Stott: Don’t just be Good Samaritans, remove robbers

The Good SamaritanGood Samaritans will always be needed to succour those who are assaulted and robbed; yet it would be even better to rid the Jerusalem-Jericho road of brigands.

So wrote John Stott, as quoted in the New York Times, also by Suzanne McCarthy. Stott continued with this explanation:

Christian philanthropy in terms of relief and aid is necessary, but long-term development is better, and we cannot evade our political responsibility to share in changing the structures that inhibit development. Christians cannot regard with equanimity the injustices that spoil God’s world and demean his creatures.

Indeed. It is not enough for Christians to act as Good Samaritans while doing nothing about the evils which cause the suffering they relieve. This is a lesson which many evangelicals, especially in North America, need to learn.

Image courtesy of FreeBibleIllustrations.com.

Gay Marriage and the Wrath of God

Yesterday I posted here about Jim West, Miley Cyrus and the Wrath of God. At the end of my post I suggested that Romans 1:18 and following does not imply a clear condemnation of gay marriage, especially if the wrath of God is understood in the way that Jim West suggested.

In a comment on that post Gordon challenged me to explain the exegesis of that passage on which I based my remarks. As I stated in my comment in reply, that exegesis is “a tentative suggestion rather than a firm conclusion”. It is also offered from Jim’s viewpoint and so presupposing his view of the wrath of God. But I will offer here some further explanation.

Jim wrote, and I quoted, that

the wrath of God is God allowing people to reap what they sow.  In short, the worst thing that can happen to you is, well, you.

That implies that in Romans 1:18 (all quotations here from NIV 2011) “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven” means not so much “God is exercising his wrath” as “God is showing people that he is allowing them to reap what they sow”. The following preposition epi is usually translated “against” but more literally means “on to” and can probably here be understood as “concerning”.

On this basis verse 24 can probably be taken as the content of what is being revealed, that “God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.” Thus God’s wrath is to be understood not as sending these people to hell, but as allowing them follow their sinful desires. In the words of Hultgren quoted by Jim,

The wrath of God consists in God’s not stopping or rescuing people in their wrongdoing.

Note that in this verse “them” refers back to the gender neutral anthropoi “people” of verse 18, men and women, and so verse 24 is not about homosexual practice but more generally about sexual immorality. In verses 26 and 27 homosexual practices are introduced, but only as examples of a broader phenomenon. The last part of verse 27, “[they] received in themselves the due penalty for their error”, very likely refers not just to the gay men of the first part of the verse but to the “them” of the first part of verse 26, in other words to all ungodly people as in verses 18 and 28.

Miley Cyrus' gay marriage finger tattooSo what does this have to say about gay marriage? Miley Cyrus has expressed her support for this with a tweet that “All LOVE is equal” and a finger tattoo. Does the Bible support this idea? Perhaps it is not quite as negative as it might at first seem. We read in verse 26 that it is God who gave people over to “shameful lusts” including homosexual ones. This suggests that homosexual orientation comes from God, although more as a curse than as a blessing.

So if God brings a gay or lesbian couple together, let them be together. To quote Jesus’ words, “what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Mark 10:9).

God is not the Great Deceiver

A supernova remnant in the constellation OphiuchusJames McGrath links to a post by David H. Bailey Supernovas and “God the Great Deceiver” theology. In this post Bailey explores some of the apparent implications of the Young Earth Creationist position, that the universe was created only about 6,000 years ago – or in some variants up to 20,000 years ago. Bailey notes that astronomers regularly observe events, supernova explosions, from at least 200,000 light years away in other galaxies, and so, according to orthodox science, which took place at least 200,000 years ago.

The creationist Henry Morris, as quoted by Bailey, explained this apparent discrepancy as follows:

[T]he light rays … must have been created carrying information descriptive of historical physical events (such as super novae) which never actually occurred, because we would now be observing light rays which were created in transit and never were radiated from the stars which they seem to image.

In other words, God created the universe with an appearance of age. Francis Schaeffer tried to rationalise this version of events:

There is a possibility that God created a ‘grown-up’ universe. For example, Adam, the first night he existed, might have seen the light of the furthest stars without waiting for long light years to pass before they could be seen.

To this possibility, we must quickly add one note. This does not mean that God is capricious. And surely it does not imply, and I would totally reject, the concept Bishop Samuel Wilberforce suggested at Oxford in Darwin’s time: that God created fossils in the earth in order to fool fools. This is totally out of character with the God of the Bible.

However, just because it was stated so horribly in the days of Darwin is no reason not to suggest that God may have in some sense and in some areas created a grown-up universe. One could ask, for example, whether the trees when they were created had rings.

Well, Schaeffer has a point, but why would God create starlight as evidence of past events which never actually occurred, unless it was something like “in order to fool fools”? The Psalmist wrote “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1 NIV), but is what they declare in fact deception by God? As Bailey puts it,

to anyone outside the world of hard-core creationists, this type of “God the Great Deceiver” theology, namely the notion that God deliberately constructed a phony universe to mislead diligent seekers of truth in the 21st century, is not only absurd but downright blasphemous. It is utterly at odds with the notion of a rational, comprehensible God that has been the mainstay of Judeo-Christian theology for several millennia. Indeed, such a being would be utterly unworthy of our reverence or obedience.

In fact even young earth creationists have realised the force of this argument and tried to find ways around it. A reader of this blog regularly refers me to articles from Creation Ministries International. So I went to their site for material about this issue, and found an interesting 2003 article A new cosmology: solution to the starlight travel time problem by John G. Hartnett. Hartnett, a believer in a creation about 6,000 years ago, looks at five possible solutions to the problem. Only one of these is that God created the light from events that did not actually happen, and he clearly rejects this:

I don’t believe God commits fraud. Creating a beam of light from source to observer so that the observer appears to see current information must also mean there is a whole stream of information in the beam that is false.

The problem is that three of his other solutions, that the speed of light was enormously faster in the past or that clocks on earth and elsewhere in the universe run at vastly different speeds, seem totally implausible to someone like me who has studied physics to a high level. And the remaining solution is to concede that the universe is ancient and only the earth was recently created.

Hartnett’s own preference is for a solution in which for the first few “days” of creation clocks on earth, and maybe in the whole solar system, ran ten trillion times slower than clocks elsewhere in the universe. Thus each “day” of creation, as measured on earth where there were in fact no observers other than God, corresponds to ten trillion astronomical days. This sounds to me very like an attempt to present “day-age” type old earth creationism in young earth creationist language.

So, it seems that at least some young earth creationists agree with Bailey that God is not the Great Deceiver. But they have yet to come up with even slightly convincing explanations of how the light from distant supernovas could have reached us in 6,000 years of real time.