Can Animals Have Compassion?

Question:  Why does the Bible give so little information about the differences between human and animals. Do animals run on instinct or do they have souls. For an animal, the instinct for self preservation has nothing to do with saving another species, sometime putting its own life at risk. Is love an instinct? There are a countless numbers of stories, but the last one I heard was of a whale saving a diver from a shark. Is that not compassion? I’m confused and torn.

Answer:  I suppose the simplest answer is that the Bible was not written to give us knowledge about everything having to do with our existence, but rather about our relationship with God.

It does mention that animals have spirits (Ecclesiastes 3:21–22, Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth? So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot. Who can bring him to see what will be after him?).  It reports an incident with Balaam in which his donkey talks to him after being enabled by God to communicate that way to his master (Numbers 22:22-30).

I believe that God gave us the responsibility of “subduing the earth” (Genesis 1:28) and part of that responsibility includes learning what we can about our fellow inhabitants.  Adam seemed to have studied the animals he saw in the garden in order to give them names (Genesis 2:18-20).  You have been learning about animals and their sometimes sacrificial acts on behalf of humans.  That may be an indication that animals can have something more than instinct at work in them.  We’re told in Genesis 3 that the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field.  So perhaps certain animals have abilities that others do not.  Adam and Eve didn’t seem too taken aback by the serpent speaking to them.

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.

Do We Believe There Can Never Be More Revelation From God?

Question:  I should know the answer to this already, but why do Christians think there can never be more revelation from God (as opposed to the Mormons, who are just fine with God revealing more ideas and are willing to give them equal weight to the Scriptures)?  I am assuming we base our idea on “do not add or take away from the Scriptures”.  Is that it?

Answer:  Not necessarily.  It is more, I think, that our experience has been that nothing anyone else has offered as prophetic or Scripture (since the apostles) has equaled the apostles’ work and it has been the church’s experience that everything we need we have found in the New Testament and Old Testament.  Or, as in the case with “scriptures” like the Latter Day Saints have produced, we have found them in contradiction to our Bible. 

We believe that God orchestrated getting into our canon (our accepted list of books) all that we needed for formulating our doctrinal understanding of the gospel and who God is.  We certainly respect the doctrinal traditions of the church and writings of other important church leaders, but we see them more as witnesses to the final authority of Scripture and guides to its interpretation.  Anything that claims to be Scripture must pass muster with the existing Scriptures, and none so far have passed that test.

This does not mean that there haven’t been and might still be revelations that speak to particular needs.  It is more doctrinal revelation that seems to have ceased or been made unnecessary.  We do not equate the other kinds of revelations with Scripture since they are more time bound or related only to one specific situation.

 The Revelation 22:18,19 warning seems related specifically to the book of Revelation, not the Scriptures generally.  You might note that the same kind of warning is given in Deuteronomy 4:2 and 12:32, and Scriptures have surely been added since then.

How Do We Know that What David or Solomon Wrote Was True?

Psalm 1, Verse 1 and 2 in Biblia Hebraica Stut...

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Question:  How do we know that everything David or Solomon wrote is true?  How do we know that one of the Psalms was not written while David was contemplating sleeping with Bathsheba or a Proverb was written after Solomon got in a fight with his 57th wife?

Answer:  There are three issues here in regards to the question of truth.

  1. Does inspiration of Scripture guarantee that what we have is an accurate record of what they wrote?  The answer is yes.  Inspiration guarantees that what is attributed to David and Solomon is accurately so attributed and accurately recorded.  This, however, does not guarantee that what they wrote is true, just that it is accurately recorded.  The words of Satan are accurately recorded, also, but that does not guarantee that what he said is true.
  2. Did David and Solomon express their true feelings when writing?  Yes, absolutely.  When David says in Psalm 139:5 that he feels hemmed in by how much God knows his every motive, that is a true feeling.  But by the end of the psalm he is inviting God to know him in this way.  His feelings have changed in the course of his meditation on God’s knowledge and you can see the change chronicled in the psalm.  This encourages us to express to God our true feelings, even if they are not the best feelings to have and are in need of change.
  3. Did everything David and Solomon wrote have the character of normative truth (true for all people and all times)?  Yes and no.  David wrote, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1).  Had God actually forsaken him?  No, but that is how it felt.  When Jesus quotes this verse as He is dying on the cross, however, He is stating a truth that David’s experience forshadowed and it is really true for Jesus, because He bore our guilt before God and God forsook Him as penalty for our guilt.  When Solomon wrote, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly” in Proverbs 26:4 and then, in 26:5 wrote, “Answer a fool according to his folly,” he was demonstrating part of the genius of proverbial wisdom.  There are not always normative absolutes for every situation and Proverbs is not trying to give such absolutes, but rather principles that are normally true but not exhaustively true for every situation.

If we keep these considerations in mind we will be more discerning when reading Scripture and not confuse others or ourselves about what authority Scripture has.  It is our authoritative standard for truth.  Everything in it is not therefore true, but only those portions that are intended as normative truth.  Because, for example, the Bible does not purport to give normative truth about all things astronomical, when it says that the sun rises it is not to be understood that Scripture is asserting that the sun revolves around the earth.  But when it tells us that the only way to heaven is Christ and faith in Him, that is definitely within the realm of intended normative truth for us.

Randall Johnson