I recently wrapped up a four week series teaching for the Master’s Class at Fellowship Bible Church. It was a blessing to be with those folks while Kevin was out of town. On the first week I opened the class with a brief devotional from Psalm 40:1-10. At the time when I shared that devotional, I was empathizing with the psalmist as he wallowed in that miry bog. Psalm 40 is a beautiful hymn sung by one who “waited patiently for the Lord” to deliver.
I was empathizing with the Psalmist because on that morning my family was looking at an uncertain future. In less than two weeks we had to move out of our home of the last four years. The move out was certain; where we were going was not. At that point we had no idea where we would live after June 1st. One of the challenges in finding a place to live was our employment situation. The family that Lisa had been nannying for moved the last week of May, so that income was gone. Although I was actively looking for full-time employment and had some irons in the fire, nothing had yet transpired. It’s difficult to find a landlord willing to work with a family with nominal income and uncertain prospects.
To add to the stress, I had been accepted into the doctoral programs at both the University of St. Andrews and Dallas Theological Seminary. Neither program is funded, and my ability to pay for either program was nil. In short, we were two weeks away from being homeless, unemployed, and unable to move on to the next step. Things felt bleak indeed.
When I shared the Psalm with the class, I mentioned none of the above. From the devotional, I launched into my teaching. One of the key points that I brought out from the Psalm that morning was the psalmist’s reaction to his deliverance. In Ps 40:9-10 we see that the psalmist was not silent. He publicly praised the Lord for what the Lord had done. I exhorted the class to not rob God of the glory due to Him. When God provides, when God delivers, when God demonstrates His faithfulness, we are to proclaim what He has done!
I had no idea what God would do, or if He would do anything. My faith in Him is not dependent upon Him doing what I feel like He should do. If we ended up homeless and no work opened up, God would still be God, and God would still be good. His goodness is not dependent upon my skewed and selfish expectations. The silence of God is not the absence of God nor is it an argument for His non-being. Sometimes the silence of God is exactly what we need, as painful as that might be.
Two days after our scheduled homelessness, I had the opportunity to stand before that same class and do what the psalmist had done. I announced to the class what God had done. In the space of two weeks we went from being without a home, job, or educational future to having a home, a job, and a fully-funded educational future! To God alone be the glory!
Through my good friend and mentor, Dr. P., we were put in contact with the owner of a house in Garland who is serving as a missionary in Hong Kong. The house he owns met and exceeded all of our needs. The house was vacated the day before we needed to move, so we were able to drive our moving truck straight from our apartment to our new home. (There is more to this story that I will share in a later post.)
Earlier that week, I was offered a full-time position at the seminary. And not just any position. For the past four years I had served as a Howard Hendricks Leadership Fellow with the Department of Spiritual Formation at DTS. I loved every minute of it. The position I was offered (and that I subsequently accepted) was that of Associate Director of the Department of Spiritual Formation and Leadership. God provided me not merely with a job that would provide an income and benefits. God provided me with a ministry about which I am passionate, working with men and women I know and love, and serving the institution that has served me so well.
What about that uncertain academic future? One of the benefits of this new position at the seminary is a tuition benefit. My Ph.D. (with the exception of the required books) has become fully funded! This abundant and merciful provision is not what makes God good. If this were all to be taken away tomorrow, He would still be God, and he would still be good. Again – To God alone be the glory!
“I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; behold, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O Lord. I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart; I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation.”
This post is an appendix to Part 3 of the Conversation between me and Neal Campbell. You can read his post where he brings out these passages here and my response to him here. (To read my responses to each of Neal’s statements, click on the statement and the text will drop down.)
In order for us to begin to understand the severity of God’s judgment against the people of Numbers 31, we need to understand what happened in the story of Ba’al Peor as cataloged in Numbers 25. The virgins were spared in Numbers 31:18 because they had no role in what had happened in Numbers 25. They were also unable to continue the Midianite line by themselves. God’s command to destroy the Midianites was to protect Israel from themselves lest they again be seduced as they were in Numbers 25. These virgins who were spared were shown mercy. It is difficult for us with our modern lenses and sensibilities to understand this as merciful when it would be possible for these survivors to be married to their captors – something that may have been dreaded by them. Yet they were spared, and in the context of the Ancient Near East the taking of plunder in warfare, both human and property, was the cultural and societal norm.
So what do we do with a passage like this where we have not only slavery discussed, but the beating of slaves? The first thing that we need to remember is that the slavery we read about in the New Testament (Greek/Roman context) is not the same as slavery as we think of it over the past 500 years. Slavery as we read about it in the Old Testament (Hebrew debt-servanthood) is not the same as NT or recent historical past. It is a completely different concept. As challenging as it is due to our heightened and raw sensitivities, we need to be able to recognize the nature of slavery in it’s Ancient Near East context.
Slavery a la Exodus 21 would be better titled as servanthood or indentured servitude. It was typically an apprentice or servant like arrangement designed for the payment of debts. Paul Copan, chair of philosophy at the Palm Beach Atlantic University, suggests that the language of owner is reminiscent (although don’t take the parallel too far) of professional athletes today. Players are often traded from one franchise to another where they have a new owner, and must continue to honor their formal contractual agreement. This hardly suggests slavery.
In the communal environment of the ANE, debt was familial, not individual. As such, an individual could choose to sell himself (Lev. 25:47) in order to work of his debt, or he could offer up his wife or children in order to provide during lean times. We can see the fundamental difference in the commands given to slave owners. For example, in Leviticus 25:46, 53 we see these slaves were hired from year-to-year and were to be treated well (in comparison to other cultures in the ANE). Slavery wasn’t imposed on another. It was a voluntary, albiet less than desirable, situation.
Indeed, the Old Testament laws regarding slavery forbade lifelong servanthood. Masters released their slaves every seven years with all debts forgiven (Lev. 25:35-43). The slave in this context was deeply embedded into the home of their owners. Interestingly, provision was made for the slave who desired to permanently serve a particular master in Exodus 21:5. Isn’t it interesting that the Hebrew law required the release of the slave regardless of the master’s wishes, yet if a slave wished it, he could commit himself indefinitely?
The passage that Neal brought forth demonstrates the uniqueness of the laws governing slave ownership in Israel. Under the Babylonian Hammurabi code, masters could cut off the ears of disobedient slaves. Under that code, anyone helping runaway slaves would be subject to the death penalty. Yet the Bible has strict laws that serve to protect the slave from harm. If an owner accidentally injured a slave (knocking out a tooth or gouging out an eye), that owner would be required to set that slave free. The verse at hand holds the owners accountable for the lives of their slaves – if they kill a slave through discipline, that owner will now be put to death for murder! I could go on…the Bible says that kidnapping someone for the purpose of selling them into slavery is punishable by death (Ex. 21:16), runaway slaves were to be given refuge (Deut. 23:15,16).
Bottom line, there is no parallel to slavery in the context of Mosaic law to the slavery we know and abhor. This objection is one based on imposing a 20th century definition on an ancient context. An anachronistic error.
In the ANE, taking the king’s concubines was a way of symbolically dethroning the king and claiming his kingdom. This behavior by David’s sons (and, of course, David) was contrary to the command of God. Rape, infidelity, and sexual immorality was forbidden—which is why we see those who engage in these activities judged harshly.
God does not threaten the “rape of wives as punishment to men” in these passages. This is not a threat, but a prophetic utterance of what will come to pass as a result of their action. Just as if I were to say, “Because you have maxed out all of your credit cards, taken out title loans against your vehicles, and have several outstanding loans from payday loan services, you will surely come to financial ruin.” The difference would be that prophetic words uttered by Nathan under the instruction of the Spirit are certain to be accurate where my prediction, albiet likely, is not sure.
Look at Deut. 22:23-24 and notice the implication of the scenario as presented. The implication is not that the woman was raped, but that she engaged in sexual immorality willingly. If she were in the city and was taken against her will, she would have cried out. This law protects the man from an unjust accusation, because in this scenario she would be culpable for the offense as well. It also protects the woman. She knows that she must cry out and thus invalidates the tried and true tactic of the rapist, “Be quiet or I’ll kill you.” This law gives her motivation to struggle, scream, make noise, and resist her attacker regardless of his threats. As a result, she will be less likely to be raped. In Deut. 22:25-27 the offense occurs outside of the city where no one would be able to hear her cry and come to her aid, so the law shifts in her favor and she is protected.
Neal, your post today necessitates two responses. This one, and one that deals specifically with the texts you bring up in your post to illustrate a cruel and capricious deity. This response will deal specifically with misunderstandings related to God’s love. At the end of the post will be a link to the entry dealing with the specific biblical texts you brought forward.
1 John 4:8 is often twisted to say many things about God, based on an incomplete and fluffy understanding of what His love actually is. It is important to keep reading (always) so that 1 John 4:10 shines a light on the preceding verses. When I say that God is love, I am keeping in mind that He is also good. He is also mercy. And justice. And wrath. The character of God is such that He is all of these things extended to perfection.
So what does that have to do with this conversation? The character of God cannot be compromised. His love cannot be extended at the expense of justice, nor can wrath be extended at the expense of mercy. Never is one attribute exercised independently of the others. The above verses are a good illustration of this. God’s perfect love extended to us through the act of redemption required that His perfect justice be satisfied. This explains the sacrificial system of the Old Testament and the ultimate complete satisfaction obtained through the work of Christ.
To emphasize one aspect of the divine nature above the others as a governing attribute (i.e. God’s love is supreme, and all other attributes are to be governed by it) is to pervert one’s understanding of God. No particular attribute is supreme. Suggesting otherwise requires rejecting certain truths about God. So, for instance, His love never invalidates His justice; rather, His love always satisfies His justice.
Love without justice isn’t love at all—it’s favoritism or partiality. This isn’t a conversation about what is “fair.” Consider the following:
This hardly seems fair, does it? The first man may look at the second with bitter resentment. Or, if he has affection for the second, he may be thankful that the other man received a lighter penalty. The second man may look at the first and experience guilt that he got off easy. But that guilt may be assuaged by the reality that the first man did receive what he deserved.
I read somewhere that in a society where justice exists without mercy we have a brutal self-righteousness. On the other extreme, a society governed by mercy at the expense of justice leads to lawlessness.
When faced with the holiness of God, the reality of Romans 3:23 is staggering. The just sentence for the sinfulness of man is death. God’s justice cannot be compromised for the sake of love, and we cannot call God evil for requiring that the penalty be paid. That is the beauty of the Biblical story of redemption and recreation—He provided a way for His perfect justice to be satisfied so that we might be the recipients of His perfect love.
With that in the background, a brief and incomplete discussion of the texts you brought forward can be found here.Read More
Wow, Neal. A lot of stuff in that post. I hardly know where to start! You did a quick cruise through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. As I read your thoughts, I see you wrestling with apparent inconsistencies in the text, discord in the overall message, problems with the idea of Hell, and the actual state of the human condition. All of these deserve a response, but I think it best to just start with one and we can go back to the others as our conversation continues.[1. In particular I want to deal with how the concept of Hell is not contradictory to the message of the Bible. But before I can do that, I need to deal with the issue of the nature of man you addressed in your post.]
You said, “we’re not evil. … I can’t accept the premise that I’m a sinner in need of sacrificial grace because I know by experience that … isn’t true. You’re not either.” I’m in a little bit of a tight spot here, because I can’t use the Bible to defend my positions in this conversation, at least not exclusively, as you are rejecting any authority it may have.[2. That might be a great discussion down the road—why do I consider the Bible reliable?] But I’ll do the best I can. To start, I disagree with your statement I quoted above. When I consider who I am by nature, and who God is, the conclusion is inescapable. There is a gulf there. He is wholly righteous. Indeed, he is by definition the highest good – goodness itself.
A common misunderstanding occurs when theologians toss out terms like total depravity. “I’m not totally depraved!” We say indignantly, “I do lots of good things!” The point of total depravity is not that we are totally depraved. The bible acknowledges that unbelievers can do “good” things. See Deut. 5:28; Matt 7:11; Luke 6:33; and Rom. 5:7. [4. If my plugins are working right, you should be able to read those passages by mousing over them.] But note that I put the word good in quotes. Why? Because the Bible also acknowledges that apart from the regenerating work of the Spirit, we cannot truly do good things or be rightly described as good. (Gen. 6:5; Jer. 13:23; Mark 10:18; Rom. 7:18) Total depravity is not saying that we are as bad as we could possibly be. Rather, it affirms that there is not a part of us that is not corrupt or corrupting.
You said that you “know by experience that [my being evil] isn’t true. You’re not either.” Neal, my experience tells me something quite different. I need to only look to the past to see the evidence that I am, when left to my own devices, evil. And I don’t have to look back to my pre-conversion days to see that. I still often choose to operate in that capacity to do evil despite the fact that because of the regenerating work of the Spirit in my life I am no longer a slave to that desire.
So let’s look at what you stated: “we want to be good and do good. We work very hard to be good and do good.” I agree that for many, this is true! But what you said immediately before that is also true, “we may do sucky, mean things from time to time.” All of us do evil things, despite the desire many of us have to not do them. Why? Why is it such a universal constant that all of us do “sucky, mean things” at some point in our lives, usually repeatedly? My answer, and the answer of the Bible is that apart from a work of God, we have no choice but to do so. Augustine said that ever since the Fall, man possesses the ability to sin [5. posse peccare] and does not possess the ability not to sin.[6. non posse non peccare] It is only after we have been regenerated that we possess the ability to sin (still) and now the ability not to sin.[7. posse non peccare]
My experience, the testimony of the Bible, and the witness of all human history demonstrate this. Evil (sin) characterizes the human race throughout history with only one exception—Jesus Christ.Read More
I have been a fan of the tech blog GeekBrief.tv since its inception in 2005. When I read that Luria (Cali Lewis) and her husband/producer/writer Neal Campbell were getting a divorce, I felt as though this was something happening to old friends. I had been watching their program for years, and felt as though I knew them. (I think there is something there about the power of technology and media, but that’s a blog post for another day…) As someone who has gone through the pain of divorce, I felt compelled to reach out to Neal. I sent him an email meant to encourage, assuring him that he wasn’t alone, and offering to meet with him over coffee to talk if he ever felt the need. I never thought in a million years that he would respond—but he did.
That was the start of something that has turned into a friendship that continues to this day. When Neal and I first met, he was wrecked (understandably) by what was happening in his life and marriage. In the midst of this pain he began to experience a crisis of faith (read the details in Neal’s introduction). Over two years later, Neal has gone from the point of returning to the faith of his youth to now rejecting the story of Christianity. As he said in a recent Facebook update, “Breaking up with Jesus is hard to do. It’s such an embedded part of the southern take on life. However, shift happens!”
My story is very different. Where Neal grew up in the faith and rejected it as an adult, I grew up cynical about Christianity yet came to faith as an adult. This fascinates Neal—How is it that as he became an adult he recognized that “a relationship with God [is] a delusion,” yet I as an adult (shaped in the forge of empirical rationality) came to recognize that a relationship with God through Christ is the only hope any of us actually has? In Neal’s introduction he speaks of how reading the book of Job began to open his eyes to the ridiculousness of the Biblical message. Interestingly, it is through the story of Job that I find the greatest comfort in the midst of suffering. (I preached on this recently. If you’re interested in a brief exposition as to how I find comfort in Job, you can watch/download the message here.)
Thus begins our conversation. Over the next several weeks and months, Neal and I will be talking about this shift on our respective blogs. Today we have both posted our introductions to this conversation. Going forward Neal and I will be posting regularly, interacting with the other’s blogs. The neat thing about this conversation is that Neal and I are friends; we disagree, but we don’t argue. This is a fundamental issue, indeed, I would say the fundamental issue. If we simply verbally beat each other up, our friendship would be scarred, and this conversation would be pointless. I know Neal well enough to know that this will be a respectful, challenging, and thoughtful exploration of why we believe what we believe. We look forward to doing these blog posts in the public square and hope that you will join us with your respectful and thoughtful emails and comments.
And so it begins!Read More