Public Debates 1

When a world-renowned atheist comes into a public debate with an equally well-known and respected Christian apologist…to debate topics such as Does God Exist?…or Is God Great?…or Is God a Delusion?…the atheist enters into the debate auditorium thinking they can win…and whether they actually win or lose the debate…they leave still thinking they are right.

The idea that the issues in these public debates cannot arrive at a conclusive ending…cannot be so overwhelmingly convincing one way or the other towards a consensus conclusion…for the audience listening to the debate…as well as for the two antagonists…in an absolute resolution to the specific topic being debated…in my opinion is not only an amazing reality worthy of further thoughtful analysis…but in a subtle and counter-intuitive way is itself a positive evidence for the theistic viewpoint.

This again dives right into the complexity and integrated coherence of information question…regarding its origin and source…being clearly too complicated for material particles and fields of energy to produce…and way too complicated for human literary invention to conceive of…or to set in motion a program of the delicate balance in the area of belief and unbelief…that could stand the test of time for literally thousands of years.

From the Christian perspective…this superbly ingenious reality of the delicate balance between belief and unbelief…has a divine origin at least as ancient as the existence of “the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8)…allowed to actualize into human experience through divine foresight and foreknowledge…and adjusted and fine-tuned over the course of human history…for the highest and best reasons imaginable…at the pinnacle of moral reasoning.

It is not a blundering miscalculation…it is not a glaring oversight by God the Father, Jesus the Son of God, and the Holy Spirit…to not make the most of the resurrection of Jesus by having Him walk openly down the middle of Main Street in Jerusalem and straight into the Temple…on Tuesday or Wednesday of the first week following His resurrection.

This would be a golden opportunity to empirically demonstrate the divine status of Jesus Christ as Messiah and Savior…beyond any debatable doubt in the future.

Yet instead God skillfully moderates and calibrates the extent of the physical appearances of the risen Jesus…so as to leave just enough of a personal witness of His resurrection and Godhood to inaugurate and sustain the exponential growth of the early Christian church…and for His followers to write the New Testament…yet at the same time enables the space for the unbelief of the religious elites and a portion of the populace in Israel…to continue in skeptical unbelief in Jesus Christ…as Messiah…that coalesced and solidified in the Jewish community and in the secular Gentile world in the first-century…and is still debated up to this day.

That this delicate balance between belief and unbelief would continue down the centuries to our current time…with brilliant antagonists squaring off in public debate today over the very question that Jesus posed to His disciples two thousand years ago: “Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?” (Mt. 16:13) coupled with the follow-up question: “But whom say ye that I am?” (Mt. 16:15)…which from the Christian viewpoint are arguably the two most important questions in all of history…still out there and fully in play…and in the opinion of this writer defies humanistic explanation as to the precise longevity of this delicate balance.

Daniel 12:9-10 tells us that this delicate balance of belief and unbelief will continue to the end of time on this earth:

9 And he said, Go thy way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end.

10 Many shall be purified, and made white, and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly: and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand.

In Matthew 24:14 Jesus says: “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all of the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come”…by which we can infer that the world at the end of time is still in need of evangelical persuasion…that the world is still on the fence in terms of the delicate balance between belief and unbelief…as to who Jesus Christ is.

Revelation 12:11 gives us a window into the high cost of discipleship in the last days in fulfilling this calling to take the gospel of the kingdom to all of the world…before the end: “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the power of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.”

The fundamental divide that partially explains skeptical unbelief…is that atheists think that Christianity is a man-made religion.  Skeptical unbelief universally downgrades all religions into the horizontally flat category of fictionally created gods and mythologies.

This overarching mindset creates an impassible gulf…an unreachable chasm to cross from skeptical unbelief to belief…because the starting premise for the atheist is that the Bible is an elaborate fiction concocted out of the religious imagination of men…which then renders all of the tenets of the Bible…even the cross and salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ…as being mute, insignificant, and untrue.

The starting premise of atheism…that there is no God…thereby undermines the credibility of the Bible at the outset…creating this non-overlapping separation between the two worldviews that prevents a “meeting of the minds” between atheists and Christian apologists in debate…because no meaningful dialogue can occur when atheists think the arguments and evidences of the opposing side are universally invalid to begin with.

The Thief on the Cross 2

The scriptural arguments…for and against eternal security…have already been written and fill entire books.

But for the purposes of this book…the biblical narrative stories of faith are the God-designed vehicles that actualize the context of events…wherein our souls are measured.”

This is an apologetic argument for the divine origin of the Bible.

The events and circumstances of the narrative stories of faith recorded in the Bible…unlike any other form or genre of human literature…measure our souls on the basis of our faith and relationship with God.

Our souls are not only measured by courage in battle, or the resilience to bounce back from numerous defeats to accomplish greatness, or by an epiphany that changes us from being a crass, self-centered person to becoming a loving person through character growth…the theme of countless books, plays, and movies.

The quality of life-script events that will measure our souls at the apex…at the zenith…of moral reasoning and decision-making regarding our relationship with God…can only originate from God.

The thief on the cross could never have orchestrated the cascade of events that placed him that fateful Friday on a cross of execution alongside Jesus Christ the Son of God…with the opportunity to go along with the crowd in verbally mocking Jesus (Lk. 23:35-39)…or amazingly for the first and only time in his life…to discover the power, conviction, courage, and liberated audacity to resist the peer pressure in the moment…and to instead proclaim publicly through the Holy Spirit a faith in the God/man Jesus crucified alongside him…to his fellow thief and to any and all others standing around the crosses and listening…that would pass the test of saving faith for time eternal (Lk. 23:43).

On that fateful day…and over a few short hours…the soul of the thief on the cross was measured…and found brilliantly passing the test for salvation…according to God’s terms and standards.

The point I want to make here is monumental in its importance.

We need God-composed journey of faith life-scripts to actualize for us a context of life-events wherein our souls are measured…precisely so that we can succeed on God’s terms and by His standards…and not through the futility of good-works and self-realization according to our ways (Isa. 55:8-9).

This is the record of the biblical narrative stories of faith…including this incredibly inspiring story of the thief on the cross.

Choosing amongst the smorgasbord buffet of the wants and aspirations of worldly conventional normalcy and thinking…a great education, a good job, high salary, good marriage, a big house, luxury automobile, European vacation, a stock portfolio, good health, and sending our kids to Harvard or Oxford…will not measure our souls in the way that the life-scripts of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Peter, Paul, and the thief on the cross…were measured.

The thief on the cross could not have orchestrated the events that led to his salvation that day…any more than Abraham could have orchestrated his life-script of faith…any more than Paul could have orchestrated the events that led to him becoming the premier Christian evangelical missionary to the first-century Greco-Roman world.

The grand irony here…that is far beyond the contemplative imagination of human literary invention…is that the Pharisees, Sadducees, lawyers, and scribes standing around and mocking Jesus on the cross…who attempted to self-craft “perfect lives” according to their way (Mt. 6:2, 5; 9:12-13; 10:33; 11:16-19; 15:7-9)…end up unknowingly killing Jesus their Passover Lamb of God sacrifice for sin (1 Cor. 2:8).

The grand irony is that the one person who obtained on that day on Calvary Hill the assurance of the eternal security of salvation…for the short but priceless few hours from sometime around mid-morning to when he died at dusk that late afternoon…was the thief on the cross alongside Jesus.

There are two massive takeaways from this dramatic scene taking place in Jerusalem in the first-century.

Imagine in our mind’s eye the religious elites standing around the three crosses…mocking Jesus…the Roman soldiers who carried out the execution nearby…the women disciples of Jesus including His mother at the base of His cross weeping over what has occurred…and the two thieves crucified on each side of Jesus.

The first massive takeaway from this scene is the huge gulf between the two opposing outcomes of going our own way in self-sovereignty…in contrast to God-sovereignty.

Jesus is the perfect, blemish-free Passover Lamb of God sacrifice for sin.  To qualify to be the atonement for sin…Jesus must be perfect.  A flawed sacrifice…in terms of moral performance in life…would be unacceptable.  Wealth, popularity, and political influence are not qualifiers in this Passover Lamb of God sacrifice for sin.

The problem of human sin…is the precise target homed-in on by the blemish-free moral life of Jesus Christ…perfectly lived according to a life-script composed by God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son of God, and the Holy Spirit.

The perfect life and the perfect life-script of Jesus…lead to the cross on Calvary Hill.

But trying to be perfect…our way…as demonstrated by the religious elites mocking Jesus…leads to placing Jesus on the cross.  These two outcomes could not be more diametrically opposite.

The second massive takeaway from this scene on Calvary Hill two thousand years ago…is that the thief on the cross…immovably stuck there and not going anywhere or able to do anything…secular or religious in the slightest way…surprisingly and unexpectedly experiences that fateful day in his life the “joy unspeakable and full of glory” assurance of the eternal security of salvation for the otherwise physically agonizing hours he spends being executed by Roman crucifixion…through the sure words of promise spoken to him by Jesus the Son of God being crucified alongside him.

If we incorrectly believe that we can lose our salvation…this opens the door ever so slightly for self-achieved good-works and self-realization to creep in as the sustaining justification for maintaining our salvation.

The story of the thief on the cross…composed and orchestrated by God Himself…totally outside the contemplative imagination of human literary invention…tells us our salvation…that is based upon faith in Jesus Christ…in this divinely illustrated case of the thief on the cross…is eternally secure.

The Thief on the Cross 1

The story of the thief on the cross recorded in Luke 23:39-43 is the minimum baseline example given to us in the New Testament gospels…that defines faith plus our good-works for salvation…that will pass the test of fire (Jn. 6:28-29; 1 Cor. 3:13; 1 Pet. 1:7).

This baseline example is illustrated through an actual event in history…spread-out over the short interval of a few hours…rather than a doctrinal concept given to us in explanatory…expository words alone.

This baseline standard for measuring salvation is given to us by no less an authority than Jesus Christ Himself…the Passover Lamb of God atoning sacrifice for sin…at the precise moments of that sacrifice…and from the very instrument…the cross on Calvary Hill…that procured our salvation.

This condemned thief is not coming down off the cross to start a positive, God-composed journey of faith life-script for the remaining years of his life.  His wrists and feet are immovably pinned by long metal spikes to the wooden cross-beams of Roman crucifixion.  He will die there in a few more hours.  There is no time left to do anything good or bad from that moment forward…in any major way.

The thief on the cross at that moment in time…has nothing by way of reformed, future good-works to offer to God on behalf of his salvation…to qualify himself before God.  There is no second chance for him to come down off the cross with the promise to live a better life going forward.

Yet when Jesus says to the thief on the cross…crucified alongside Him and sharing His fate that eventful Friday in history: “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise”…this thief can then confidently take this promise “to the bank.”  He can “bet the farm on it”…in utter and complete assurance.

This is not just the word of a great prophet…declaring a future event.  This promise comes from Jesus Christ the divine Son of God…the very Word of God in the flesh.

The thief on the cross can rest in the inner peace and assurance of eternal salvation for the remaining few hours he has on this earth…from the extremely privileged position of observing the exemplary character of Jesus Christ the Son of God in action…dying next to him as the Passover Lamb of God for the sins of the world.

I believe this real-life example…spelled-out for us through an action event recorded in the Bible…resolves the controversial theological issue of the eternal security of our salvation while we are still in this life and engaged in our journey of faith…by combining in this specific example both ends of a short time-interval defined as biblical faith in Hebrews 11:1…”the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”…in this salvation story of the last final hours of the thief on the cross.

A fundamental problem here with the general biblical interpretation…believed by some people today…that we can lose our salvation…is that Jesus at that moment in time…is telling the thief that later that same day he will be with Jesus in His kingdom.

Jesus…as the divine Son of God…either possesses Himself…or is perfectly exercising through God the Father…timeless foresight.

In my opinion…the part that confuses the issue of eternal security is the seemingly incoherent blend of a God who exists in a timeless environment…and human beings that live in the four dimensions of time and space.

These two things do not appear on the surface…at first glance…to easily mix.  But both these realities…God’s timeless existence and our lives spread-out within the forward march of the God-created dimension of time…are absolutely essential for developing confidence in the wisdom and leadership of God…and our placing trust in a God-composed journey of faith for our lives…that have this Hebrews 11:1 risk-element of elongated and stretched-out time.

Our future actualized promise of salvation…the “evidence of things not seen” regarding eternal life…does not occur yet in this current lifetime.  This culminating event occurs at our resurrection…at the last trumpet sound…at the great Judgment Day and our entrance into heaven.

This is what introduces an element of confusion…which in actuality is instead another strong apologetic evidence for the existence of God and the truth of the Bible.

This interval of time…the gap in practical, lived experience between where we are now and where we need to get to…this unique feature of biblical faith as defined by Hebrews 11:1…is an inseparable part of the storyline of every positive person in their biblical-quality journey of faith life-scripts…whether we are Moses, David, or the thief on the cross.

Whether our destiny-of-faith moment in history spans years, months, or a few short hours on the cross alongside Jesus the Passover Lamb of God of Isaiah 53…like this thief…the surety of our salvation is not dependent upon any specific duration of time…or more importantly is not dependent upon our performance over that period of time…because with a timeless God having divine foreknowledge…there is no future earthly span of time that conditionally determines our salvation…years, months, or hours.

The simplistic yet powerful lesson of the thief on the cross…is that he cannot “mess-up” his salvation during his remaining few hours…this short interval of Hebrews 11:1 time remaining for him…the brief entirety of his faith-journey…on his cross of execution alongside Jesus…as the sky overhead darkens and the earth rumbles that Friday afternoon.

Why…because the promise of the assurance of eternal salvation…comes from the mouth of the divine Son of God…Jesus Christ of Nazareth…from the cross…in the very act of being the Passover sacrifice for sin.  Jesus that moment on the cross…either has Himself or is exercising from God the Father…divine timeless foresight.

This pivotal moment in time and the dramatic circumstances of this historic event…could not be more definitive and decisive on the topic of eternal security.

That Jesus Christ our eternal Savior and King…and this remarkable human thief on the cross having no merit or achievements to argue on his behalf for salvation…should come together in this moment in history…is not an accident (Isa. 53:12).

The promise of entering shortly into paradise…coming from the timeless foresight of Jesus Christ the Passover Lamb of God sacrifice for the sins of the world…while He is suffering and dying on the cross…to the thief also suffering and dying alongside Him…is an iron-clad, irrevocable, unalterable event that cannot change within the span of a few short hours…for both Jesus and the thief on their respective crosses.

The word of God is sure…not only because it is based on the high-quality of His character…but also because it is timeless.

This is a product of the timeless nature of God (Isa. 46:9-10)…and the functional nature of the limitations of time and space that God created for us…so that we might experience and discover the knowledge of good and evil…not in split-second, instantaneous flashes of time…but spread-out over longer intervals of time…sometimes only hours as in the case of the thief on the cross…as expressed in Hebrews 11:1 and as so beautifully told in Luke 23:39-43.

Bible Studies 101

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”                                                     (Jas. 1:17)

Another typical approach of skeptics and critics to separate the God of the Old Testament from the God of the New Testament…to attempt to divide-and-conquer…to muddy the water regarding the real truth about God…is to point out clearly amoral actions in the Old Testament…and then incorrectly imply that the Bible’s honest recording of bad human behavior is tantamount to endorsing such behavior.

Anyone taking Bible Studies 101 as a general elective from the Religious Studies Department in a college or university will quickly learn the standard biblical interpretation concept…that merely because the Bible records an action does not mean it endorses that action.

Bible critics cite the examples of some bad decisions made by Abraham, some huge moral failures in David’s life, the obvious moral outrage involving the Levite and the concubine in Judges 19, among other examples, as flagrant cases of the moral shortcomings of some key biblical actors…impugning the overall character of the Old Testament and thereby the God of the Old Testament…Jehovah…as if God should only select and call already upright and perfect people.

The mistake made here by skeptics and critics is fundamental…and has no application in an argument for or against the existence of the God of the biblical Old Testament.

The Bible honestly identifies and records the shortcomings of mankind…even in the lives of the people of faith…which the Bible calls sin.

Abraham is called the father of faith, not the father of righteousness.  The biblical record of human redemptive history is not whitewashed or sugar-coated with the false pride of the modern nonsense of “I’m okay, you’re okay.”

We all have the free-will capacity to make choices that can potentially produce a great amount of good…and conversely to make choices that can produce a great amount of evil and suffering.

The Bible faces the reality of good and evil head-on with foursquare honesty…not electing to sweep under the rug the faults and failures in human life…precisely because the Bible boldly and unapologetically has the one right answer…the solution… to the problem all of us face…which is sin.

A God-composed journey of faith life-script is divinely designed to produce genuine character growth.  Nowhere in the biblical narrative stories of faith is perfection of performance assumed or expected out of these real-life human actors, except in the singular sin-free life of Jesus Christ the Son of God.

I cannot think of a more down-to-earth, hard-boiled, realistic approach to human nature than the honest portrayal of people on their journey from purposeless, under-performing self-autonomy…to becoming new, improved people within their uniquely predestined, God-composed journeys of faith.

Attacks on the Bible Undermine Journeys of Faith

“…he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Show us the Father?”                                          (Jn. 14:9)

Skeptics and critics of the Bible attempt to separate the God of the Old Testament from the God of the New Testament, using the strategy of divide-and-conquer.

In attempting to impugn the character of Jehovah, for example, by citing the God-directed military tactic of the complete destruction of certain groups of peoples and cultures during the Israelite conquest of Canaan…one indirect, by-product casualty of this critical interpretation…is the undermining of the moral authority of the biblical narrative stories of faith in the Old Testament.

I find this particular line-of-argument in biblical criticism to be short-sighted historically, and simplistic in its naïve appraisal of human nature.  As such, it distorts the real truth about God.

Looking backward in history as recently as World War II, few people I think would critically question the military tactic of the Allied forces—British and American—of conducting day and night aerial bombing of the major cities of Germany toward the end of the war…indiscriminately killing hundreds of thousands of civilians…in a concerted effort to bring the conflict to an end.

If sympathy and compassion for civilians tempered and scaled-back this aerial bombing campaign…adding possibly 6 to 12 months to the duration of the war…allowing Hitler to perfect an atomic bomb, destroy the cities of London and Moscow, and change the outcome of the war…the verdict of history now in hindsight would be most severe.

One particular episode in the Victory At Sea documentaries chronicling WWII shows scores of stranded Japanese sailors floating in the Pacific Ocean, shipwrecked following a major naval battle, fanatically refusing to be rescued by an American ship.  Elsewhere in these documentaries, as Allied forces moved north up the chain of South Pacific islands toward Japan, defeated Japanese soldiers left behind and stranded on these islands…refused to peaceably surrender.

Is it reasonable, out of a misdirected sense of humanity, to ask American, Australian, and New Zealand soldiers to risk their own lives to “rescue” fanatical Japanese soldiers who refused to lay down their guns and surrender?

The correct tactical military calculation was made at the time to leave tens of thousands of Japanese soldiers behind to die of starvation and disease on these isolated Pacific islands…rather than to expend thousands of Allied soldier’s lives and to tie-up needed resources in a costly effort to “forcibly” get these enemy soldiers to surrender.

The evil of fascist domination of the world…originating from spiritual darkness…was totally expiated by the overwhelming defeat of World War II Germany and Japan.

Both Germany and Japan today are strong allies of the free-world.  But would a remnant of undefeated Nazi Germany and Imperialist Japanese regimes…still in existence up to our present day…be allies for political and economic peace and security for the free-world…given their initial worldviews of domination and oppression of freedom?

The history altering conflict of WWII was fought over restoring and maintaining the essential free-world principles we value and cherish.

I understand the bias of unbelief that does not think the God of the Old Testament exists.  That cynical bias is expected.

It is the weakness of this particular argument railed against the God of the Old Testament that is surprising…given the clarity of the very recent global struggle of WWII in terms of moral absolutes…to thoroughly and decisively rid the planet of the threat of tyrannical fascism…a struggle my own father participated in as a B-17 crew member of the American 8th Air Force…flying bombing missions over Germany, stationed out of England.

If we value our way of life…as opposed to dictatorial fascism…to the point of justifying the massive aerial bombing of civilian cities in Germany to avoid the unimaginable evil of Adolph Hitler possessing and using atomic bombs to perpetuate his regime of terror from 1945 onward in time…due to not diligently prosecuting the Allied war effort to the fullest extent…would it be unreasonable to allow the morally and culturally advanced Israelites and their armies the same benefit-of-the-doubt in prosecuting their war effort to the fullest extent in Canaan…to continue their way of life?

This ancient strategy of cultural survival in the Old Testament…finds an exact parallel in recent modern history.

Bible skeptics and critics blithely assume that the Canaanite folks were all reasonably good and kind fellows posing no threat to the existence and survival of the monotheistic culture of the newly forming nation of Israel…approximately 3,200 to 3,400 years ago…with its beautiful Mosaic system of laws.

In our current culture of postmodern relativism regarding truth, World War II argues contrarily that being in the right means something…that there is such a thing as goodness in this world and that it is worth fighting for…to borrow a line spoken by Samwise from the movie series The Lord of the Rings.

Why is this line of discussion important to Christians?

If journeys of faith are indeed factually supernatural creations of God first inaugurated through Abraham (Gen. 12:3), then the last thing that “spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:12) wants is for people to enter into their predestined, God-composed journey of faith life-scripts…as the divinely crafted, functional vehicle leading to the discovery of the all-truth of John 16:13 and the liberated freedom of John 8:36.

If the false notion that Jehovah in the Old Testament is not of the same high moral caliber as Jesus in the New Testament…as a result of biblical interpretation biased by radically skeptical unbelief…this notion will permeate our culture and seep its way into the Christian church…undermining the value and worth of the narrative stories of faith in the Old Testament as powerful examples for stepping out into God-led adventures of faith today.

A Delicate Balance in our Journeys of Faith

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.  In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”                                                                    (Prov. 3:5-6)

Genesis 3:4-5 reads: “And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:  For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.”

Genesis 3:4-5 violates a fundamental reality of the natural moral law…coming from two directions.

First, God is slandered and mischaracterized by Satan in the most subtly deceptive way…through the character assassination of unsupported, untrue innuendo.

Second, Adam and Eve violated the natural moral law by not exercising commendably patient and inquiring faith, confidence, and reliance upon God and the truthfulness of His word…not giving God the benefit of the doubt…in essence calling into question God’s character and moral integrity.

Paul writes in Philippians 3:10 “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection…”

Salvation through Christ, and a subsequent Holy Spirit led faith-journey through life…solves our failing half of the Genesis 3:4-5 problem for all eternity…because it places our faith, confidence, and reliance in a person…God…who merits and can capably sustain the high quality of this trust relationship for all time.

It is the divine quality of the object of our faith and confidence…God…that solves our half of the fall in the Garden of Eden.

This helps us to clarify and to understand John 8:36: “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”

A faith-journey that establishes a relationship with God…to know Him…protects us from the temptation of autonomous rebellion (Isa. 53:6) in the kingdom of God for all eternity…possessing forever after the free-will capacity and seasoned good judgment to follow the leadership of God…rather than disastrously going our own way.

The certainty of absolute knowledge produced by Jesus walking into the temple after His resurrection…for example…extending down through the centuries to modern times…does not support or equate into a faith-journey into the “all truth” of John 16:13…because we could still remain in self-sovereignty sitting atop the thrones of our lives…even while having this certain knowledge.

The possibility of success or failure within a journey of faith does not exist within knowledge that is certain (Heb. 11:1).  Trust and faith generated within a personal relationship needs the uncertainty of lived experience…having risk…thus the need for a delicate balance of belief and unbelief.

In my own journey of faith following Jesus Christ, my problem is not that I do not have faith in God…my problem most of the time is that I do not have faith in myself. 

My doubt…in the middle of a personal challenge…is that my own faults and shortcomings will sabotage God’s will and way for my life…that I can somehow manage to mess-up the straight and narrow way that I know is in my best interests.

There is therefore not only a delicate balance between belief and unbelief in the outside world as a whole…in accepting or rejecting Jesus Christ as Savior…but there exists also a fine-tuned, delicate balance between belief and unbelief in my personal journey of faith with God.

This is a zone of active inquiry…divinely set-up by God in a delicately balanced, dynamic relationship between two people…a person and God…wherein we can obtain a knowledge of good and evil that could not possibly actualize on the cheap by impulsively eating some fruit from a tree in the Garden of Eden.

Human nature strives to create stability and security in our lives.  We want to work in one career…preferably for one company, build-up a “nest-egg”…saving enough money for retirement, live in the same home in a safe community, have a happy and stable marriage and family-life…within a long and healthy life-span free from external political turmoil, natural disasters, and the threat of foreign wars.

These are all commendable and praise-worthy goals in compliance with the commandment to “occupy till I come” (Lk. 19:13)…but that can never generate the tension between belief and unbelief in our journeys of faith that will unearth the subtle issues underlying good and evil.

God does not reveal the entire details of His life-script for Abraham…in crafting Abraham into the father-of-faith for multitudes of people as numerous as the stars in the night sky…including the long wait for the birth of Isaac and the culminating challenge of faith on Mount Moriah.

God does this for the best and highest of long-range reasons…not out of malice or ill-intent.

The two dreams of Joseph as a teenager in Canaan (Gen. 37:5-10) did not specify…left out entirely…the thirteen-year period of apprenticeship for Joseph in Potiphar’s house and in Pharaoh’s prison…in preparation to capably become governor in Egypt during a great famine.

I would posit the notion that all of the narrative stories of faith in the Bible have this element of incomplete revelation of information… so that God can set up and maintain the tension between belief and unbelief in our relationship with Him.

This brilliantly and skillfully produces the delicate balance between belief and unbelief that will lead and motivate us into the discovery of all truth…a possession of individual discovery in joint-venture with God…of incalculable value we can enjoy forever.

If we have the entire program upfront…all of the details of the playbook…of our God-composed life-script…then the “leading” part of the Holy Spirit leading us into all truth (Mt. 16:13) falls downward a level into the unexceptional and unremarkable category of mere factual knowledge…a program of “paint by the numbers” self-works to earn salvation…rather than the eternally beneficial process of getting to know God…like Paul in Philippians 3:10…that will set us free from the temptation of autonomous self-rulership for all time to come.

Matthew 6:19-38, in the Sermon of the Mount, beautifully encapsulates the departure from worldly conventional normalcy that is the demarcation point into a “risky” zone of discovery…when Christians take up their cross to follow Jesus.

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Mt. 6:33)…is the core, basic root of every adventure of faith in the Bible.  It is the diametric opposite of “seek ye first your own way” and to take care of “me, myself, and I”…first before anything else.

This delicate balance between belief and unbelief in the practical, everyday working-out of the details in our personal walk of faith following God…again is a transcendent reality that validates the divine inspiration of the Bible…and a God-composed journey of faith.  It is far outside of the reach of human creative invention and imaginative contemplation.

That this concept of the delicate balance of belief and unbelief…in the outside world as a whole and in our Christian adventures of faith…could or would be the product of a naturalistic explanation…is an issue worthy of exploration.

But in my opinion, any naturalistic causation here falls far short of a rational worldview…when taking into account our innate, transcendent capacity for moral reasoning.

A Journey of Faith is Beyond Human Origin

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20)

A God-composed journey of faith life-script…of God displacing our ways with His higher ways…has to be considered supernatural…non-natural…because the way of the cross lands so far outside of worldly conventional thinking.

The novel idea that we would see the cross of Christ (Lk. 22:42; Mk. 8:34-35) internally positioned within every narrative story of faith in the Bible from Genesis through Acts…a way of the cross utterly in conflict with worldly conventional norms (1 Cor. 1:18, 23)…and that this unconventional concept would be the creative invention of human writers attempting to start a new “religion”…is unthinkable.

That the cross of Jesus Christ falls far outside of the acceptable norms of conventional worldly thinking is clearly and unmistakably evidenced by the execution of Jesus Christ by Roman crucifixion…as the epitome of adverse reception…of worldly rejection…in the most lethally emphatic and utterly final method  of communicated rejection imaginable.

The crucifixion of Jesus Christ clearly expresses what the conventionally normative world thinks of the risk element of a God-composed journey of faith life-script (Jn. 11:47-48; Josh. 1:7)…a journey of faith demonstrated at the divine level of quality…acted-out to perfection through the life of Jesus Christ the Son of God.

This rejection component of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ clearly and emphatically validates…in a totally unexpected and incontrovertible way…the supernatural origin of the way of the cross we see in the biblical narrative stories of faith.

The way of the cross exposes the strength of the tight grip that our claim to autonomous self-rulership holds over the human race…otherwise the first-century challenge of the teachings of Jesus Christ would have been nothing more than a typically collegial, inoffensive exercise in intellectual debate rather than the deadly, worldview threatening conflict it became. 

Here in the geopolitical and theological terrain of first-century Israel…the way of the cross in the narrative stories of faith in the Bible, and the actual cross situated on Calvary Hill…intersect into an overlapping picture of such ingenious composition as to be totally outside of human inventive imagination.

The concept of God displacing our ways with His higher ways (Isa. 53:6; Prov. 3:5-6)…in direct contradiction to the pride-driven, universal humanism of autonomous self-rulership…is seamlessly interwoven into the fabric of an adventure of faith…blending together the unlikely combination of God’s sovereignty and human free-will (Gal. 2:20; Phil. 2:12-13) that could not…nor ever would…conceivably be the product of human invention.

If the way of the cross is an inseparable through-line of the life-scripts of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Ruth, Hannah, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Jeremiah through Peter, Paul, James, Mary and Joseph, Barnabas, and Silas…inexplicable by humanistic origin as evidenced through its thorough and complete rejection at Calvary…then the anti-supernatural bias of philosophical naturalism is turned on its head. 

If the way of the cross in the Bible cannot be explained by human composition…because it falls far outside of the creative contemplation of human nature…falls far outside the boundaries of any conceivable thinking motivated by the typical self-centeredness of worldly conventional norms…then the source of its origin must be supernatural.

Why is belief and faith so important?

When we exercise faith in someone else…a wife or husband, child, friend, or subordinate at work…and this brings out the best in them…inspires them to “rise to the occasion”…this is a commendable character trait in the person extending their faith…that resides at the top of the natural moral law (that C.S. Lewis wrote about).

So, in setting up faith-journeys as part of our relationship with God as we take up our cross to follow Jesus (wherever that leads in our individual lives and callings), God is allowing us to first exercise commendable faith directed towards Him…to put into practice this invaluable character trait…which cannot possibly actualize if our faith is solely pointed inward…in ourselves alone (Heb. 11:6).

This is one reason why every adventure of faith in the Bible and in the church age up until today is supernaturally composed.

We do not possess the capacity to imaginatively create an adventure of faith scenario that would involve ourselves as the main character, and then be able to integrate our life-script cohesively with millions upon millions of other complex life-scripts all leading toward a coherent overall plan of salvation.

Skeptics and critics of the Bible must be able to explain away the presence of the way of the cross integrally embedded in every biblical narrative story of faith from Abraham through Paul…all of which comes together into perfectly focused and coordinated alignment with the historical cross…planted firmly in a definite place and time on Calvary Hill in Jerusalem in the first-century. 

This simply cannot be done using the narrow, short-sighted, time-limited lens of human creative invention…given the factor of the extremely negative reception of the way of the cross culminating in the actual cross of Calvary recorded in history…which essentially eliminates the possibility of human inspirational invention in the formulation of the biblical message.

If we are looking for a humanistic explanation for the origin of the Bible, the way of the cross removes that option.

The way of the cross in the Bible and the actual historical cross of Christ come together into a superimposed, clear overlapping focus…in a premeditated plan of salvation and true religious experience…soaring far above human literary invention.

The Divine Origin of the Bible

“If ye be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.  Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.  For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.”                                                 (Col. 3:1-3)

God is the architect of one of the most unlikely of creations…the delicate balance of belief and unbelief in our current environment…a concept briefly revisited here from a previous essay…from a slightly different angle.

Balancing belief and unbelief in our world, so that one does not overpower the other…is one of the great spiritual engineering feats in all of human history…yet one we do not normally recognize or attribute to God.

The delicate balance of belief and unbelief is also surprisingly calibrated…landing midway in the rare zone of falling just beyond the reach of human inventive imagination and contrivance…but also falling just short of the demarcation line of fully revealing its supernatural origin, along with the carefully hidden requirement for periodic, fine-tuned adjustments.

The most unlikely of creations, because most of us would assume that the God of the Bible…a personal God we can get to know intimately through a journey of faith (Jer. 31:34)…would take every opportunity to tip-the-scale in favor of belief over unbelief…in terms of factually persuasive, irrefutable evidence in nature and through divine revelation…in favor of belief in His existence.

But this is not the case within the human decision-making zone of belief and unbelief.

The delicate balance of belief and unbelief…the ability to freely engage with God in a fully-scripted adventure of dynamic faith having the risk, from our perspective, of possible success or failure in-the-moment…or to freely push God away in skeptical unbelief to entirely go our own way…is a true masterpiece of creative ingenuity precisely because of its balanced neutrality in this area of unforced belief or unbelief.

As stated elsewhere in this book…on Tuesday or Wednesday of the first week after His crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus Christ could have added to His already busy agenda…to openly walk down Main Street in Jerusalem and right into the Temple sanctuary, in clear view of everyone (Lk. 24:13-32; 36-43; Jn. 20:19-20), validating forever thereafter…without any doubt…His claim to be the divine Son of God.  Like Thomas (Jn. 20:26-28), people could touch his hands and the wound in His side…and believe based on the factual evidence (Jn. 20:29).

But then the delicate balance of belief and unbelief would also immediately disappear…forever thereafter.  Recognition of Jesus Christ as “the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn. 14:6) would not be an open option that could go in either of the two opposing directions of belief and unbelief…but instead would be a strictly obvious fact like the daily occurrence of the rising sun, or that two-plus-two equals four.

This balance of belief and unbelief offers compelling evidence for the divine origin of the biblical message of redemptive salvation by grace through faith, because the mere existence of the delicate balance between belief and unbelief…that is the prerequisite foundation for the exercise of faith…is so transparently neutralso free of the taint of coercive human bias weighted in favor of one direction or the other…that it could never be mistaken as the imperfect conceptual product of human literary invention.

The delicate balance of belief and unbelief in our current environment has a supernatural origin…because a humanistic explanation for its creative ingenuity…and its functionally balanced longevity over time…is nonsensical.

The existence of the delicate balance between belief and unbelief…of willfully entering into a risked-filled adventure of biblical faith wherein God displaces our ways with His higher ways…opposed to pushing God away and going our own way according to worldly conventional normalcy and thinking…is a transcendent reality that could only come from the divinely imaginative mind of God…way beyond the initial set-up capacity of humans to invent, adjust, and sustain over its 4,200 year history beginning with Abraham.

The Narrow Bandwidth of Definition

There is a narrow bandwidth of definition in the natural world…that supports the scientific activity of biological taxonomic classification…that defines the essence of every living and non-living thing…which recognizes horizontally constraining definition lines below and above…describing the characteristics, architectural designs, and lifestyle habits…of billions of unique and distinctive things in the natural world…a reality that is fatal to the theory of the open-ended boundaries of random change in Darwinian macroevolution, naturalistic materialism, and scientism.

The characteristics, architectural body designs, and lifestyle habits of an apple tree compared to the olive tree or to the rose bush…or the distinctive and unique characteristics that define the African elephant compared to a giraffe or a hippopotamus…not to mention a salmon fish or a falcon bird or a spider insect…all are part of unique and discontinuous, narrow bandwidths of definition that fall within their tight spaces of horizontal lines above and below that lock into place the essence of each and every living and non-living thing…that stay that way without any observable major changes… theoretical major changes toward some future, hypothetical, currently unimaginable outcomes…beyond their current, essential characteristic definitions.

There is an extremely narrow and precise bandwidth of complex, specified, and coherently integrated information…of enormous quantity…front-loaded inside the seed of an apple tree…that tells the seed planted in the ground to burst upward through the surface of the ground and rise with incredible energy, momentum, and direction…to become a very specific type of tree producing a specific type of fruit…apples having nutrients, a sweet taste, and a pleasing aroma.

What tells the apple tree when to stop growing and when and how to start producing fruit…is again front-loaded within the informational package that uniquely and distinctly defines what it means to be an apple tree.

The compelling evidence of ordered and intelligible information integral to this reality of an apple tree…that argues through commonsense for the need for an intelligent designer God setting all of this in motion…along with billions of other brilliantly coordinated systems of information making up the vast diversity of living things in the natural world…seamlessly translates over into the narrow bandwidths of definition found in the biblical narrative stories of faith.

What is beyond humanistic explanation is how each biblical narrative story of faith could home-in on its own unique mission-plan and outcome…between tightly spaced-apart top and bottom defining horizontal lines…while finding just the right mix of the supernatural and miraculous…while establishing and maintaining a delicate balance between belief and unbelief…a powerful process yet incomprehensible and undetectable to worldly conventional normalcy and thinking.

When Jesus says to Thomas: “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” (Jn. 20:29)…Jesus is not being critical of Thomas.

Jesus…in that very moment is engaged precisely in that very thing…in physically revealing Himself in His resurrected body…again to the disciples…this time while Thomas is not absent elsewhere but present amongst them.

Within the delicate balance between belief and unbelief…following the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…these physical appearances of Jesus to the disciples and to other select people…to the extent of the numerical limits as described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8…were more than adequate for the inauguration and empowerment of the early Christian church…as historically seen in hindsight.

But these physical appearances of Jesus after His resurrection…were also brilliantly and carefully moderated so as not to extend over into the area of  mass-public appearances…beyond that of the more than 500 disciples described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:6…into the public domain of undeniable, empirically observed reality…like isolated cases of the undeniable persuasiveness of the temporary blindness of Elymas the sorcerer in Acts 13, or the temporary loss of being able to speak for Zacharias in Luke 1, or the potential of Jesus praying to the Father for legions of angels to save Him from the upcoming ordeal of the cross.

All of these examples of visual, observed reality…along with all of the signs and wonders recorded in the Bible…would and did generate a type of faith that Thomas obtained when he examined the hands and the side of the resurrected Jesus (Jn. 20:28)…an empirical acknowledgment of the risen Christ that Thomas would need for the intense storms of opposition and persecution he and the other disciples would face in the immediate days and years to come.

The quality of being able to hear God’s voice in the Spirit…to understand our unique calling…and to be able to follow God’s lead within a narrow bandwidth that defines who and what we are and what we were created to become…derives its high-value because faith and trust is an invaluable part of personal relationships…and is not the same thing as the mere acknowledgment of visually observed events and occurrences…even divine miracles (Jn. 12:37).

Many Christians in the days ahead may need the empirical evidences of divine appearances of God and of angels…in dreams, visions, or visitations (Joel 2:28-29)…to boldly and confidently carry out their challenging missions…like Paul in Acts 23:11.

But the standard stock-in-trade of the Christian life is to commendably and admirably follow God in-the-Spirit…without physical, empirical evidence of His presence and participation in our lives.

The enormous importance of this reality of the delicate balance between belief and unbelief…is the two-fold coupling of the apologetic evidence this unfolds…of its divine origin and continued maintenance…along with the equally important inspirational value to the believing Christian of God’s masterful brilliance demonstrated in the tight definitions of the biblical narrative stories of faith…each as unique, distinctive, and having purposeful direction…as the unique informational packages contained within the seeds of apple, orange, olive, or fig trees.

Jesus actually says to the disciples that it is imperative that He go away…that He return to the Father in heaven…so that the Holy Spirit…the divine Third Person of the Trinity…invisible and un-seeable to human beings…can lead them…and us…into all truth (Jn. 14:16-17, 26; 15:26; 16:7-15).

This reality of a walk with God through life…in the Spirit…applies to modern-day Christians as well as to the early Christian disciples in the first-century.

The ability to invent and to utilize a delicate balance between belief and unbelief…only has tangible application within real interactions with the living God…who is capable of initiating and sustaining personal relationships with His followers (Jer. 31:31-34)…through God-composed journeys of faith.

This distinctive feature of the biblical narrative stories of faith…balanced precisely within the narrow bandwidths that define the original and innovative storylines of the callings of the people of faith in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible…has no plausible explanation of origin coming from man-made religions having imaginary gods.

The Bible has this unique and distinctive component of a delicate balance between belief and unbelief…because the Bible is a divinely inspired composition…co-authored with human beings by the Creator God of the universe.

Any other explanation for its existence within the marketplace of ideas…is nonsensical.

 

The Gap between the Cross and the Resurrection 2

Although the events leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ are discussed in several places in this book…this is probably the best location to drill down more deeply into the nature of the rejection of Jesus that led to the cross on Calvary Hill.

In a book attempting to make a popular defense of the Bible and Christianity…to illuminate the real truth about God…this topic must be addressed early, clearly, and with four-square honesty…despite the offense it will cause for a large number of people (1 Cor. 1:18, 2:14; Gal. 2:20, 3:22).

The first-century Pharisees, scribes, Sadducees, and lawyers in Jerusalem who were the chief instigators of the rejection and crucifixion of Jesus Christ…were not bank robbers, embezzlers, slave traders, drug dealers, murderers, or common thieves.

Yet the stubborn character trait of self-sovereignty openly led to their eventual exposure…at the critically decisive moment in their lives…to be the greatest criminals of all time…by conspiring to murder the Son of God Jesus Christ through Roman crucifixion…for the simplest and most commonplace of reasons…that they were living in the realm of thinking and doing things “our own way.”

Some people will react immediately here and say: “This cannot be right…how can going our own way be criminal?”

Did not God create within us the capacity for independent moral reasoning and free-will choice?  Does not the definition of love require the freedom to choose to accept or to reject love from another person…including God?

Doesn’t the American slogan of “Go west young man”…to carve-out a place in the wilderness for a ranch or a farm…doesn’t this commendable and admirable worldview validate the worldly conventional thinking of going our own way…in pursuing all of the things that conventional normalcy ranks at the top of purpose,  meaning, and achievement in life?

But the worldview philosophy of humanism unequivocally says that placing faith in the God of the Bible…is a sign of character weakness in leaning upon God as a crutch to get through life…instead of pushing through our life challenges using self-autonomous individualism.

The problem here from a biblical standpoint is that the entire scenario surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus Christ…is that it is a divine set-up…designed to expose the dark side of autonomous individualism at the extreme negative end of the spectrum of belief and unbelief…demonstrating in action the final outcome of a journey of self (Jn. 8:19).

The religious elites in Jerusalem during the time of the ministry of Jesus…had no intention of entering into a journey of faith like Abraham traveling from Haran to Canaan (Gen. 12:1)…or like Joseph patiently waiting in Pharaoh’s prison for God to work out the details of Joseph’s two earlier dreams as a teenager back in Canaan (Gen. 37:5-11)…or like Moses spending 40 years as a shepherd of sheep in preparation for leading the Israelites out of Egypt to their Promised Land…or like the soon-to-be converted Pharisee Saul/Paul to be sent out as a Christian missionary evangelist to the Greco-Roman world…and God knew this about these religious leaders in Jerusalem.

When some of the Jews came to the Pharisees to report what they had witnessed in Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead…after four days lying dead in a stone covered, cave tomb…we would think this would change absolutely everyone’s thinking regarding the divine nature of Jesus of Nazareth (Jn. 11:1-44).

How many people do we know about…past or present…that can bring someone back to life…someone who has been dead for four days?

Yet this news about Jesus bringing Lazarus back to life…does not seem to phase in the slightest…to sway in a positive direction the opinion that these Pharisees have of Jesus of Nazareth.

The first concern recorded by these religious leaders is in regard to their positions and political power in their nation of Israel…of the impending and growing threat of the obvious popularity of Jesus Christ…a person who can raise a well-known person Lazarus from the dead in a small town on the very outskirts of Jerusalem…placing in peril their worldview philosophy of going “our own way”…in direct contrast to the Jewish heritage of journeys of faith (Heb. 11) patterned after the great men and women of the Hebrew Bible…from Noah through Malachi.

“But some of them went their ways to the Pharisees, and told them what things Jesus had done.  Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many miracles.  If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation.” (Jn. 11:46-48).

The God of the Bible is the only person in all of existence who would and could expose this extremely subtle character malfunction of going our own way…in self-autonomous individualism…through the brilliantly conceived and orchestrated events and circumstances of the life-script of Jesus Christ…the Son of God incarnate in a human body…landing Jesus on the cross at Calvary as the ultimate expression of unselfish love…prophesied centuries before in Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53.

The flawed character trait of going our own way…as demonstrated in the Pharisees, scribes, Sadducees, and lawyers rejecting and murdering Jesus the Son of God through Roman crucifixion…easily the greatest crime in all of history…is exactly the same offense committed by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden…and the same offense committed by yours truly…the author of this book…in my own way…before I met God…was spiritually born-again…and entered into a journey of faith following Jesus Christ.

“Ye shall not surely die.  For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” (Gen. 3:4-5).

Adam and Eve made the morally disastrous decision to go their own way apart from God…a perfect God having timeless foresight…the worst decision anyone can ever make…as is openly demonstrated by the cross on Calvary Hill.

The divine exposure of the extreme end-point outcome of going our own way…resulting in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ…indicting all of the world in the process…would never originate out of the humanistic philosophy contained within worldly conventional normalcy and thinking…and would therefore not be a product of human literary imaginative invention.

As has been said before in this book…the positive aspects of the American Dream only work for our eternal benefit when they are pursued within a God-composed journey of faith life-script…producing the beneficial and priceless outcome of personally knowing God…from the least to the greatest…walking in an adventure of faith. (Jer. 31:31-34).