A Genuine, Biblical-Quality Journey of Faith is Hard

            One of the most difficult and challenging things in all of human experience is to place our faith in the God of the Bible to help us through a crisis.

            The biblical narrative stories of faith have life-scripts that are filled with life-and-death challenges that are the direct opposite of the pursuit of a life-of-ease.

            In God-composed journey of faith life-scripts in the Bible, there seems to be an equilibrium between the progress achieved in an adventure of faith and the spiritual opposition that pushes back, and/or the challenges inherent in simply choosing to do the right thing when this is hard.

            Abraham and Sarah producing Ishmael, Abraham about to sacrifice Isaac on Mount Moriah, Joseph enduring the difficult training program in leadership in Egypt, Moses and the Israelites trapped at the shore of the Red Sea as the Egyptian chariot army approaches to destroy them, Joshua discouraged by the height and strength of the walled cities in Canaan like Jericho, Ruth’s leap of faith in following her mother-in-law to the foreign land of Israel, Hannah’s dilemma in not being able to provide her husband with children, David’s difficult walking through the valley of the shadow of death in preparation to become king…not o mention Elijah, Jeremiah, Esther and Mordecai, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Joseph and Mary, John the Baptist, Peter, James, John, and Paul to name only a few from the Bible.

            But why does Jesus the perfect and sinless Son of God encounter resistance from the very time of His birth?

            One reason is that His life must be a model for ours, in order to be real.

            If the life-script for Jesus was a clear life-of-ease, then this reality would be an unattainable model for the vast majority of people.

            But equally applicable, Jesus incarnate in a human body has the same adversary Satan that we do (Lk. 4:1-13).

            I may be that resistance is the only way that strength is created…like lifting weights.

            One thought is that life in this broken world cannot ever remove the counterforce of challenge, because this current environment is the perfect “boot camp” for discovering the genuine knowledge of good and evil when pursued through the redemptive salvation of grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

            The parable of the rich fool (Lk. 12:16-21) describes the worldly unconventional approach of the biblical narrative stories of faith to pursue the higher ideal of a purposeful life that transcends above the mere pursuit of a life-of-ease.

            The only resistance-free environment is the spiritual kingdom of God in heaven, that awaits believers in the upcoming eternity.

            Trying to obtain it here and now is a fruitless endeavor (Mk. 8:34-38).

            Rare metals like gold and silver are purified in the heat of a furnace.

            Jesus did not need purifying or perfecting as He is the blemish-free Passover Lamb of God sacrifice for sin.

            But He did have to model perfect faith and behavior in the face of opposition.

            Jesus had to exemplify in action the divine character of God as the Passover Lamb of God in order to qualify as the substitutionary atonement for our sins so that we could with impunity venture-out into an adventure of faith without our many mistakes counting against us.

            The brilliant program of redemptive salvation enables an adventure of faith following our God-composed journey of faith life-scripts amidst the resistance of the fiery furnace of spiritual opposition, but also the fundamental challenge of walking by faith and not be sight (2 Cor. 5:7; Heb. 11:1).

            This reality is channeled and guided by God to produce lessons-learned that likewise qualify us through the blood shed by Jesus on the cross, and through His resurrection, to likewise be the children of God.

Jesus Has the Perfect Answer Every Time

            Are the religious leaders partially correct when they bring the woman caught in adultery before Jesus (Jn. 8:1-11)?

            Of course, they are…except that they aren’t.

            The main problem with the religious leaders opposing Jesus throughout the gospels is that in directing these “hard” questions at Jesus, they have the wrong motivation of trying to trip-up Jesus, to “catch Him in His words.”

            But that is not the issue here.

            The real lesson from the replies of Jesus to the questions posed by the religious leaders is that Jesus Christ as the living Word of God has different answers to the conventionally accepted viewpoints of these religious leaders in Jerusalem, different answers that by definition must be absolutely correct to fit each individual circumstance.

            The religious leaders certainly did not anticipate Jesus saying in John 8:7 “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”

            After each of these men left one-by-one as they were convicted by their conscience, Jesus stands up and says to the woman in John 8:11 “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”

            People can debate the rightness of this judgment made by Jesus.

            In all moral issues there is a latitude of possible choices, there is a range of possible answers.

            But the point here is that the answer of Jesus in this particular set of circumstances is different from the anticipated answer the religious leaders expected to hear, regardless of their corrupted and malicious motivations.    

            This reality can be graphed on a simple spectrum-line of possible answers and responses that Jesus could have expressed when suddenly confronted with this “hard” question put to Him by these men, of what was the right thing to do with the woman caught in adultery.

            John 14:6 records Jesus as saying: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”

            Jesus gives the right answer to every issue presented to Him because He is brilliant pure light, absolute goodness, and has divine foresight.

            In the New Testament gospels, people could have asked Jesus many more hard questions that He would have answered perfectly every time.

            But the religious leaders finally stopped asking Jesus questions they thought they could trap Him with, because their underlying motivation was corrupt and insincere (Mt. 22:46).

            Jesus is asked and He answers just enough hard questions to establish His credentials in claiming to be “the truth” as confirmed by the apostle John writing: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth.” (Jn. 1:14).

            Slightly different circumstances in each case would have elicited different responses by Jesus, but each answer would be perfect in terms of truth and justice tempered by perfectly divine, unselfish love.

            Were the religious leaders correct in saying that the Jews were supposed to honor the Sabbath and do no work on that holy day (Mt. 12:9-13)?

            Of course, they are…but not entirely.

            When they object to miracles of healing performed on the Sabbath day as work, Jesus responds by pointing-out that owners of livestock lead their horses, mules, sheep, and cattle to water on the Sabbath without violating the Sabbath (Lk. 13:15-16).

            If a sheep falls into a pit on the Sabbath, we pull it out without this being considered doing work (Mt. 12:11-12).

            Here again the specific answer given by Jesus to this issue is different from the conventionally accepted interpretation of the Law of Moses as asserted by the religious leaders, which can be depicted on a single line-graph spectrum of all of the possible answers Jesus could have expressed.

            Another classic example of Jesus having the one right answer occupying a single point on a horizontal graph-line continuum of possible options is giving in Mark 2:23-28 of the Pharisees criticizing the apostles of plucking ears of “grain” to eat on the Sabbath, as if this should be classified as prohibited work: “And the Pharisees said unto him, Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful?” (Mk. 2:24).

            Jesus answers that David in need ate the priest’s “show bread,” and that the sabbath was made for man and not the other way around.

            Some slightly different set of circumstances would have elicited from Jesus a slightly different response, but still perfect.

            The religious leaders asked Jesus: Do we pay taxes to the Romans or not?        

Surely here the Pharisees have Jesus backed into a corner in a no-win situation, there being no satisfactory answer that will not offend either the Jews or the Romans.

The impressive answer that has garnered the respect of friend and foe alike for its brilliant insight for the past twenty centuries of: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s” (Mt. 22:21), could only come from the living Word of God instantly having the right answer every time.

Jesus did not cover every issue that would confront the early church down to our present day.

If Jesus had exhaustively covered every issue, then we could erroneously relapse into a paint-by-by-the-numbers self-performance of a detailed program by our own solitary efforts.

This would open the door for self-salvation by good works that precludes a personal relationship with God

Jesus did not address the question posed to Paul by the first-century churches of what to do when invited to a banquet when the “meat” being served has been blessed over by a pagan deity (1 Cor. 8:1-13).

Jesus did not address the problem recognized by Paul of believers suing other believers in secular courts of law (1 Cor. 6:1-8).

Jesus did not address the pivotal question of whether or not Gentile believers should be circumcised in order to be saved.

God did this by deliberate intention.

Redemptive salvation by grace through faith in Christ justifiably enables God to brilliantly flip our fallen natures into the precise research vehicles to capably explore the knowledge of good and evil with the impunity of knowing that our eternal salvation is not placed in jeopardy by our honest mistakes in guided lessons-learned (Rom. 7:15-8:4; 2 Cor. 4:7; Mt. 5:6; Jn. 8:36).

Because every person who has ever lived except for Jesus Christ occupies an imperfect moral nature, it follows then that every person called into a God-composed journey of faith life-script will be accomplishing their joint-venture mission through the lens of an imperfect yet redeemed “earthen vessel.”

This is not a new biblical doctrine but is an insight as orthodox as can be.

When I was born-again spiritually at the age of 18 many years ago now, God did not transform me instantly into a perfect moral person incapable from then-on for making any mistakes.

If perfect, how would I learn anything?

And how could I comprehend the subtle nuances of the moral concepts within the knowledge of good and evil, without being able to view this fallen and broken world through the microscopic and telescopic lens of an earthen vessel?

Jesus did not answer everything for us by deliberate intention, because we are supposed to discover first-hand the concepts of right and wrong through hearts and minds “hungering and thirsting after righteousness” (Mt. 5:6) coherently blended within an imperfect moral character…being the best and only way to conduct a credible investigation in the best traditions of empirical scientific research.

In the program of redemptive salvation, my sins are covered by the blood of Jesus past, present, and future so that I can with confidence enter into an authorized and sanctioned adventure of faith where it is guaranteed that I will stumble and fall many times as the path gets higher, narrower, and steeper.

Because the God of the Bible is brilliant pure light, absolute goodness, and possesses timeless foresight, this enables God to orchestrate and manage my unique adventure of faith within this 4th dimension of time from the vantage point of a timeless environment.

Finally, the perfection of the order, intelligibility, and organized complexity of the physical universe establishes the parallel capacity for God to be given the benefit-of-the-doubt to compose life-scripts for us that fully develop and perfect our individual destinies.

            This is the common though-line theme that runs throughout all of the positive biblical narrative stories of faith.

A few other notable questions and issues addressed perfectly by Jesus Christ might be the woman at the well (Jn 4:5-42), who is my neighbor? (Lk. 10:29), and why do you associate with “publicans and sinners?” (Mt. 9:10-13).

We Need Discernment

            In the field of medicine we do not want quacks and charlatans.  The issues of good health are too important.

            There is an established route to becoming a competent medical doctor, and we rightly require all aspiring physicians to adhere to this high standard.

            If we are attending college and majoring in history, we expect our professors to have masters, PhDs, and postdoctoral degrees in history.

            The one and only area in all of human experience where a standardized route to recognized achievement…falls outside of human orchestration and contrivance, is found in the biblical narrative stories of faith.

            This is as we would and should expect in a true interaction with the living God and Creator of the universe, when actualized into human life-scripts.

            The only common, repetitive, and standardized through-line in the biblical narrative stories of faith…is that if we will allow Him…the God of the Bible will wisely displace our ways with His higher ways and thoughts (Isa. 55:8-9) according to God’s eternal plans for our benefit.

            Abraham could not originate and orchestrate his unconventional route to becoming the “father of faith” in his wildest imagination.

            Joseph in Egypt, Moses, or Joshua could not self-compose their unique life-scripts and materialize events to reach their extraordinary outcomes.

            The acclaimed teacher Gamaliel speaking before the Sanhedrin Council differentiates the difficulty of discerning the true activities of God using conventional standards:

35 Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what ye intend to do as touching these men.

36 For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered, and brought to nothing.

37 After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed.

38 And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nothing:

39 But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest perhaps ye be found even to fight against God.                                     (Acts 5:35-39)

            During Paul’s last trip to Jerusalem, as the chief captain of the Roman guards in the city went to quell the uproar over the Jews of Asia discovering Paul in the temple…the chief captain asks Paul: “Art not thou that Egyptian, which before these days maddest an uproar, and leddest out into the wilderness four thousand men that were murderers?” (Acts 22:38).

            Jesus asked the question in Mark 8:27-30:

27 And Jesus went out, and his disciples, into the towns of Caesarea Philippi: and by the way he asked his disciples, saying unto them, Whom do men say that I am?

28 And they answered, John the Baptist: but some say, Elias; and others, One of the prophets.

29 And he saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?  And Peter answereth and saith unto him, Thou art the Christ.

30 And he charged them that they should tell no man of him.

            Discernment, critical-thinking, and right judgment are essential for today’s Christians (Mk. 12:35-37, 13:28-31).

            The uniqueness of the God of the Bible at the fundamental, worldview level is that He can and does prepare people for their mission-plans according to His own original routes…that are difficult to detect and rightly evaluate when we are “in the flesh” (Jn. 8:14-15).

            The same quality of recognized accolades, certifications, and diplomas that identify acquired expertise does not always work when applied to the biblical narrative stories of faith…these life-stories being the sanctioned and authorized examples of how God works.

            When Abraham first arrived in Canaan no one knew who he was or anything about his special calling.

            This is the starting baseline for understanding how clueless the world is regarding the higher ways and thoughts of God.

            The religious elites in Jerusalem during the ministry of Jesus exhibit just how clueless they are when they examine the blind man healed by Jesus recorded in John 9:1-38…”We know that God spake unto Moses: as for this fellow, we know not from whence he is.” (Jn. 9:29).

            They did not understand the true character of Jesus Christ in the deepest sense of spiritual and moral discernment.           

            We need to be walking ourselves in a genuine journey of faith following Jesus Christ…in order to be able to recognize a genuine walk of faith in others…to be able to discern the Holy Spirit in action.

4 But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.

5 Ye are all children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.

6 Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.                                                              (1 Thes. 5:4-6)

“For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light.” (Eph. 5:8).

Ye Shall Be Free Indeed

            When Jesus “ate” with “publicans and sinners” (Mt. 9:10-13), He knew they would never become morally perfect people incapable of making mistakes.

            The “greatest” people in the Bible were never morally perfect people.

            “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” (Mt. 5:6).

            When Paul says in Romans 6:4 that Christ’s resurrection enables us to “walk in newness of life”…he does not mean moral perfection (Rom. 7:15-8:4).

            There isn’t anything anywhere in the Bible that infers or intimates that walking with God in this life will produce perfect performance on our part…in either good-works or unwavering faith.

            The blood Jesus shed on the cross covers my sins past, present, and future so that I can learn by my mistakes with impunity…without the jeopardy of threatening the eternal security of my salvation through my less-than perfect performance.

            This reality is initiated and sanctioned by the first, last, and only authority that counts…by God Himself.

            If God says that He wants me to acquire the knowledge of good and evil through the first-hand lessons-learned of experience in the rough-and-tumble life on earth, then the redemptive salvation that He has provided by grace through faith in Christ…issues the timeless safe-conduct to go out and with my best effort listen in the Spirit and follow the life-script He has revealed for me.

            That I can fall-on-my-face in failures and shortcomings is the only real and authentic way I am going to be able to win this knowledge of good and evil for myself.

            The biblical narrative stories of faith are the pinnacle of the highest level of good leadership in pushing power downward to create people who can discern the right and the good, and voluntarily choose the good for the right reasons.

            This creates people who are internally motivated, responding positively to the love, confidence, and supportive trust divinely extended to them…that validates their high worth and value in the sight of God.

“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” (2 Cor. 4:7).

“If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” (Jn. 8:36).

One Purpose of Redemptive Salvation

            In redemptive salvation by grace through faith in Christ, God the Father sees believers through the rose-colored glasses of optimistic and supportive love, because He is the one who envisioned and instigated the concept of the 4-wheel drive vehicle of this fallen, imperfect yet redeemed human nature.

“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” (2 Cor. 4:7).

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” (Jer. 29:11).

            We are saved by grace through faith and not by our own self-performed good works…to have the invaluable opportunity to discover the knowledge of good and evil through the “safe-conduct” of a God-sanctioned and authorized journey of faith research program.

            We learn by making mistakes, and if we are hungering and thirsting after righteousness (Mt. 5:6) and waling in the Spirit (Rom. 8:2), God is able to flip our mistakes into guided lesson-plans through His deliberate, positive intentions.

            A fallen yet redeemed nature enables believers to venture out into the rough and tumble, likewise fallen world and using the microscopic and telescopic lens of our imperfect moral nature…inhabiting earthen vessels…be able to comprehend the subtle nuances of the broad array of moral concepts within the knowledge of good and evil…while also having the critical element of the humility of recognizing that the security of our eternal salvation lies in the cross and resurrection of Jesus, and is not dependent upon our perfect moral performance.

            Only God could set all of this up to function within the reality of this broken world.

            Through the divine concept of redemptive salvation by grace through faith, God is able to flip our imperfect fallen nature into the very vehicle we would need to successfully explore the ups and downs within the knowledge of good and evil…exhibiting on God’s part the highest excellence of leadership in wisely pushing power downward for people to learn and grow through first-hand experience, guided within God-composed journey of faith life-scripts as patterned for us through the biblical narrative stories of faith from Enoch through Paul.

            Each of the positive characters in the Bible walked with God through their callings and mission-plans, while still inhabiting imperfect moral natures.

            When I became a Christian at age 18, God forgave my sins past, present, and future…so that I could with confidence enter into a risk-filled adventure of faith, knowing in advance that the many mistakes I would make along the way would not jeopardize the security of my eternal salvation…because this research program designed by God through redemptive salvation has the very intention that I can learn and benefit from my mistakes.

“In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.” (Eph. 1:7).

“Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever, Amen.” (Heb. 13:20-21).

Human Beings Progress through Trial-and-Error

            When we watch the men’s final in the 100-meter running event in the Olympics, for example, we know that the runners were not selected at random from the general population and put forward in race gear to sprint for the gold medal.  The ten runners in the men’s Olympics 100-meter race finals are all world-class, elite runners who have each trained for years to be able to run this distance in under 10 seconds.

            The several years of individual training are done behind-the-scenes in advance preparation leading up to the race, and for each runner hopefully ends with the goal of a once-in-a-lifetime, gold-medal performance during this very short but marquee track and field event.

            A documentary film-maker may record the up-and-down training regime of the progression of the would-be sprinter to reach world-class speed, and put this into a short film as part of the color commentary for the televised summer Olympics, but generally we are not privy to the dedication, perseverance, and dogged determination of the elite athlete’s incremental upward progression over time from being merely fast at the collegiate level to becoming world-class fast…to be one of a very select few to make-it into the men’s final in the 100-meter race in the Olympics.

            On the African savanna plains, when we watch the high-speed, life-and-death chase between the cheetah and the Thompson’s gazelle, we know that there has been no behind-the-scenes training preparation leading-up to this exhibition of literally world-class running speed, other than the normal growth to adulthood.  We know that there is no behind-the-scenes training for each of these magnificent animals because the natural living world is open to observation and investigation.  The exquisite running speeds of the cheetah and the Thompson’s gazelle are a product of their instinctual lifestyle habits that match perfectly their unique architectural body-plans…that come fully functional and ready for use right “out of the box” with no tools or assembly instructions required.

            One aspect that makes the defining essence of human beings uniquely discontinuous with the rest of the natural living world is that mankind progresses through the trial-and-error process of lessons-learned by making mistakes.

            Over the course of the modern Scientific Revolution, the two Industrial Revolutions, the American political experiment that people could be self-governing through a representative democracy based upon individual virtue, and the fine-tuning of market systems of economy and trade, we should have known that mankind would eventually reach a point in time when some of the fundamental questions of reality would be within reach of solid answers.

            We have always been headed in the right direction through mistakes and blunders combined with an innate inner drive to discover the purposes behind the workings of the natural world, and to find the reality of our existence…which is entirely different from the automatic program of inherited instinctual lifestyle habits that come fully functional in the examples of the cheetah and the Thompson’s gazelle.

            The idea that a mindless and indifferent-to-outcomes Mother Nature working through matter-and-energy alone could produce this discontinuous dichotomy between the out-of-the-box functionality of instinctual lifestyle habits in the natural living world, in stark contrast to the cognitive reasoning capacity of human beings to progress through trial-and-error mistakes as their uniquely defining essence, should at this modern times be rejected as a “just-so” bed-time story because of its over-simplicity.   

            If we have learned anything over the course of human history, it is that our natural world, the interaction between human beings, and the nature of truth are not simplistic.

            Drilling down deeper into this concept that we progress through the process of lessons-learned by making mistakes, what makes Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet a tragedy is not that the principle characters are stupid, but rather that they make errors in judgement and reasoning that coalesce over the course of their short-lived romance into a catastrophic outcome.

            In the backyard garden scene where Juliet on the balcony declares her love for Romeo hiding unbeknownst below until he reveals himself and climbs up a tree to join her, embrace, kiss, and declare his love for her…at that point the right course of action is easy to see.

            Juliet should have said that she would speak to her father privately the next day and tell him that she was in love with Romeo the son of his enemy, and that their union would be the perfect solution to “bury their strife” between the two families.  Romeo should say that he would likewise talk to his father in private, and tell him that he was in love with Juliet the daughter of his enemy, that she loved him, and that their union in marriage would remove the enmity between the families and be heartily welcomed by the Prince of the city of Verona.

            If these two options failed, then Plan B would have Romeo requesting a private meeting with the Prince to explain the benefits of throwing his considerable support and influence behind a marriage between Romeo and Juliet, leading to the bad option of Romeo seeking the guidance of the friar who comes-up with his hair-brain scheme that eventually leads to the deaths of Romeo and Juliet.

            William Shakespeare can create this brilliantly tragic storyline because he is working with the reality of a human environment that is deliberately designed to be a research program of discovery through the trial-and-error process of lessons-learned by making mistakes.  The tragedy in Romeo and Juliet is that the progression of poor judgments and decisions within the context of their family’s relationships snow-balls downhill through a series of “hideous misadventures” to a deadly finale.

            This should tell us something vitally important about the reality of our existence, about the redemptive salvation feature of the Christian gospel message, about the uniquely biblical originality of God displacing our ways with His higher ways through God-composed journey of faith life-scripts, and about the 2 Corinthians 4:7 concept that we inhabit the “earthen vessels” of imperfect moral natures as the perfect 4-wheel drive research vehicles in order to traverse the rough terrain of this equally broken and fallen world…in discovery of the knowledge of good and evil with the God-sanctioned and approved intention for us to learn by our mistakes…all the while redeemed by grace through faith in Christ.

            The structure and organized complexity of the biblical narrative stories of faith, of God inserting His higher ways and thoughts into our life-scripts to be able to add His timeless foresight and brilliant pure light into this research program for us aided by the microscopic and telescopic lens of a fallen imperfect nature…to have the capacity to understand the subtle nuances of the broad array of moral concepts integral within the knowledge of good and evil…overturns the serendipitous tragedy of Romeo and Juliet stumbling through the dark of this same human environment without this participation of God within a God-composed journey of faith life-script that always achieves the optimum outcome of individual destiny.

            Modern science has discovered complex, highly specified, and coherently integrated systems of information everywhere we look in the natural world.  The micro-molecular machinery inside living cells coordinates an unimaginably diverse ensemble of parts to assemble proteins into different cell types that make living creatures from elephants to humans…to highlight just one example.

            Redemptive salvation by grace through faith in Christ to enable research programs into the knowledge of good and evil…through the safe-conduct of the impunity of not having our many mistakes jeopardize the security of our eternal salvation (Mt. 5:6; Rom. 7:15-8:4)…by the deliberate intention of the Creator God of this universe…is so originally brilliant that it could not possibly derive from this same trial-and-error process of lessons-learned by making mistakes…and is thus a self-existent, fundamental concept that could not have arisen through human invented mythology…could not be the product of human literary imaginative fiction.

            Shakespeare takes us a far as he can in Romeo and Juliet.  God takes us much farther into the depths of reality in the biblical narrative stories of faith.  

Only God Can Procure the Validation of Our Self-Worth

            Once a family is broken by divorce, it is thereafter difficult to individually validate the children with a healthy sense of self-worth, because the family is infused with the opposite sense of the failure of separation.

            The family unit has failed.

            This describes the injurious aspect of the separation that occurred within the family of God at the fall in the Garden of Eden.

            A separation occurred.

            God foresaw this coming (Rev. 13:8), but was not the reason for this split.

            Redemptive salvation by grace through faith starting with repentance (Eph. 2:8-9) inaugurates the means by which we are connected back with God…the family reunites.

            The concept that our imperfect natures act as research vehicles into the discovery and comprehension of the knowledge of good and evil (2 Cor. 4:7; Rom. 7:15-8:4; Mt. 5:6; Jn. 8:36) is designed to get at the root cause of the split that originally occurred in the Garden of Eden.

            God is so brilliant that He can take our imperfect fallen natures and flip this into a positive, because He alone understands that a perfect person living in a perfect world would not be able to learn first-hand about the knowledge of good and evil…through the empirical task-master of lessons-learned through making mistakes.

            This is why redemptive salvation is by grace through faith and not self-performed good-works…because we need the vantage point of the lens of a fallen nature to be able to understand the subtle nuances of the broad array of moral concepts within the knowledge of good and evil, but also the humility of occupying “earthen vessels” so that over-inflated self-opinion…self-righteousness…does not block our ability to share the gospel message to other people as lost and broken as we were.

            God…the “head of the household” working with believers who will give Him the benefit-of-the-doubt (Heb. 11:1, 6) re-instigates the healthy validation of His children through God-composed journey of faith life-scripts patterned for us in the biblical narrative stories of faith…functional and operational for every Spirit-born Christian today.

Why Did a Perfect Creator Produce an Imperfect Creation?

            In the six-disc DVD collection of Yes, Your Question…A Collection of the Best Questions From Top Universities, produced by RZIM in 2012, a person from the audience in the DVD disk recorded at Columbia University…asks Ravi Zacharias the following question:

“If God is all powerful, and all knowing, why would He still choose to create a world where it’s going to fall apart, where we are going to have atrocities now…when He knows that is going to be the outcome of what we choose?”

            Paraphrasing…Dr. Zacharias gives the standard apologetic response to this question, saying that when we deal with the effect, when we deal with what we have now in the world, regardless of the initial cause, we basically have four options for the possible worlds God could have created.

            The first option is best rephrased as a question: “Would it have been better to have no creation at all, than to have this one?”

            The second option is also best rephrased as a question: “Would it have been better to create people who would only choose the good?”

            The third option in the form of a question for a possible world is: “Would it have been better if God created a world where there was no such thing as good or evil…an amoral world?”

            The fourth option is this world…where there is a possibility of good and evil…knowing that we would still choose evil, with all of the negative outcomes this entails, being the only other option as far as we know.

            Ravi Zacharias goes on to say that when this question is raised, it metaphysically introduces a moral framework in the form of: “Would it have been better?”

            He elaborates by saying that if it would have been morally better to choose one of these other options…the only reason behind the question is that it must first assume there is such a thing as good or evil…otherwise what is the point of the question?

            He concludes his answer by saying that we cannot invoke a moral question in an amoral world, and the ultimate ethic in a moral world is love…which none of the other three worlds would have made possible.

            In this essay I would like to posit a fifth hypothetical option, of the possibility of God creating billions of junior gods in lieu of human beings, also created in the image of God…but having the added features of possessing divine timeless foresight and absolute goodness.

            This fifth option would alleviate the sticky problem of evil and suffering in this world, but introduces some new realities that make this option from a practical standpoint implausible and untenable, bringing us back to the original answer to the question of why God chose to create this world…that this present world having free-will choice is the only reality wherein the ultimate ethic of love can actualize

            Assuming that it is possible for God to create multiple junior gods possessing timeless foresight and absolute goodness…one obvious difficulty here is the fundamental question of: what is time.

            The creation of the fourth dimension time, at the Big Bang beginning of the universe, is an extraordinary invention that we take for granted.  We have clocks, wristwatches, and mobile phones that tell us what time it is, and we have our lives scheduled around business meetings and luncheon dates…but we have no idea what time is.

            Centuries after Isaac Newton, we can use his equations regarding motion and gravity to put men on the moon…but even today we have no idea what gravity is.

            Physics, chemistry, and mathematics are rife with equations describing heat, motion, acceleration, friction, momentum, and energy…but we have no idea what energy actually is.

            The notion that God could create beings like Himself who possess divine timeless foresight…bipedal, human-like junior gods walking the earth today…who would have no previous idea about the basic design and production issues involved in the creation of time in our universe, then going about their lives using timeless foresight but not knowing what time actually is…being created persons but not being creators themselves of fundamental things like time, gravity, and energy, of not having the Creator’s database of insider information and knowledge to take them the rest of the way to complete and total divinity…might turn-out to be a half-way exercise in futility.

            This might be asking too much of God…to create beings having partial divinity…but not giving them “the whole enchilada.”

            One interesting observation in this new Age of Information, is that the Intelligent Designer God did not merely use a pre-existing database of information in crafting the universe, in the same way that an architect or a structural engineer would utilize the received wisdom of an existing database of information for the design of a new building. 

            In the case of the Big Bang creation of the concrete physical universe at a moment of time about 13.7 billion years ago, out of nothing that was previously material, out of the mind of God who is a Spirit Being…the interesting realization here is that the very information used in creating the universe was invented “from scratch” for this one singular purpose.

            This would be like an architect or an engineer inventing 4×8-inch wood posts, structural steel columns, glass windows, granite countertops, and wood casing trim…from scratch…with all of the accompanying chemistry, physics, and mathematics, at the start of the design of a new house, office building, or shopping mall.

            The idea that God could create numerous, full-feature junior-gods possessing the ability to invent information from scratch exactly like He can…may not be possible…or even advisable.

            Likewise, with the attribute of absolute goodness…the first question here is what exactly is: “goodness.”

            In the essay “Where Does Good and Evil Come From”…I try to explain good and evil in terms of a vertical spectrum-line of light…making the case that evil is an absence of good, like varying shades of darkness are defined by the absence of light.

            But here also the fundamental question still stands: “What exactly is goodness?”

            Like gravity, energy, time, and light…we can describe goodness…but we have no real idea what it actually is.

            Creating billions of junior gods would involve the input of things that are certainly abstract, spiritual, and non-material, but would have essences inherent in absolute goodness and divine timeless foresight, substances that might not be fully or even partially transferable from one living being…God…to another living being.

            It appears within the four dimensions of this world, at least for us, that goodness and foresight are realities that are obtained experientially, through the course of the events and circumstances of our lives…entities that are again intangibly abstract and spiritually non-material…purchased by fallible human beings within the context of the fourth option of possible worlds mentioned above, containing good and evil, and providing the opportunity for experiencing love.

            But even with a multitude of individual junior gods…having absolute goodness, divine timeless foresight, and all-power…someone would still have to assume the role of leader…someone would still have to be in-charge.

            Imagine for a moment a nuclear submarine…with all of its officers and crew members having the equal rank of admiral.  The cooks in the ship’s galley would all be admirals…along with the captain, the navigator, the engineers, the gunnery mates, and the other officers.

            But the chief cook in the galley cannot do two jobs at the same time…to cook meals for the crew, and to serve as captain of the submarine.  One person has to assume the role of captain…no matter if the captain and everyone else on board the submarine also have the equal rank of admiral.  If each and every sailor aboard the submarine possesses absolute goodness, divine timeless foresight, and a perfect knowledge of submarine navigation and warfare…each sailor would still have to perform their precisely distinctive function aboard the ship…to the exclusion of other duties performed by their shipmates.

            The hypothetically shared rank and title of admiral becomes superfluous…washes-out as being unimportant, in this reality of the various duties of manning a nuclear submarine.

            Imagine a professional football team in the NFL, in which every player on the field and sitting on the bench, along with all of the assistant coaches and support staff, all have the equivalent rank and title of Head Coach.

            Even if every person on this football team had the divine capacity of a god, possessing divine timeless foresight, absolute goodness, and a perfect knowledge of football regarding every position on the field, and all of the possible plays to call for every imaginable situation…there would still have to be only one person making the play-calling decisions…making play-calling decisions in-the-moment by mass-committee being too cumbersome and time-consuming.

            This is one reason why the rebellion of Satan is even more ill-advised for us humans.  Whatever good attributes Satan once had and enjoyed as the “covering cherub” in heaven (Ezek. 28:11-19)…the idea that his beauty and charm justified his ambition to usurp the leadership position of God, epitomizes the error of the self-sovereignty of going our own way apart from God (Isa. 53:5-6).

            An eternal heavens…where everyone is a divine god…is difficult to imagine even with the universally shared attributes of absolute goodness and divine timeless foresight, without one key person still being the leader, without one key person still being in-charge.

            But much more important…on the most fundamental level…is that a world and a heavens in which everyone is a perfect divine being, has the potential for creating the bizarre environment of absolute autonomous individualism, where everyone could and would go their own separate ways, being equally qualified to do so, eliminating the capacity for engaging in personal relationships at the depth of intimacy that could create genuine love.

            Someone might ask the insightful question here, that if the Godhead Trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit enjoy absolute goodness, divine timeless foresight, and perfect love, why could this not telescope out to billions of junior gods created in the image of God…possessing the nearly complete attributes of God?

            Wouldn’t people be more lovable if they were perfect?

            Or does being morally perfect and possessing divine timeless foresight, but not possessing the complete package of the totality of the attributes of God…like the ability to create a universe and a planet earth, like the ability of God to create life…does this simply make partially divine beings who are better equipped to drift apart into autonomous individualism more perfectly…doing their “own thing” apart from God?

            Theoretically, without hitting this nail with a hammer too many times, if the God of the Bible could create numerous equivalent junior gods having the complete package of divine attributes, in possession of the vast database of information and the ability to create life, their own universe, and the laws of physics to match this universe…then we really would be looking at the possibility of the many worlds, “multi-verse” scenario.

            But what would be the point of having an endless series of equivalent universes and planet earths like ours…all managed by enumerable junior gods equivalent to the God of the Bible…all being omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, and possessing divine timeless foresight and absolute moral goodness, producing a reality of gods all being in the same selfless giving mode of divine love?

            Where then would the varied realities of faith, trust, friendship, fidelity, and love be?  What would be the variation of context for the broad array of moral concepts to actualize?

            One or more of these perfect junior gods might say that a time had come in their created universe to produce non-divine human beings having free-will and the advanced capacity for intellectual and moral reasoning…yet then introducing the possibility of the entrance of good and evil, and the further introduction of the disruptive appearance of a liar and a con-man…a corrupted being…able to bring corruption into an otherwise perfect past existence.

            This would merely create an endless repetition of the present condition we are now in.

            Is the true reality…in however many number of universes we might theoretically imagine…that good and evil are eternal, stand-alone, and self-existent realities, timelessly inescapable entities that fall on the vertical spectrum-line of light and darkness, of good and evil?   

            Borrowing from a statement made in another essay in this book…that it is pointless to enter into a debate with a liar…if God would have confronted and challenged Satan the rebel and usurper during the temptation in the Garden of Eden, God’s word alone would have had no more weight behind it than that of Satan, disguised in the spiritualized form of a beautiful talking serpent having the feature of beguiling speech.

            This is one partial explanation for why God created this physical, material universe, and why the Second Person of the Trinity…Jesus Christ the Son of God…was incarnated into a human body (Isa. 7:14; Lk. 2:8-14; Jn. 1:14).

            The real truth is that God does input absolute goodness and divine timeless foresight into human beings, by giving us some of Himself in the form of the indwelling Holy Spirit, through the process of spiritual rebirth…of salvation by faith through grace (Jn. 3:5, 16-17).

            But because the knowledge of good and evil cannot be purchased on the cheap by merely eating a piece of fruit hanging from the branch of a very special tree…the same free-will choice now flushed-out within the physical material environment of this world, provides the opportunity for God to input some of Himself into human beings.

            This also fleshes-out the rebellion element of the deceptive temptation put forward by Satan in the Garden of Eden, questioning God’s credibility through the hollow use of unsubstantiated words alone, of God’s qualifications to be the captain of the nuclear submarine or the Head Coach of the football team…to be the divine King and Ruler of the eternal realm of heaven, while imparting to us the free-will choice to accept the input of some of His divine nature and essence, through faith in Jesus Christ.

            This unique world we inhabit offers the potential for experiencing love, but also the potential for experiencing suffering as the outcome of evil…as the only possible option to expose Satan as a liar and a rebel…and at the same time set-up a fair and reasonable way in this broken world context to voluntarily want the input of absolute goodness and timeless foresight that God is offering to us, obtained by the faith through grace of free-will choice (Num. 21:8-9; Jn. 3:14-15; Eph. 2:8-10).

            Finally, if the God of the Bible is everywhere (omnipresent), all-knowing (omniscient), and all-powerful (omnipotent)…and possesses divine timeless foresight and absolute moral goodness…then the idea that He would need to set-up a police state having an intricate spy network, is superfluous and nonsensical.

            There would also be no point in creating robots programmed to always do the right thing, because God is already in a position to be an affectively dominating tyrant and autocratic ruler…if this was His choice…being everywhere, all-knowing, and all-powerful.

            John Lennox gives a great answer in his debates with atheists who object to the idea of a “Big Brother” God always looking over our shoulder…that in his home he has someone always looking after him 24/7 with caring love…his wife.

            For a God who possesses perfect virtue, justice, and divinely selfless love at the peak and pinnacle of brilliant pure light and absolute goodness, the only thing that He needs to work with is the faith and trust of His created beings…if He is going to have meaningful relationships with them.

            This is like the old adage: “What do you get…as a gift…for the person who has everything?”

            Creating junior gods as perfect in every way as He is…may be an impossibility for God…like creating square circles, married bachelors, or one-ended sticks.

            God does not want to be a policeman constantly looking over the shoulder of everyone all the time…although being everywhere, knowing everything, and being all-powerful…He does.

            God wants people who will freely choose virtue, who can be self-governing in the liberty of wanting to do the right things, who are open to the reception of His love and fellowship, the gift of Himself…of a perfect God living in the giving mode.

            This is the redemption and deliverance from sin that Jesus purchased for us on the cross and through His resurrection on Easter morning.

            This also might be a reasonable answer to why the Second Person of the Trinity…Jesus Christ the Son of God…was incarnated into a human body and now inhabits a new resurrected body in heaven, contained within a bodily form that we can see, listen to, and speak with, which is not the case with God the Father still in His original Spirit form, along with the Holy Spirit, being omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent…but unseen.  

“That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man.  That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love.  May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God.   (Eph. 3:16-19)

Visual Proof does not Naturally Translate into a Biblical-Quality Journey of Faith

“But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory.”                                                                                        (1 Cor. 2:7)

            If Jesus a few days after the resurrection walked down the middle of Main Street and right into the Temple in Jerusalem, then like doubting Thomas, all of the common people along with the Pharisees, Sadducees, lawyers, and scribes could examine His wounds and observe His resurrected new body, and accept as proof that Jesus is the promised Messiah and the Son of God.

            But accepting the visual evidence, producing absolute knowledge like two plus two equals four or the existence of the noonday sun, in accepting the empirical evidence that Jesus is the divine Son of God…this proof is a type of passive acknowledgement that is not the same thing as active faith that will produce a willingness to follow Him

            This is like people saying to the recognized king of the realm: “We know that you are the rightful king, but we will not follow you into battle against a formidable adversary because we do not think you are a qualified military leader.”

            The Pharisees and scribes would have looked at the resurrected Jesus, talked with Him, examined His healed wounds and then said: “Great…good for you…nothing has changed in our minds as a result of this newest miracle of yours.  We still choose not to follow you.  We refuse to enter in at the ‘narrow gate’ (Mt. 7:13-14) you mentioned in your Sermon on the Mount.  We will continue to do religion the way we have set it up, to mix old traditions with going our own way to suit ourselves” (Isa. 53:6). 

            Absolute knowledge by visual, empirical observation does not address the basic problem.  It does not displace, remove, or shift the mindset of self-sovereignty, of autonomous individualism over into the God-sovereignty category of a biblical-quality walk of faith. 

            Jesus walking into the Temple in Jerusalem after His resurrection, offering absolute proof of His divinity in physically rising from the dead surprisingly does not change by force of reason alone…the inner man…and does not equate to everyone freely choosing to make Him Lord and Master of our lives.

            After the resurrection revealing Himself to the Pharisees and scribes would not have produced biblical faith, defined as willingly allowing God to displace our ways with His higher ways.

            This is as ancient in Jewish history as the calling of Abraham to leave Haran and to go by faith to Canaan (Heb. 11:8-10), as basic to Judaism as it gets and fundamental to the Christian concept of picking up our cross to follow Jesus.

            Visual, empirical observation of the resurrected Jesus by the religious elites and the general populace in Jerusalem a few days after Easter morning does not translate into Hebrews 11:1 faith to surrender all, to abandon self-sovereignty.

            To follow Jesus Christ into an adventure of faith to match the examples of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Ruth, Hannah, David, Elijah, Esther and Mordecai, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah…to name a few from the Old Testament, sets forth the examples of the lives of faith which should have been commonplace, should have been the norm for Jewish living at the time of the ministry of Jesus in first-century Israel.

            Like our free-will choice to love someone, our choosing to follow God, by purposeful, intentional, divinely creative design will always be a free-will, take-it-or-leave-it, open option of the heart and mind in first-century Jerusalem, in the present-day, and for all eternity in heaven. 

            This is the remarkably sublime beauty of the free-will, free-thinking, moral reasoning, risky from God’s standpoint, non-robots that God created humans to be, operating with or without absolute, visual, empirically foolproof evidence of God’s existence (Jn. 20:29).

            The spiritual mystery of the self-autonomous rebellion of pushing God aside and out of our lives is therefore one of the key moral issues under examination in this life and this broken world.

            A person does not have to be a scholar to see in the Bible and to experience first-hand that God initially takes people having hidden potential yet at the start of their calling are broken, lost, and aimless in life (Mt. 9:10-13).  Through the divinely supportive respect and acceptance over time of salvation, redemption, and the life-altering insertion of a God-composed adventure of faith aided and energized by the Holy Spirit…turns people into something vastly better than they could have previously imagined.

            This is one of the main themes of the Bible.  Some people will accept God’s lead and follow Him into their destinies.  Others will push God away and follow their own course.

            This in itself should be a telling argument against the random-chance naturalism of self-sovereign worldly conventional thinking, by virtue of the sheer inexplicability of the origin of the concept of biblical faith, of God displacing our ways with His higher ways and thoughts, and its persistent longevity over thousands of years. 

            Naturalistic materialism if true should produce one homogeneous human mindset, either self-sovereignty or God-sovereignty…one lifestyle habit per creature type…like the rest of the natural living world.

            This option of belief or unbelief should tell us that as human beings we are different (Gen. 1:26-27).

            The complexity of the information content, the innovative originality of the main concepts, and the utter crash and collision with worldly conventional normalcy and thinking makes a compelling commonsense apologetic case for the divine origin of the journeys of faith recorded in the Bible, above, beyond, and outside of humanistic literary invention.

            This is the easier half in answering the question of why Jesus did not walk down Main Street and into the Temple a few days after His resurrection, which would have changed the dynamics of a journey of faith following Jesus Christ instead into the type of absolute, visual, foolproof evidence that atheists and skeptics demand…but which falls short as the means to establish a personal relationship.

            The hard part in analyzing the wisdom behind the delicate balance between belief and unbelief in this current world environment is as follows:

            After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead…John 11:45-48 reads:

45 Then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him.

46 But some of them went their ways to the Pharisees, and told them what things Jesus had done.

47 Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many miracles.

48 If we let him alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation.

            The religious elites in Jerusalem decided to continue worldly conventional normalcy and thinking…self-autonomous self-rulership…by sacrificing Jesus Christ…by removing Him out of the way.

            This is expressed in John 11:49-50:

49 And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all.

50 Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not.

            Caiaphas said this in order to perpetuate the status quo, to continue worldly conventional normalcy and thinking as it existed at that time and place.  Caiaphas was not interested in the initiating or the maintaining of biblical-quality journeys of faith, which the early church would soon step into and demonstrate to the world shortly (Acts 8:4) ”turning the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).

            Killing Jesus through Roman crucifixion, falsely as a political and religious malefactor simply foretells what would happen if this same attitude of self-sovereignty at its worst extreme version of worldly self-interest as demonstrated that day at the cross on Calvary Hill…was imported into heaven for all eternity.

            One reason why God drove Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden was to prevent their access to the Tree of Life (Gen. 3:22-24).

            An eternity of disruptive, self-centered rebellion in heaven is and would be unacceptable.

            This brings us to one of the key questions regarding the real Christian life…of why it is faith and not visual, empirical evidence that is the driving force in Christian discipleship, of why faith is the central element in the God-composed journey of faith life-scripts from Abraham in Genesis all the way through the Bible to Paul in Acts.

            Truth by definition is exclusive.  Multiple competing “truths” cannot all be true at the same time.

            In a sea of lies, deceptions, and cleverly disguised half-truths, the biblical narrative stories of faith inject a narrative of truth into the marketplace of secular worldviews.

            Skeptical unbelief tells people to go their own way as autonomous individuals…to sit atop the thrones of their lives as junior gods…to create their own definition and standards of purpose and meaning in their lives, to operate entirely independent of the input of the God of the Bible

            When there are multiple competing narratives which are difficult to parse and evaluate, then giving someone or some program the benefit-of-the-doubt may be the only reliable way to differentiate truth from error and right from wrong.

            Giving someone or some idea the benefit-of-the-doubt comes into play as the only way to test whether a particular narrative is true or false, and if experientially proven over the course of time to be true by the process of elimination, this then excludes the other multiple competing narratives.

            Thus the entrance into the human history of the marketplace of ideas the uniquely innovative calling of Abraham into a God-composed journey of faith life-script, that displaces whatever normative life Abraham might have otherwise lived in the city of Haran with an entirely new life-script that Abraham could not have dreamed-up in his wildest imagination.

            This new journey of faith in the narrative storyline of Abraham inaugurates the concept of listening in the Spirit to hear the voice of God, and then following the leading of God into life-scripts that produce positive results on a grand scale unprecedented in all of human history.

            The first introduction of a false competing narrative is recorded in Genesis chapter three in the temptation of Adam and Eve, a competing narrative of such deep sophistication that it functionally continues down to this present day:

“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.” (Gen. 3:4-5).

            This is the fundamental, competing false narrative that says that human beings are capable of going our own way apart from God.

            Another competing false narrative prominent today is the alluring appeal of the coveting of materialistic possessions found at the bottom half of the American Dream, that forms a false standard for measuring self-validation and self-worth as determined through worldly conventional normalcy and thinking.

            There is a historically pivotal narrative in first-century Jerusalem in the third year of the ministry of Jesus Christ in which it appears that the competing narrative guiding the religious elites in Jerusalem is stronger than the narrative of following Jesus Christ.

            As discussed in an earlier essay, as Jesus is mocked and taunted by those standing around watching Him die on the cross…it would appear that the Pharisees, Sadducees, lawyers, and scribes have won…and Jesus and His followers have lost.

            But the true narrative unfolds three days later when Jesus is resurrected from the tomb of Joseph of Arimathaea to fulfill His unique destiny to be the Passover Lamb of God atoning sacrifice for sin…”slain from the foundation of the world.” (Rev. 13:8).

            Jesus walking openly down Main Street and into the Temple merely creates a new competing narrative based upon an empirical observation of the risen Jesus as Messiah.

            But this would for many people do nothing to inaugurate the true God-initiated narrative of a God-composed journey of faith life-script in which our ways are displaced by God’s higher ways and thoughts, an imperative necessity in human lives for first-century Jews living in Jerusalem and for Gentiles at that time scattered throughout Asia Minor, and for people today as previewed for us in the biblical narrative stories of faith.

            For the Pharisees, Sadducees, lawyers, and scribes in the Temple interrogating the risen Jesus a few days after the resurrection…the newly revealed, factual knowledge that Jesus rose bodily from the dead would merely be in the minds of the people who are proud, arrogant, self-confident, and self-led simply another tool to add to their tool-kit of self-righteous good works.

            Within the false narrative they choose of self-sovereign self-in-control…the visual evidence of the risen Jesus openly walking down Main Street and into the Temple does not lead to following God in a journey of faith (Mic. 6:8).

            In the Sermon on the Mount…Jesus identifies the one true narrative for right living that excludes all other competing narratives:

“Enter ye in at the narrow gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:

Because narrow is the gate, and hard is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”                                     (Mt. 7:13-14)

            In Mark 8:34-37…Jesus clarifies further the one true narrative for right living, again which excludes all other competing narratives based upon worldly conventional normalcy and thinking:

“Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?

Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”

            The exclusivity of truth is uncompromisingly and unapologetically stated by Jesus Christ when He says in John 14:6…”I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”

            Jesus says to Martha before He raises her brother Lazarus from a rock covered tomb after being dead four days: “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.  And whosover liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” (Jn. 11:25-26).

            This is the epitome of a worldview narrative that excludes all other competing narratives.

            G. K. Chesterton observed that Christianity has not been “tried and found wanting” but “found difficult and never tried.”[1]

            To actualize God’s true narrative into human life requires a God-composed journey of faith life-script that displaces our ways with His higher ways and thoughts (Isa. 55:8-9).  This requires repentance and a turning away from the narrative of going our own way (Isa. 53:5-6), requires a reformation in our worldview narrative (Mt. 4:17) that the visual proof of Jesus walking down Main Street and into the Temple after His resurrection will not produce.


[1] Patrick Glynn, GOD, The Evidence (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1997, 1999), p. 149.

A Fourth Cross on Calvary Hill

“Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.”                                                                                           (Heb. 12:2)  

            One of the basic messages of the Bible is that God’s ways are higher and better than our own. 

            This is one of the pivotal, fundamental lessons of the Christian experience.  Only the real, supernatural God can compose and direct circumstances in our lives that will lead to genuine, everlasting spiritual growth. 

            It is within God’s unique character-manufacturing furnace of present-time experience that He forges mature saints who can trust and follow Him.  Peter and Paul are two of the best examples of this process from scripture.

            Before the crucifixion, Peter thought (according to Peter’s understanding in the realm of the “natural man”) that Jesus was in peril from the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem, and that Jesus needed Peter’s personal help for physical protection (Mt. 16:22). 

            When Peter utterly failed in this capacity, to the point that he actually denied knowing Jesus using cursing to save himself out of a difficult situation in the courtyard, Matthew 26:75 says: “And he went out, and wept bitterly.” 

            Peter was not just mildly disappointed in himself.  He thought he had failed in the critical, defining moment in his life. 

            But this was not the defining moment in Peter’s life.  God the Father knew from eternity past that Jesus would die on the cross, and that He would raise Jesus from the tomb of Joseph of Arimathaea.  God did not need or want Peter’s help to prevent the crucifixion of Jesus.  That was merely Peter’s best intentions according to his own thinking. 

            The critical moment that God had planned for Peter was not at the midnight trial standing alongside Jesus as a faithful companion, but on the Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem, at the birth of the Christian church, as described in the second chapter of the book of Acts. 

            On Resurrection Day, when Peter first sees the risen Jesus (1 Cor. 15:5), Peter realizes in an instant that God did not need his well-intentioned help to guide these final events.  God did not need Peter to prevent what Peter thought would be a guaranteed negative outcome if Jesus fell into the hands of the Jewish authorities. 

            God the Father had raised and transformed the broken and mutilated body of Jesus Christ His Son from the effects of a violent death that had occurred only a few days before, into a new and glorious resurrected body.  In a moment of realization…in the light of finally understanding…it all comes together for Peter. 

            Peter thinks back upon Jesus by the lakeside, in a boat because of the press of the crowd, as He is brilliantly teaching truth like no one has ever heard before (Lk. 5:3).  Peter remembers the oversized catch of fish in the nets that nearly overturns Peter’s boat (Lk. 5:4-11), the miracle of the feeding of the thousands on the hillside (Mt. 14:15-21), Jesus walking on water (Mt. 14:22-36), the transfiguration (Mk. 9:2), lepers cleansed (Lk. 5:12-15), the blind receiving sight (Jn. 9:1-41), and the dead raised (Jn. 11:1-44). 

            When Peter intently gazes upon his risen Lord on Resurrection Day in amazement and appreciation, he cannot take his eyes off Jesus.  He realizes in a series of quick flashbacks the always up-to-the-challenge Son of God, working masterfully with the Father and the Holy Spirit through every imaginable human issue and crisis, but especially in this final, amazing, unexpected event of salvation for mankind through the bodily resurrection of Jesus after the seeming finality of death on the cross. 

            Peter realizes that Jesus had Peter’s denial in the courtyard factored into the whole process all along (Mt. 26:34).  With an enormous sense of relief, Peter now understands that his personal failure at the critical time…when under normal circumstances Jesus might have otherwise needed his support the most…that any well-meaning attempt on the part of Peter to physically protect Jesus, could not possibly have prevented or affected in any way the monumental work of salvation planned by Almighty God so long ago. 

            Peter was also resurrected to an eternal hope in that single moment of time upon first seeing the risen Jesus (1 Peter 1:3). 

            In a bright flash of spiritual light, Peter in that instant finally realized that God was infinitely bigger than he was.  Peter saw with his own eyes the capacity of God to overcome anything, no matter how hopeless, when he saw the risen Jesus. 

            This experience changed Peter forever. 

            At that moment Peter shifted his reliance from self to God.  Peter could go forward from that day onward with the rock-solid hope of a living faith, and a vessel emptied of self-reliance, to serve his Savior to the end of his life. 

            This is how Peter was able to stand up before thousands of people in the center of Jerusalem during the celebration of Pentecost, through the power of the Holy Spirit, and not through his natural leadership ability and bold personality, to successfully proclaim the truth that Jesus was indeed the Christ of God.      

            Peter’s prior overconfident statement, before Gethsemane, that even though all other men might forsake Jesus, that Peter under no circumstances would forsake Him (Mt. 26:33), revealed a person who was still partially self-led.  Peter was talking out of his un-crucified self-in-charge nature, and this led to bitter spiritual defeat. 

            Peter, in the courtyard of Caiaphas the High Priest, was not operating “in the narrow gate” (Mt. 7:13-14) of listening to and following the Holy Spirit, as an apostle of Jesus Christ should.  Trouble found and exposed a vulnerable flaw in Peter, because self was still in-charge in this instance. 

            The character transforming lesson of Peter’s denial of Jesus in the courtyard, and the loving forgiveness he experienced in his personal interview with Jesus on Resurrection Day, changed Peter from self-led failure to a Spirit-led overcomer.  Peter’s encounter with the risen Christ is an example of experiential faith that actualized into spiritual victory.

            Rewinding these events backwards in time, Peter could have faithfully and courageously stood at the side of Jesus, as he said he would, and been condemned to death as a follower of Jesus. 

            Peter would then have occupied the fourth cross on the hill of Calvary that Passover Day. 

            But God the Father had a much different plan for Peter. 

            How infinitely better and more exciting would it be, to be filled with the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, and to stand up before thousands of people in Jerusalem and preach powerfully about both the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus Christ the Messiah (Acts 2:14-36)? 

            How much more exciting would it be to bring Tabitha back to life (Acts 9:40), or to heal the crippled man at the gate to the Temple (Acts 3:7), or to participate in the revival in Samaria (Acts 8:14-25), or be preaching to the Gentiles when the Pentecost “gift of the Holy Spirit” was poured out on them as well (Acts 10:44-48), or be miraculously released by an angel in the dead of night from Herod’s prison (Acts 12:7-11)? 

            How much better was God’s plan for Peter than what Peter had in mind for himself prior to the arrest of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane?  To what purpose would a fourth cross on Calvary, bearing Peter, have served? 

            According to historical tradition, Peter was eventually crucified in Rome, sometime in the early to middle 60’s A.D.  Peter was finally crucified physically, but not before living a full life in service to his Lord Jesus Christ according to the much higher plans of God.

The Narrow Gate for Paul (Mt. 7:13-14)

            Paul’s appeal to Caesar in Acts 25:11 is another excellent biblical example of God’s foresight and intervention in guiding the fine details of the lives of people who are in the midst of a walk of faith with Jesus Christ. 

            Paul is under arrest in Caesarea for the tumultuous uproar that occurred in Jerusalem.  Paul does not know that the sympathetic Roman ruler, King Agrippa, will arrive in Caesarea in the near future.  Agrippa apparently would have released Paul (Acts 26:32). 

            The Jewish authorities want Paul to be returned to Jerusalem for trial.  Paul knows that there are forty Jews sworn to attack his escort of Roman soldiers conducting him back to Jerusalem, but even if Paul makes it safely back, any hearing in Jerusalem would be prejudicial against him. 

            But Festus, the Roman official having jurisdiction over Caesarea, suggests in an open hearing, for political reasons, that Paul be brought to Jerusalem to be judged before Festus regarding the accusations against Paul.  Before Agrippa arrives, Paul has no choice but to appeal to Caesar.

            This is a fascinating and instructive development in the story of Paul.  It provides all Christians with a window into how God works in our lives if we will follow Him completely and not lose faith. 

            As events narrowly unfold in this account of Paul in Caesarea, Paul is compelled to appeal to Caesar for a hearing in Rome.  This changes the entire nature of the ministry of Paul from being a man of action…planting new churches in Asia Minor…to a man with quiet time to contemplate and compose the upcoming “prison epistles” written while in Rome (Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, and Philippians). 

            At this late stage in Paul’s career, more new churches in Greece and Italy are probably not needed.  History shows that the number of churches in existence when Paul set-off for Jerusalem for the last time, were enough in number and quality to create a strong foothold for the spread of Christianity in the first-century. 

            If left up to Paul, he would have continued to faithfully pursue his original calling, traveling and planting new churches in Greece, Italy, and he hoped even in Spain (Rom. 15:24).  But it was the God-appointed quiet time in Caesarea and in Rome that enabled the writing of these crucial last epistles to the churches that completed his inspired New Testament contribution of Christian doctrines and practices. 

            It is also this abrupt change in plans that provides the narrative story for the distinctly different final four chapters in the book of Acts, providing us with a look into the customs of Roman public hearings, an ancient shipwreck, and Luke’s unfinished history of Paul in Rome that enables conservative scholars to date the ending of the book of Acts as a milestone event sometime in the early to middle 60’s A.D. 

            This has enormous apologetic value in validating the authenticity of the New Testament gospels in relation to the activities of Paul, placing the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts so close to the time of the ministry of Jesus as to remove the possibility of legendary development or exaggeration entering into the New Testament. 

            It took God intervening in the situations and circumstances during this period of Paul’s detention in Caesarea for this change-in-mission to occur.  Through these tightly inter-related events, God closed one door and opened another door in the ministry of Paul.  

            The lesson here for every Christian is that no matter how fierce are the winds and the seas of the storm of circumstances around us, the eye of the hurricane is in the center of God’s will.  God sets up, guides, and molds events in the life of Paul, above anything that Paul could manufacture on his own, which results in the optimum final outcome for a life that is totally and completely surrendered to Jesus.    

            What is uniquely instructive about this episode in the life of Paul is that after this final visit to Jerusalem, he is under Roman arrest for most of his remaining years.  Not only is solitude imposed upon him for the purpose of quiet reflection about all that he has learned and experienced, but Paul is also made safe from the external threat of harm that he daily lived with while he was out on the road, from the Jews or from any of his other enemies.  Tradition does say that Paul was released for some period of time in Rome between a first and second imprisonment. 

            But from Caesarea onward, Paul was for the most part within God’s bubble of protection through the use of Roman officials and the Roman judicial system.  Paul could not be safer (other than eventual martyrdom by Nero around 62-65 A.D.) in the Roman world of the first century than to be under house arrest in Rome in the care of a Roman soldier.  Paul no longer had to worry about hostile Jews from a previous city showing up suddenly, with deadly intentions, in the city he was currently ministering in (Acts 13:50; Acts 14:5; Acts 14:19; Acts 17:5; Acts 17:13; Acts 18:12; Acts 19:26). 

            Through the clarity of hindsight, we see that God accomplished two things at the same time…first a change in the nature of the ministry of Paul…and second in the protective environment for Paul to compose his final letters to the churches. 

            This is a clear-cut demonstration of the narrow gate that Jesus is referring to in Matthew 7:13-14.  It is an example of the benefits and outcomes that God would like to perform in our lives through experiential faith.  

The Character Manufacturing Furnace

            Nearly every Christian can look backwards in time and say: “Now I understand why God took me through that trial.”  Every Christian looks forward to the future with hope that we will improve as people and that things will get better. 

            It is the present time that we all have difficulty with.[1]  Knowing, without a doubt, that we have surrendered and yielded our lives to Jesus Christ, and that the present situations and circumstances in our lives are not an accident but are in the control of God, is a mark of the mature Christian.  The mature Christian can apply every line of Psalm 23, along with David, with full assurance and confidence to their lives.

            In-the-moment, present-time situations and circumstances is the furnace where Christian character is manufactured (Jas. 1:2-4). 

            Our self-in-charge natures will not venture anywhere near the character-manufacturing furnace.  Self-in-charge is terrified of the risk of potential failure that is associated with this furnace. 

            In the furnace of present-time, in-the-moment situations and circumstances, the issues are so important according to outward appearances that a real spiritual test is set up. 

            Is God reliable enough to place my faith in as the Lord and Sovereign King of my life, in the present-time circumstances, or do I have to take matters into my own hands because the issues are simply too important to trust to anyone but myself alone (1 Sam. 13:12)? 

            This is a fundamental, pivotal issue of faith outlined for us throughout the Bible.  Gideon was in the present moment when he went to battle with 300 men against tens of thousands of the enemy.  David was hunted by Saul in-the-moment.  Queen Esther made her decision to risk personal safety, in-the-moment, in approaching the King and opposing Haman to save her people from destruction. 

            God told the young prophet Jeremiah not to be afraid of the countenance of the people’s faces when Jeremiah delivered God’s message to them, thus declaring plainly that it took some courage on Jeremiah’s part to be God’s spokesman.  This challenge for Jeremiah occurred in-the-moment. 

            In the New Testament, Peter and John defending themselves before the Sanhedrin in Acts 5:29-32, had the very real risk of being stoned to death like Stephen a few chapters later (Acts 7:58-59). 

            These accounts are all variations of the central question of the reliability of God’s character in the fiery trial.  These people all put their faith and trust in God…in-the-moment of their present-time circumstances…thus declaring that they believed that the character of God was trustworthy.

            The Holy Spirit is charged with the task of taking us to the character manufacturing furnace of personally tailored situations and circumstances, but only if our self-in-control nature is subordinate to the will and plans of God. 

            Any attempt to skirt around the Christian character manufacturing furnace is self-deceiving.  Certainly God is not fooled.  God is only dismayed and hurt that we do not trust Him enough to let go of self-in-control.  When we exercise faith and trust in God in the present-time, no matter what is happening or how bleak the circumstances look, we are saying we believe in the goodness and reliability of God’s character.

            The furnace of in-the-moment situations and circumstances is always a test of character, both God’s and ours. 

            This is where the value of a real relationship with the living God rises to the fore.  It is not some homogenized, new-age diluted humanistic slogan like “let go, let god.” 

            People who say and teach these kinds of cleverly reduced, cheerleader-type motivational phrases generally have no actual intention of stepping down off the thrones of their lives and following the Holy Spirit into real-life circumstances that require genuine release and trust in the one living God. 

            The cross is difficult.  Death to self-in-charge is not easy. 

            Whether it is financial challenges, family issues, health struggles, or the opposition of people to our Christian ministry, God will set up the issues in our lives specifically to create this furnace of character manufacturing for our spiritual growth. 

            That is why the outward appearances of some of these situations and circumstances are frightening and terrifying.  Without the genuine challenge of real consequences that matter, the decision to follow God would be too easy.  If the Christian life went perfectly smooth from beginning to end, we would never learn anything about ourselves, about eternal truths, or about God.   


[1] Bob Mumford, Fifteen Steps Out (South Plainfield, NJ: Bridge Publishing, Inc.) 5-7

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