Monthly Archives: July 2011

Tough Question: “A Selfish Creator?”

Recently I have been dialoguing back and forth with a student who has been raising some really good questions.  So, with his permission, I have decided to post his most recent question and my own response to it.  However, I would love it if others would weigh in as well or even offer their own follow-up questions.

THE QUESTION

Recently I have been trying to figure out why, if there is a God, he would create humans. I mean it seems that there would be no point in creating humanity. Not only are we constantly doing what God would not want but it also just seems selfish. If I were to have a child and then say to it “Your purpose is to serve and worship me forever” I would look like a tool.

MY ANSWER

Your question is a really great one.  Actually, this was a question that I wrestled with myself before I became a Christian.  I remember talking with some of my Christian friends about it and being unsatisfied with the idea that our primary purpose in life was to worship God.  The idea that God would create us just so that we would sit around for all eternity telling him how great he is seemed selfish.  So, I definitely understand where you are coming from.

The short answer to your question is that God is, by his very nature, a creative and life-giving God.  Furthermore, he creates humans as his children, to live in relationship with him and to partner in enjoying his creation and continuing his life-giving work.  His commands to obey him and worship him flow out of his fatherly love, for they are designed to protect us and help us live up to our fullest potential.  When we live in this kind of dynamic relationship with God, we end up worshipping him with our very lives as an expression of our love and thanksgiving to him.

To help illustrate this in more depth, I’d like to try and tackle your question in three parts.  I know that sounds like a long way of going about it, but I think they will all tie together in a way that really gives a well-rounded answer to your questions

God as Father

First, I think it is important to examine what the Bible reveals about God’s character.  You asked why God would create humans, especially when they mess up constantly.  One of the big themes of scripture is that God is both a creative and relational God.

Paul highlights this fact in his presentation of the gospel before the Areopagus in Athens.  He tells the gathering of philosophers that God “himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.  And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth…that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him.  Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring’” (Acts 17:25-28).

What Paul is emphasizing is that it is in God’s nature to create.  As the source of all life, he naturally begets life.  Creating brings him pleasure and delight.  We see this illustrated in Genesis 1 when, after each act of creation, God calls what he has made “good”.

Furthermore, when he finally creates humankind he calls them “very good”.  His purpose in making humanity was to create a being in his own image that would not only understand his creation, but enjoy it along with him, as his children.  It is for this reason that his very first commandment to them is to fill the earth and multiply.  It was always his intention that we would enjoy what he had made and reflect his creative nature within our own relationships and through our work in the world.

The Purpose of Obedience

It is with this in mind that we turn to your comment about human disobedience and serving God.  You said in your question, “if I were to have a child and then say to it ‘your purpose is to serve and worship me forever’ I would look like a tool.”  To help address this point, I think it is important to take a step back and think about human parent-child relationships.  For example, my daughter loves to run.  Having recently learned to use her legs, it is a delight and a pleasure for me to watch her zoom around in our front yard as she explores the world around her.

However, sometimes she runs to places that are dangerous, like the street.  Now, is it selfish for me to tell her not to run in the street?  No.  Why?  Because I’m not telling her this for my benefit, but for her own.  I know that if she runs in the street she could get hit by a car and I want her to obey my command so that she remains safe and continues to run around and play.

It is important to see the same principle at work when we look to God.  God does not give us commandments to make our lives less enjoyable.  He gives us commandments in order to protect us from the things that would actually rob us of life.  His call to obey him is not for his benefit, but for ours.  This is why, for example, God tells Adam and Eve not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden.  He tells them that the consequence will be death.  Sure enough, when they disobey him and eat from the tree we see the utter breakdown of their relationships, their environment, and ultimately of their very lives.  His command was meant to protect them.

The Definition of Worship

This brings us to our final point about worship.  Too often I think we define worship as sitting around telling God how great he is.  However, this is not at all how God defines worship.  In scripture, there are a variety of ways that God defines what it means to worship him.  Here are a couple of examples:

  • Isaiah 58:  God defines worship not as fasting or sacrificing, but as loosing the bonds of wickedness, letting the oppressed go free, sharing food with the hungry, and clothing the naked
  • Micah 6:8:  “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
  • Romans 12:1:  “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship”.
  • 1 Cor. 10:31:  “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God”.

What we see here in this brief examination is that worshipping God is not necessarily about music (though it can be a part of it), but that worship is fundamentally about living the life that God has called us to live and to partner with him in the work that he is doing. This is why Jesus ties together the worship of God and the love of neighbor when talking about the two greatest commandments in Matthew 22:37-40.  Worshipping God means living for God with our whole being.  Additionally, we worship God when we love others as ourselves.

This idea that worship is about living life in relationship with God and in a manner that reflects his purposes is echoed throughout scripture.  We see the earliest command to worship in Genesis 1:28 and 2:15 when God tells the people to fill the earth and commands Adam to tend the garden.  Here, worshipping God involved being a part of God’s creative act.  In the New Testament, Jesus calls his disciples to be his witnesses throughout the world (Matt. 28 & Acts 1), a command that echoes Genesis 1 & 2, but now with an emphasis on being a part of God’s redemptive work in the world.  This is also echoed in the passages from the prophets listed above.  Worship, therefore, is defined as living life in accordance with God’s will for the world.  It involves participating with him in that work, for this was why we were created and it is through this calling that live we, in fact, end up living life to its fullest.

Conclusion

Again, to summarize, what we see is that God is, by his very nature, a creative and life-giving God.  Furthermore, he creates humans as his children, to live in relationship with him and to partner in enjoying his creation and continuing his life-giving work.  His commands to obey him and worship him flow out of his fatherly love, for they are designed to protect us and help us live up to our fullest potential.  When we live in this kind of dynamic relationship with God, we end up worshipping him with our very lives as an expression of our love and thanksgiving to him.

Book Review: “Erasing Hell” by Francis Chan & Preston Sprinkle

I recently finished reading the book “Erasing Hell” by Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle.  Written as a response to Rob Bell’s “Love Wins”, Chan and Sprinkle honestly and personally wrestle with the rarely talked about doctrine of Hell.  In the introduction to the book Chan writes,

“I decided to write a book about hell.  And honestly–I’m scared to death.  I’m scared because so much is at stake.  Think about it.  If I say there is no hell, and it turns out that there is a hell, I may lead people into the very place I convinced them did not exist!  If I say there is a hell, and I’m wrong, I may persuade people to spend their lives frantcially warning loved ones about a terrifying place that isn’t real!  When it comes to hell, we can’t afford to be wrong.  This is not one of those doctrines where you can toss in your two cents, shrug your shoulders, and move on.  Too much is at stake.  Too many people are at stake.  And the Bible has too much to say” (pg. 14).

What follows is my own review of this new book.

THE STRENGTHS

This book has several strengths.  First of all, it wrestles with the doctrine of Hell from a biblical perspective.  What I appreciate about it is that Chan doesn’t try to sidestep the difficult questions raised by Rob Bell and others.  He understands that there are a lot of misconceptions and reservations about Hell, and he doesn’t shy away from addressing them.  Rather, he and Sprinkle look to scripture and try to understand what the Bible says about this doctrine and provide scriptural references within their proper context.

Second, the writers directly engage with many of the questions that Bell raises, but does not answer, in his own book.  Some of the questions that they tackle are:

  • Will everyone be saved?
  • Does God get what God wants?
  • Will there be a second chance at salvation after death?

Knowing that many people have the same questions, the authors try to address these questions with both sensitivity and with an eye toward what is actually revealed in God’s Word.

Finally, I appreciate the humility with which they write.  When “Love Wins” was published many evangelicals came out against the book, often misrepresenting or attacking Bell in the process.  The discussion around the topic of Heaven and Hell was, in a word, hellish.  Chan and Sprinkle take a very different approach.  First, they try to accurately represent Bell’s thinking.  Second, they take into account various Christian perspectives in their response and honestly admit where they personally land in the discussion.  Third, they try to support their views with a careful study of scripture itself.  Throughout, their tone is one of genuine dialogue and is born out of a desire to honestly understand the other.

THE WEAKNESSES

This being said, there are a couple of weaknesses with the book.  First, it is very contextual.  What I mean by this is that it is very obviously a response to Bell’s own book.  Because of this, those who have not read Love Wins” may feel a bit lost.  I also worry that this will hamper the ability of the book to speak to a wider Christian audience and create a more well-rounded view on the subject of Hell.

Second, the book doesn’t do a good job of giving the reader an understanding of where the doctrine of Hell fits in the overall scope of the Gospel.  I feel like this was a failing of Bell’s own writing, and I feel that it is also missing here.  This is not to say that Chan and Sprinkle don’t talk about the Gospel, but it is communicated in a more indirect way.  I worry about this because Chan and Sprinkle make a convincing argument that Hell does in fact exist, but fall short in talking about what is involved in helping us avoid Hell and enter into an eternal relationship with God.  For the seeker reading this book, it gives some answers about Hell without clearly point to The Answer:  Christ himself.

In addition, I don’t think you can talk about Hell without also addressing the nature of Heaven.  The two really do go together and I feel that talking about one without talking about the other can be very misleading and fails to root the importance of Heaven and Hell in the broader context of biblical theology.

Finally, there is little in regard to talking about how the doctrine of Hell informs our understanding of our present world and how this doctrine should shape Christian discipleship now.  While Chan frequently highlights that this doctrine is too important to get wrong, he does not go very far in talking about what its implications are for life today.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

Overall, I liked “Erasing Hell”.  As someone who has been following this debate, it is a helpful and humble contribution to the discussion which is firmly grounded in scripture.  While I feel it could have been better, I would recommend it to anyone who has also been following this discussion and wrestling with their own questions about Hell and its existence.

OVERALL RATING:  8.0 out of 10

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Nourishment

“Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation–if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.”  (1 Peter 2:1-3)

There are some things which only sink in after you have become a parent.  I had one of these moments this past week as I was spending time studying the Bible with a co-worker.  We were reading through 1 Peter together when we came across the following verse:  “Like newborn infants, long fo the pure spiritual milk…” (1 Peter 2:2).  After reading it my friend looked up and asked me what I thought this meant.   In the past I would have skimmed over a passage like this, describing it as a simple word picture highlighting how we are to be dependent on God in the same way that little children are dependent on their parents

While this is true, I now realize that Peter was communicating something far richer.  As I reflected on this verse I could not help but think about my daughter during the first year of her life.  During that time there was only one thing that she truly needed for nourishment:  her mother’s milk.  I remain fascinated by this fact as I consider how, day in and day out, she ate and drank nothing else but that which she received from her mom.  And yet, she continued to grow.  Through the milk that she was getting from her mother, she received the necessary fats, nutrients, and antibodies that she needed to sustain her.

So, when Peter writes to his fellow Christians, he is trying to help them see just how vital it is for us to stay connected to God.  From Him we receive absolutely everything we need for spiritual life.  While our world is constantly encouraging us to seek guidance from self-help gurus and consumer-based spirituality, Peter reminds us that everything we need for spiritual life comes directly from our relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  We do not need to go anywhere else.

This ministered to me on a whole new level, especially in light of my recent posts regarding my prayer life.  Though God has seemed distant, I am reminded that He really is not very far off at all and that, though I might be tempted to look to some kind of spiritual substitute, all I really need can and will be found in Christ and Christ alone.  So, whether I find myself on the mountain-top or the valley this coming year, I see this passage as a reminder to always look to Christ for my spiritual nourishment, for that is all I truly need.

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