray for another option. And then God rewards prayer with an answer.

As with much prophecy in Scripture that is negative in scope, there is this implied opportunity to change the outcome if Hezekiah responds, just as there was an implied opportunity for the people of Nineveh to respond and change the outcome. We are not used to these kind of prophetic situations so we don’t understand the implications. If Hezekiah doesn’t respond the way he did he does die as God foretold. God’s communication is not intended as unalterable. Hence,  no lie or changing of mind.

Interestingly,  we learn that Hezekiah had to go have a poultice applied to his wounds in order to be healed.  A supernatural healing through natural means.

Isn’t worship of God just paying off the bully so He won’t bother me?

Question:  The fact that sin has to exist, otherwise no one would worship a god for saving us from it, and also if nothing bullyinghappens unless it is God’s will, then it must have been God’s will for Eve to eat the fruit and introduce sin.
 No sin, no need for a savior, no savior, no worshiping a God for saving.  Besides, if God made the rule that death was the punishment for sin, then sent himself/his son to be sacrificed so we are saved from that, then why are people worshiping this God? When all it is saving us from is delivering the punishment he intended to all along.   It’s like worshiping someone for not beating you up, its like God is cutting you so he can sell you a bandaid and then be praised once your cut has healed isnt it?
It doesn’t make any sense at all.

Answer:  You are assuming, first of all, that there is no reason to worship God other than salvation from sin.  This is like saying I cannot appreciate Yosemite’s glorious peaks unless I know something of the trash heap.  He is eminently worthy of praise because of His greatness.  But since He won’t force anyone to worship Him, yet loves us and knows we need to worship Him for our own good, He provides motivation and warning to stay in the right place.  Yet when we fail to heed the warning and make the most stupid choice possible anyway, He does not abandon us but provides a way to rescue us that is fair.  Your second assumption is that we don’t deserve to be “cut” or experience death for our disobedience.  If that wasn’t the fair and necessary consequence for our rebellion against the One who made us, then it was stupid for God to enter our world as one of us and pay that penalty Himself.  But if it is the only way to fairly deal with sin then He has done us the most magnificent service anyone could ever do for someone else.

Should I be scared because I doubt whether Christianity is true?

doubts_fishhookQuestion:  I grew up in a Christian household. My step dad was atheist but my mom and I believed in God. Lately I’ve been having doubts about God and Jesus. I definitely believe that there is some form of high power. But I just don’t know what makes Christianity the right religion and not Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism or Judaism. I question if Jehovah is the right God. And this really scares me because I do not want to go to hell and I love feeling secure in my faith. Also there are some things about Christianity that just sound weird to me. Are there any scriptures or advice you can give to help me?

Answer:  First I would say, it is proper to deal with doubts the way you are.  We all have them.  I think it is the nature of our fallen world and our fallen natures that we find it hard to trust in anything and of course, there is no 100% fullproof way of knowing all the evidence for or against something.  Fortunately, there have been many who have asked the questions we ask and done some great work in thinking through the issues.  So let me give you some thoughts to work with and some reading to pursue.

When I compare the world’s great religions, Christianity (2.1 billion adherents), Islam (1.6 billion), Hinduism (1 billion), Buddhism (376 million), Sikhism (23 million), and Judaism (14 million) [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_religious_populations], I am struck by these facts:

  • Every religion on earth teaches that the way to have a right relationship with God (this does not apply to Buddhism because it is not technically a religion that worships God) is to live according to His moral law to a sufficient degree that He accepts you.  Every religion except Christianity.  Christianity teaches that you are not good enough to live anywhere near a sufficient degree of law-keeping but must be given a right relationship with God as a gift in response to faith.  This means that only Christianity is really available as an answer for anyone, regardless of their ability to be moral or law-keepers.
  • Every religion on earth teaches that God will forgive people for their failures, if they aren’t too wicked, out of the goodness of His heart.  Every religion except Christianity.  Christianity teaches that God cannot forgive us justly unless someone takes the just and fair punishment for our wickedness, which is what Jesus did, of course.  In other words, only Christianity requires a sacrifice for sins, something Judaism used to require but hasn’t since their temple was destroyed.  The sacrifices had to be offered in the temple.
  • Only Christianity views God as one God yet three persons.  This means only Christianity has a God who from all eternity has been in personal relationship, has therefore experienced perfect love (it requires at least three individuals to demonstrate perfect love with no jealousy and equal sharing), and who provides an explanation for why humans need and seek both oneness with a community and yet at the same time an individuality and personal uniqueness that sets them apart as special from the community.  The Trinity is the only sufficient model for this.

All this is to say that these differences between Christianity and all other religions are mutually exclusive.  You cannot hold to Christianity and agree on these points with the other world religions.  They contradict one another.  This doesn’t immediately prove that Christianity is the truth.  Perhaps all the other religions got it right and Christianity stands out alone as missing the boat on these big issues, though it seems to me just the opposite would be the case.  But here is where the work of many defenders of the faith will help us see just how reasonable the Christian faith is.  So let me recommend some very helpful books:

The Reason for God, Tim Keller
The Case for Christ and The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel
Cold Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace

God is okay with your having doubts.  He loves you and He made you with a mind to analyze and question.  Ask Him to make Himself known to you as you consider the arguments and to show you the truth.  He wants us to love Him with all our hearts, all our soul and all our mind (Matthew 22:37).  Don’t neglect your mind or put it down for doubting.  Follow it to the truth and I believe you will end up loving God more than you did before as you see just how great He is and how clear His answers are to our questions.

For further reading:

Category Archives: Defense of the Faith (a series of articles I have written touching on defending the faith in my Thimble Full of Theology blog)

Category Archives: Apologetics (Defense of the Faith) from my Ask the Pastors blog

Check out Apologetics 3:15

Do I Have to Hate My Family to Follow Jesus?

Heart of Jesus

Heart of Jesus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Question:  “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26).  Can you help me with the “hate” part of this?

Answer:  We know that Jesus wants us to love our family.  Jesus loved his mother enough to entrust her to his disciple John (John 19:25-27).  His apostles have taught us to love our families (for example, Ephesians 5:25).  So Jesus must be speaking in a purposely exaggerated way to make a point.  He said it another way on another occasion:

Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. (Matthew 10:37)

Jesus wants his disciples to understand that living for God and His kingdom is more important than anything, including any relationships.  Now living for God and His kingdom, as we saw above, includes loving your family.  But there are people who have chosen to reject God because their family members didn’t want them to become believers (think of conversion to Christianity among Muslims).  And there are times when we mistakenly think that focusing on our family instead of God will actually help our family when just the opposite is true (think of those who won’t take their kids to church just because they say, “I don’t want to go.”).

To be sure people can abuse this principal in the opposite way.  A pastor can think that he must spend all his time at the church helping parishioners and yet neglects his family.  But Jesus is not addressing that issue here.  He is addressing the issue of how much commitment is required to follow him.  In the very next sentence in the Luke 14 passage he says, “And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

We have to love him more than our own lives, as well.  Knowing God is the most important thing in our lives.  Nothing can eclipse it without endangering our souls.  No other reality can make us the persons we need to be in order to love our families and make a positive difference in the world.  This one commitment must trump all others or we will fail to be the people God created us to be.

Did Jesus Lie?

Question:  Jesus lied. But he never sinned. So sometimes lying isn’t a sin?  I’m referring to John 7:8-10, where Jesus said, “You go to the festival. I am not going up to this festival, because my time has not yet fully come.  After he had said this, he stayed in Galilee.  However, after his brothers had left for the festival, he went also, not publicly, but in secret.”

Answer:  It does seem that lying is not always a sin.  When Rahab lied to protect the Israelite spies in Jericho she was rewarded with safe passage when the attack came.  The Israelite midwives lied to Pharaoh about Israelite women giving birth before the midwives got there so that they could not kill the babies as Pharaoh commanded, and they were honored for this by God.  When God told Samuel to anoint a son of Jesse as king and he complained that if Saul found out why he was going to Bethlehem Saul would kill him, God told Samuel to say that he was going to offer a sacrifice (not the whole truth, but true).  When David realized that the Philistine leader he was seeking sanctuary from as he fled from Saul was against him and would kill him, he feigned madness and was sent away and he wrote a Psalm about how God delivered him (Ps 34).

In each of these situations the lives of good human beings were at stake.  It seems that when we lie to protect innocent human life it is okay.  For example, if a gunman came to your door and your family was hidden away in the house, and he asked you if you were alone, would you be obligated by God to tell him the truth?  Some situations and some people do not deserve the truth.  We may suppose that though lying is prohibited generally in Scripture, yet when a higher absolute (the protection of a human life) comes into play, that absolute takes precedence over the absolute against lying (similar to the absolute of obeying human governments takes a backseat to the absolute of obeying God, Acts 5:27-29).

It doesn’t seem, however, that this is the same kind of situation in Jesus’ life where he would need to lie to save someone or save himself.  Though going up publicly to the festival was dangerous, he didn’t need to go.  So it makes more sense that at the moment his time had not come, as he said, but then later the Spirit directed him to go in the manner he went.  He did face a dangerous situation then, but God protected him.

I love the fact that Gospel of John presents Jesus this way because it is another confirmation that the Gospels are factual accounts of Jesus’ life.  If the Gospel writers were only trying to present Jesus in some trumped up positive light they would not have presented him this way and left him open to a charge of lying.  But this is how it really happened and so they told it like it was.

How Do You Bring an Atheist to Christ?

Question:  How in the world do you bring an atheist to Christ?  I know you should pray for the right words but just wanted your thoughts on this.

Answer:  Bringing an atheist to Christ is just like bringing anyone to Christ.  I love the book “I Once Was Lost” by Everts and Schaupp.  It is a brilliant work based on a lot of experience in evangelism on college campuses.  Let me summarize.

Everyone must cross 5 thresholds to become a Christian.

First, they must come to trust a Christian.  If the non-Christian is to you simply a notch to put on your belt, you will not be trustworthy.  But if you love that person no matter what decision they make about Christ then they can trust you.

Second, they must be curious about Jesus.  Many non-Christians have some knowledge of Jesus and would like some questions about Him answered.  This is a first step toward genuine seeking.

Third, they must be open to radical life change.  Embracing the message of Jesus will require a complete alteration of one’s life.  When a non-Christian begins to understand the meaning of the gospel they will see how it will require radical life change.

Fourth, they must become genuine seekers of God.  They must really want to know the truth and how it affects them.

Fifth, they must believe.

An atheist claims there is no God.  What is their evidence for this belief?  Being willing to engage them on this would be a first step for you in building a trust relationship.  It will take some time because these lines of evidence are not quickly evaluated and answered.  Perhaps as the atheist sees your genuine love for him or her there will be a curiosity developed about why you are who you are and what role Jesus plays in that.  If the atheist is able to see that his or her view does not answer life’s most basic questions he or she might be open to radical life change.  If they become genuine seekers you might be instrumental in helping them through this process of seeking.  And finally you might help challenge them to get off the fence and believe.

We’re talking about a long term commitment to a person with genuine love and a readiness to engage in difficult discussions.  And yes, it will require prayer for the right words and the right heart toward this person.

Why Are There Different Religions

Question:  Why are there different religions?

Answer:  I suppose the simple answer is that people are sinners.  And because people are sinners they will find any possible permutation of religious elements that make sense to them and that gets them off the hook from worshiping the true God.

In Romans 1:18-26 Paul asserts that the truth about who God is, His eternal power and “godhead”, is known to everyone.  It is made clear through creation so that no one has an excuse to say, “I couldn’t find God.”  However, as Paul points out, we suppress that truth.  We want to live our lives the way we want to, not at the dictation of our Creator, so we bend the truth in order to make religion palatable to us.  We can’t escape that there is this religious reality…God…but we can distort the truth enough to feel less pressure to submit to Him.

Consequently we shape God in our own image and when you do that you have to have a different form in which to pour that image and, viola!, you have a new religion.  It also becomes a pathway for some to power as they define what the religion looks like and what its doctrines are and as they dictate the practice of it.  Eventually as your family and maybe your whole society embraces this it becomes a tradition that you cannot deny and still be viewed as part of your community.

Now, to be fair, we need to distinguish between different religions and different expressions within the same religion.  If you compare Christianity, Islam and Hinduism, for example, you will find that each is mutually exclusive of the other.  You cannot consistently hold to one and hold to the others as well.  But within Christianity there are varieties of expression of the same basic doctrines, and the same is true for Hinduism and Islam.  There is Catholicism, Protestantism and Orthodoxy within Christianity but they hold many of the same basic beliefs.  Some of this is tied to differences in personality or culture, some to variations as to which doctrinal beliefs are most important.

The possibility always exists, however, that some version of worship that was compatible within the larger religion can move toward “heresy” and become incompatible with the beliefs and practices of the major religion.  Sometimes they will acknowledge that and declare they are no longer a part of that religion, but sometimes they want to stay in the fold even though they have contradicted its major tenets.

All this to say, there are different religions, religions that depart from the revealed truth about God, because people are sinful and they yet cannot refrain from being religious and salving their conscience by having some form of worship.