The Flood: True Story Or Just An Ancient Myth Among A Sea Of Ancient Myths?

Is the flood we are told about in the Genesis account a fact or just a story borrowed from Ancient myths? All over the world we find cultural legends and myths that closely resemble certain stories in Scripture such as Creation, the Fall, and the Flood.

I want to explore the story of the flood in this blog, however, before we dive in, (yes, I did just say that), we need to understand an important foundational point of reference to this discussion. It is simply this; if we accept Paul’s statement that we are all of “one blood” as he said while in Athens (Acts 17:26), then we should also accept the biblical account that all human heritage goes back to a singular region where all human population once lived after the global Flood of Noah’s day.

I say this because if that’s the case of real history, then we would expect to find common accounts told, such as Creation and the Flood, to be within the stories and traditions of a people group(s) that once lived together in one place. And then given years of cultural diversity, as mankind spread throughout the world, it should not be surprising that these stories would have naturally taken on their own cultural influences and nuances in the retelling.

Look no further than at the variety of Santa stories shared – all the similarities along with the differences – all over the globe: Santa Clause in Canada, Saint Nick in England, Dedt Moroz in Russia, Mikulás in Hungary (just to name a few). In some stories he’s jolly and approachable, in other stories he is to be feared and to stay away from. These stories have varied over a span of about 400-500 years, which is considerably a much shorter time period when compared to the ancient stories (i.e. the Great Flood), which would have been told and retold for a thousand or more years. When understood this way, it makes sense that there should be similarities as well as differences in the ancient telling’s.

The Gilgamesh Epic

In the mid-1800s several excavations were made in present day Iraq. The archeologists uncovered a whole library of tablets from earlier Mesopotamian times, discovered buried in cities of the Ancient Near East, including Nineveh and Nippur. These tablets listed kings, business archives, administrative documents, and a number of versions of the flood narrative. Each version had a different language and most were only partially intact. However, there was one that was the most complete with twelve tablets – the Babylonian collection of The Gilgamesh Epic. [1]

On the eleventh tablet of this epic was a description about a great Flood, with much of its detail showing similarities with the biblical account. This flood story invited many skeptics to claim that this was proof that the biblical account was a derivation of ancient mythology, just another story among countless stories found in the Ancient Middle East. The land was prone to flooding after-all, and the inhabitants would have looked for explanations to explain the ‘why’s’ of these natural disasters. Initially shared around campfires, these stories eventually made their way to tablets such as the one found. Simple, case closed… But not so fast.

Fallible Versus the Infallible

Only two conclusions can come from a study evaluating if the Bible and the stories found in its pages are truly a derivation from ancient mythology. 1) If this is true, biblical claims of God’s inspiration are untrue, and the Bible then can’t be trusted. 2) The Bible truly is the Word of God, and any other claim of authorship or external influence is false.

What it boils down to is this… If the significance of finding these documents in Nineveh and Nippur caused a skeptic to doubt the authority and validity of Scripture, the issue is simply an interpretation problem. It comes down to being a case of the fallible versus the infallible. In other words, we should always remember that the Bible is the inerrant and infallible Word of God, which follows that it should be allowed to interpret itself and the fallible evidence rather than permitting the fallible evidence to interpret the Scripture given to us from the infallible Word of God.

It’s In The Details

The Gilgamesh story introduces us to a guy named Gilgamesh, who is out and about looking for another guy who goes by the name Utnapishtim, (he’s the Babylonian equivalent of Noah). Apparently, Utnapishtim is able to give him the secret of immortality, which he’s motivated to get a hold of because he’s grief stricken after losing his best pal Enkidu.

During their conversation, Utnapishtim tells him about something else he feels is more important to know, at least for the moment. Evidently, the gods want to flood the world and get rid of mankind because they can’t sleep. The reason? Their human neighbours are making too much noise. They’re causing all kinds of racket, what with all their squabbles, and parties and also because of their squabbles for not being invited to parties… or something like that.

Earlier, Ea, the god of wisdom, had come and warned Utnapishtim in a dream to convert his house to a boat, and to then take in the seed of all living creatures, but then to not say anything about the other gods’ plans. He was instead to throw another god named Enlil under the bus (or camel train at that time) by telling the people he was building a boat to escape the wrath of that specific god Enlil.

So, Utnapishtim builds his boat in seven days and takes his family, and Gilgamesh, and the creatures, and all the craftsmen into his houseboat. The great flood came, and even the gods who planned it all were terrified of it and fled. For six days and nights, the flood overwhelmed the world and on the seventh day grew calm. The boat rested on a mountain called Nisir, and there Utnapishtim sent out a dove, then a swallow, and then a raven. When the raven didn’t return, he made a sacrifice, and the gods reappeared and gathered like flies over it.

Interesting story, especially with some of the parallels to the Genesis account. However, comparing the two accounts of the flood there are a few details that definitely stand out, especially given that the ancient stories are a little fuzzy when it comes to details.

The rule of thumb when comparing conflicting accounts of the same event is; the more detail there is in the sharing of an account, the more it can be held up as the more accurate version of said account. The reality is that the more explainable, consistent and provable the details are being shared, the more one can believe, especially when facts can be verified and/or recognized for their value to the specific event. Let’s look at how the stories stack up

Detail: Boat

One of the first details you might notice is that scripture specifically says that Noah took two of every kind of land-dwelling animal and seven of some other animals onto the Ark.

You shall take with you of every clean animal by sevens, a male and his female; and of animals that are not clean two, a male and his female; also, of the birds of the sky, by sevens, male and female, to keep offspring alive on the face of all the earth.” – Genesis 7:2-3

The biblical dimensions of the Ark are detailed and consistent with a vessel that could float in rough waters and could house the animals described along with the provisions of the food required. Especially considering the argument for young (small) animals on the Ark along with hibernations which would require a lot less food than if full grown animals were on the boat. Let alone the argument for origin of family species (i.e. all dogs are descended from a wolf or wolf type pair representing all the canine species we know of today), which meant that a limited number of each species were on the ark, allowing for the size ratio to be consistent.

The dimensions of the boat in The Gilgamesh Epic amount to more of a cube shaped vessel with the beam equaling the length. Although we know it had seven stories (decks), it is impossible to determine the full size of the vessel. Logistically, this (house) boat could not float in a stable manner in rough seas and would not be structurally reliable.

The Genesis account is clear about the size of the Ark needed for such a cargo. We can safely calculate the size of a ship needed to the number of animals, supplies & people and come to a very reliable and realistic expectation of a ‘size to cargo ratio’. In other words, the number of animals and the size of the ark specified in the biblical account is realistic and thus reliable as a stand-alone component to the story.

The Gilgamesh Epic on the other hand, would be an unreliable account in a court of law because it leaves us with no information about how many animals were likely on board the boathouse or whether all of the necessary kinds would have been represented for repopulation (along with the obvious problems that come with the structure itself).

Detail: Water

The next detail explained in the Genesis account is that the Flood began with all the fountains of the great deep broke open, covering the whole earth to the extent of the highest mountains, along with telling us that it killed every man and land dwelling, air breathing animal of the earth (Genesis 7:11-24).

The biblical detail shows that the whole earth was covered by water coming from both above and below and that it rained continuously for 40 days and nights with the waters continuing to rise until the 150th day. Science safely concurs with the effects of such a rain, along with fact that there are, even today, underground lakes and oceans that, if burst out of the earth, would have the potential of creating such a flood. Whether the skeptic chooses to believe it’s ‘probable’ or not, it certainly can’t be denied that it’s ‘possible’ based on the details provided.

The Gilgamesh Epic, while stating the devastation of the flood on humanity, doesn’t specifically detail the full geographical extent and depth of the Flood. Also, it is unreasonable to expect so much water coverage in just six days of rain.

Detail: Birds

The Genesis account is consistently reliable on the explanation of the birds that were released. For one thing, it’s logical to send out a raven before a dove, given that ravens are scavengers while doves feed only on plants. The intervals of release of the dove are consistent with the expectation of having a drained land for vegetation and occupants, and this correlates with the dove returning with a freshly picked olive leaf and then the dove not returning at all.

By contrast, The Gilgamesh Epic mentions a dove, then a swallow, and finally a raven. There are no intervals mentioned to assess the appropriate time length for flights, and sending a raven last is questionable in that ravens may have been able to survive as scavengers.

Detail: Morality

The God of the Bible sent the Flood on an already cursed world because of man’s wicked heart that only desired evil. God’s judgment in the light of sin is righteous, moral and just.

In contrast In the Gilgamesh Epic, the gods are petty, impatient and impulsive. Simply because they don’t like their noisy human neighbours, they decide to destroy them. The gods have no justifiable moral reason to do so. Further to that, the Babylonian gods go as far as to lie and tell Utnapishtim to deceive his fellow humans about the coming wrath.

The Gilgamesh Epic promotes polytheistic mythology, whereas the Bible presents monotheistic theology. The many gods in The Gilgamesh Epic differ in ideas and motivations, and they seek to thwart each other. The God of the Bible is holy, pure, unchanging, and cannot lie. These are just a few of the character differences between the biblical God and the description of the gods in the Babylonian myth.

Details, details, details, so important to a story…

There are many more details that can be discovered if we spent more time researching, but even based solely on comparison between the perfect Word of God and the imperfect pagan myths, it is absurd to think the descriptions in the Babylonian texts could be the source of the Genesis account in the inspired Word of God.

Ultimately, even the honest skeptic can’t help but see that the Genesis Flood account gives enough credible information to allow for historical and geological confirmation, while The Gilgamesh Epic provides little that can be confirmed, and what is provided does not make sense logically or scientifically.

The Similarities Make Sense

The similarities among Ancient Near Eastern mythologies, the Gilgamesh Epic and the Bible should not cause us to question the biblical account, because they actually make sense from a biblical worldview. There really should be no surprise to see people groups all over the world with their own accounts of the Creation, the Fall, the Flood, and even the Tower of Babel. The accounts tell us people once had the same record or were eyewitnesses of common events handed down from a generation that was once congregated in the same place at the same time for a period of time.

The Gilgamesh Epic tells a sad tale of a man (who was supposedly part god) looking desperately for everlasting life. This was a man who knew of great men of old who lived long lives and supposedly became gods, and he wanted to attain this status himself. He had a desperate desire to avoid death. A Christian can hear stories like this and consider them in light of biblical truth.

It’s in the Bible that we see the devastation of sin in the judgment of death and mankind’s continual need for a Saviour. So, when we read the account of the true story of a worldwide Flood that covered the entire earth in Genesis, we can recognize both God’s faithfulness in judgment and in salvation by protecting a line of humanity for the promised Messiah.

In the light of Scripture, we see confirmation in mythology around the world that the Bible is indeed God’s Word and the only reliable source of truth. In the message of God’s Word, we see him stepping into this world and taking upon himself the wrath we deserve. Only through the consistent word of the Bible can we know that salvation is only received through faith in Jesus Christ alone.

  1. [1]The Epic of Gilgamesh, translated by Andrew George (New York: Penguin Books, 1960).

If Jesus Said I’d Do Greater Works Than These – Why Then Can’t I Walk On Water?

Recently, while visiting at a friend’s fellowship on a Sunday morning, I overheard a comment made in the foyer following the worship service. A young lady was excitedly talking to her friend about a ‘truth’ that she recently discovered while at her small group meeting and was excited about the upcoming opportunity to see it come to fruition in her life. It seems that she, and for that matter all Christians, through the power of the Holy Spirit, have the ability to walk the streets of our cities and preform amazing, superpower like miracles, in this way becoming the hands and feet of Jesus on this earth. We just need to first claim the amazing words of Jesus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.” – John 14:12 

Sounds amazingly cool and so helpful to a hurting world. Is she right? If she is then why don’t we see these words coming to fruition, on the streets of Toronto, Seattle, Perth or Beijing as a regular occurrence? After all, Jesus did say those words and he always means what he says. Jesus raised the dead, walked on water, and fed thousands – all amazing miracles. So, if it is true that those who have faith in him will perform “even greater” works than those miracles just mentioned then we should be in for an amazing show of power. Here’s the thing though; we just don’t see the evidences of this in the life of Jesus’ disciples, certainly not since the days of the Apostles. But a question I think begs to be asked is, “Should we?”“Should you and I be able to walk on water?”

Now I’m not going to argue someone’s personal experience, and I don’t doubt that God couldn’t and hasn’t healed someone through the laying on of hands and through prayer. I’ve personally seen it happen and believe and expect that God could do so again. The claim I’m specifically addressing here is that we should be the agents of “greater”things than these – meaning we should all be in the process and practice of preforming greater miracles than Jesus did.

At the risk of alienating some of you I must tell you that I don’t believe that is what he meant at all, and in fact I don’t see any evidence to substantiate it as a norm in the church’s experience – ever. Even in the days of Pentecost we didn’t see it occurring as some may argue Jesus meant it to happen. There are some who would point to the heady days of the early church such as when Peter’s shadow touched people and they were healed in Acts 5 as evidence of this happening. But when we read the passage in context, it never actually says people were healed because of Peter’s shadow. In fairness, it could have happened, but it’s speculation at best – we just don’t know.

An argument I’ve heard for why we’re not seeing amazing miracles like Jesus did today is because of other people’s unbelief or the result of the lack of faith of that pesky cessationist in the room we all know. Here’s the thing though, Jesus experienced a lack of faith from others too, even being accused of preforming demonic trickery by a room filled with faithless people. And then there are clear examples where miracles were performed on behalf of people who evidenced no faith in him at all. I mean think about it, how much faith does a corpse have?

But what about Mark 6:5 where Jesus could do no mighty work? In view of his wide range of supernatural abilities, it is hardly conceivable that Jesus failed in power on this occasion. The truth is that Jesus did perform some miracles in the territory at that time. Even Mark specifically says: “He laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them.” – Mark 6:5b. His power, therefore, was not the problem. Matthew actually explains it, “He did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.” – Matthew 13:58. Bottom line? Jesus chose to limit his miraculous demonstrations in his old neighbourhood.

Still, Jesus did actually say that not only would his followers do the same works as he did, but they would do “greater” works. So, are we missing something in the translation then? Obviously, it’s important to understand just what Jesus meant by those words of his before anyone goes about applying a worldview and then subsequently claiming promises about things that might be or might not be promised.

Here’s what we need to understand. Jesus wasn’t referencing to the works’ being greater in “power”. Simply look to the story of his friend Lazarus. Jesus had raised his friend, who had been dead already for four days in the tomb, yet later on, not even the Apostles during the days following Pentecost did a greater miracle than that. Bottom line? No one has ever exceeded the power or majesty of Jesus’ miracles – ever. Even practically speaking, we must conclude that Jesus wasn’t saying that every single Christian would walk on water, raise the dead, and bring sight to the blind. I still find it telling that with the technology we have today that allows us to record events, we have yet to see a verified raising of the dead or an individual walking on water on YouTube.

Granted, the Apostles performed some miracles that were similar to Jesus’ works, but even they didn’t walk on water or feed multitudes, as far as we know, and they most certainly didn’t transform spiritually dead souls to a new changed life or forgive sins – and what could be a greater work than that?

So, what did Jesus actually mean then that his followers would do greater works than he? Quite simply Jesus was referring to the greater “extent” of his works than what he had accomplished to that point. It’s important to understand that Jesus’ earthly ministry had been largely limited to Galilee and Judea; his disciples, however, were going to extend his ministry to the uttermost parts of the earth. The morning of Pentecost, Jesus’ followers numbered 120; forty days later, in response to the preaching of the Apostles, that number swelled into thousands and by the end of Acts, the gospel had made its way to Rome.

With some of that understanding let’s look at the words of Jesus again in the John passage. “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.” – John 14:12

Jesus was about to be arrested and suffer a cruel and unjust death. The disciples themselves are going to be scattered that very night. So, these words were of tremendous comfort for his men that night, assuring them that even after his earthly ministry ended, his work would go on. The Disciples of Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, would continue to help and heal people but it’s the fact that the gospel would now have a worldwide impact that was greater than the limited geographical scope of Jesus’ ministry.

No longer limited to Israel, we see Jesus’ work continuing in far off places like Canada and Chile, someone is finding a new life in Christ in Japan as you read this, and a life is being transformed in Denmark even while you’re getting ready for your next appointment. Every hour, even now, the great work that Jesus began is continuing all over the world. As God’s people pray in Jesus’ name, answers come, and the greatest miracle of all is now common place – nothing less than the forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ – the transformation of a sinful heart to the glory of God.

So, will we perform greater works than these? I think the evidence speaks for itself – unquestionably yes. But it’s not to be able to say we have amazing superpowers, rather it’s all to bring Glory to God. And that my friends is a wonderful reason to get excited about in any foyer after every worship service from here on in.

How To Be A Christian On Social Media

How sober minded, self controlled and Holy are we Christians – really? I know we think we are, but have we really asked that about ourselves? I bring this up because I have a social media account, actually more than one. Before you classify me as a social media ‘hater’, allow me to say that as much as I dislike aspects of the social media ‘habit’ we seem to be living in today, social media does allow for connections and updates that are not a possibility without it.

I also like using social media for teaching points and reminders of connections, among a host of other benefits, so it can be a useful tool if used responsibly. Whatever you might think about it though, it is a medium that isn’t going away any time soon so we should learn to use it.

In the end, you need to know that I’m not a social media ‘Debbie downer’. My point for bringing this up though is that while it can be a good medium, we should also be aware that it allows us all to peek into each other’s’ minds and sometimes what we discover (I’m speaking to the Christian remember), is a lack of sober minded thinking.

What I mean by that is that some, not necessarily the majority (though enough to alarm me) of the discussion I see happening in our social media platforms, conforms more to the world’s philosophy of thinking and less to a Christ centred outflow.

From my observation, a ‘Drunken Christian’ is a thing, and more prevalent than we might like to think. I’m not talking about drunk as in too much alcohol – though that can be a problem too – but rather drunken in the ‘not thinking rationally’ way.

Regarding my social media observations, I’m not going to give specific examples, instead I think that we should each of us consider our own hearts and ask the questions (in both the cyber world and the real world) the following: “Am I sober minded or am I living the Christian life like a drunken sailor?”and “Are those observing my ‘life’ seeing Christ or do they see the world?”

In the first century, Peter wasn’t dealing with social media, but he was dealing with social interactions just the same. In his first Epistle he said the following, “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” – 1 Peter 1:13-16

A few summers ago, I visited Canada’s wonderland with my family and of course had to try out a few of the rides. The Leviathan is a giant roller coaster that both of my boys wanted to try out. I had been on roller coasters before and so for the most part I knew what to expect.

But this would be their first time and so as a good dad would do in this situation I didn’t tell them a thing to help them prepare. I wanted to see how they’d react. As we got to the top of the first hill, just before the top, I made sure to look over at them as we crested the hill and began the plunge downward. It was amazing, the look on their faces that is. One of them saying over and over again “Oh Oh Oh Oh Oh”the other’s eyes like saucers, holding on for dear life.

I’m ok knowing that you’ll probably never let me look after your kids. I’ve made peace with that. The point was that they weren’t prepared for what was coming and so were put into a bit of a panic.

Peter in the passage I shared, is telling us to get prepared. Why? Because of what he was giving us a heads-up about in verse 6. That we will suffer various trials for the name of Christ. He then goes on to tell us what to do. “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. – Vs.13 In other words, keep yourself mentally fit and morally sober to fight the fight of hope.

What comes out of 1 Peter, and the whole New Testament for that matter, is that the Christian life is supposed to be a lifelived inGod. We are supposed to be constantly aware of God, constantly submitted to God, constantly trusting in God, constantly guided by God and constantly hoping in God.

What amazes me is that when I look into the culture around us today however, the alarming reality is the complete insignificance of God. Christ doesn’t play into our culture except to be used as a swear word. And so, our culture has proven itself to be Christ-less which equals hope-less. Sadly, much too often we see (usually in the social media realm) the Christian world acting out or speaking up the same way as our none Christian neighbour.

In comparison, when we look into the Word we see that the most amazing and striking thing is that God is everything. Hope and holiness come only through a Christ-filled life. And we can’t live both lives – Sundays Christ-filled and then Monday’s to Saturday’s Christ-less. In person Christ-like and on social media culture-like. We have a choice to make. It’s one or the other. Either we live a Christ-less life or we live a Christ-filled life. Since we are called to be Holy the choice is clear. There is no halfway. It’s like a woman who says “I’m kinda pregnant”You either are or you’re not.

So, if you want to live a Christ-less life that’s easy – live for yourself, just be honest about it. But if you want to live a Christ-filled life then there are some choices that need to be made.

“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. – 1 Peter 1:13

Peter says that we need to prepare our minds for action, to fasten our seatbelts because it’s gonna be a wild ride. The picture we have here is of men girding up the loins of their minds. Very picturesque. In the East, men wore long flowing robes which slowed them down from moving too quickly. Around their waist they would wear a wide belt and when action was necessary they shortened the long robe by pulling it up into the belt in order to give them freedom of movement.

The modern-day equivalent of the phrase would be to roll up one’s sleeves or to take off one’s jacket. Peter is telling his people that they must be ready for the most strenuous mental endeavour.

Never be content with a flabby and unexamined faith; don’t become complacent. Don’t be lazy. We need to think things out and think them through. And he says to be sober minded, which means that we need to be rational in our thinking. Don’t allow yourself to become intoxicated with intoxicating thoughts, don’t get caught up in the bling. Be sober-minded, mentally alert, self-controlled.

When someone is drunk, not sober, they don’t make the wisest of choices – relationships and otherwise. A few years ago, I was visiting with a friend and I noticed a very crude, cartoonish, and ugly tattoo on his forearm.

I asked him about it and he told me hated it. He then shared with me the story. He isn’t a follower of Christ yet and so doesn’t make the same life choices I do, in this case the over drinking part. He had gone out drinking with a few friends and, let me say that he tends to drink much more than is recommended.

His dad had been in the navy and he wanted to do something to honour him, which is kinda ironic since his dad hates tattoos. I personally don’t have an issue with getting inked, though I do recommend to first ‘think through’ what you’re getting. (Check out my blog post on tattoos if you want to know more about my thoughts on the matter). In his case though, there wasn’t a lot of thought put into his adventure and he ended up getting the stupidest and ugliest one you could imagine.

In his mind and in his state of intoxication – not being sober, he got carried away with what he thought was the ‘next’ exciting thing to do. He wasn’t at that moment self-controlled in his mind. And now he has a daily reminder of that soberless choice on a daily basis.

It’s no different as Disciples of Christ in the spiritual realm. If we’re not self-controlled in our minds we can get carried away with the next sudden exciting thing, even if it’s a worldly philosophy that’s opposed to a Christ-like philosophy. Sometimes even getting so intoxicated with the newest craze in the Christian scene we think that it’s the most incredible thing ever, though it may be taking our minds off of Jesus.

Peter is saying to them, and to us, to keep the balance as Disciples who know what we believe, so that when weconsider our hearts and ask the questions (in both the cyber world and the real world) the following: “Am I sober minded or am I living the Christian life like a drunken sailor?” and “Are those observing my ‘life’ seeing Christ or do they see the world?” Others can answer with confidence that yes, they see sober mindedness and Christlikeness, and as a result God is reflected throughout our world.

Can A Follower Of Jesus Be Homophobic?

A common accusation thrown at the (conservative) Christian community is that we are homophobic. Is that true? Are Christians really homophobic?

Often, we Christians are tagged homophobic because we identify homosexual behaviour as sin. But the fact is that the term homophobic is in reality a term often used by homosexual supporters to deflect genuine criticisms. Without question, there are people who have sadly developed an irrational hate of homosexuals and who are prepared to use violent actions to inflict suffering upon someone who identifies as gay.

“We Christians have sinned
in at least two major ways
when it comes to reaching the
LGBTQ community”


However, the problem is that much too often the homophobic label is placed on anyone & everyone who opposes homosexuality as a legitimate option for humanity. As a result, any Christian who is convicted in their heart that homosexuality is an unnatural sin is associated with violent lunatics who hate for hatred’s sake.

Having said that, there is still a homophobic stigma that we wear. And I believe we have that stigma in part because we Christians have sinned in at least two major ways when it comes to reaching those in the LGBTQ community.

On the one hand, some have laid aside God’s clear teaching that homosexuality is a sin in a misguided attempt to show God’s love. But love stripped of truth is not love – its deceit.

   “Truth stripped of
compassion is not love
     – its hypocrisy”


The other way we have sinned as a Christian community has been a neglected compassion or even a condescending attitude toward the LGBTQ community while feeling ‘righteous’ in our conviction as we hide behind ‘truth’. But truth stripped of compassion is not love – its hypocrisy.

Does this mean that we can’t or shouldn’t answer the arguments presented by the LGBTQ community to save us from the homophobic label? Should we just smile, nod politely and ‘live and let live’ to keep the peace? I believe that we must absolutely answer away! How else will the truth be made known? But remember that we must speak the truth in love. 

Discussion Points

There are many arguments and discussion points that are brought up in the media. For sake of time and space I’ll only share a couple of the bible’s responses below. After all, the purpose of this post isn’t to answer all the questions but to foster conversation and discovery. My hope is that this will only be a starting point for all of us to dig deeper, ask more questions and discover what other things God may have to say about this subject.

I was in a conversation recently with a friend who said, “Jesus didn’t speak about homosexuality, so he’s at least neutral if not open to it. What Jesus doesn’t condemn, we shouldn’t condemn.”

On the surface this may sound plausible; however, the problem with this argument is that this is an argument from silence. The fact is that silence doesn’t take place in a vacuum.

Should kidnapping be allowable too? After all Jesus never said that kidnapping was a sin, yet I’m sure that all of us would agree that stealing children is wrong.

It’s true that Jesus didn’t address homosexuality directly, but he did speak clearly about sexuality in general, specifically addressing and defining marriage in Matthew 19:4–6 & Mark 10:6–9 using both Genesis 1:26–27 & Genesis 2:24 to explain it. 

“At the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So, they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.” – Matthew 19:4-6

Here Jesus defines and affirms marriage as between a man and a woman, a reflection of the fact that God made us male and female to care for creation together.

If Jesus had believed in a broader definition of marriage, then here was his opportunity to present it. Yet he didn’t. Rather he was solidly affirming the male – female relationship as it had been established with the very first couple, Adam & Eve.

Another argument I have often been presented with is about the fact that we no longer follow the OT laws such as eating certain types of food, or having tattoos, or wearing clothes with mixed material. The argument is that if that’s the case then why should we accept what the OT says about same-sex relationships?

When we take a serious look at the context of those passages being disputed, we discover that some of those laws dealt with the issue of uncleanness tied to the temple and worship. The important piece to understand is that these restrictions mentioned aren’t moral laws, rather they are purity laws or restrictions that distinguished Israel from the surrounding polytheistic nations who were morally loose and sacrificed certain types of animals (and in some cases, children) as part of their worship.

Add to that, we don’t see the continuation of these purity laws into the NT era and in fact see that God declared the OT rules of clean versus unclean as null and void when the Gentiles came into the fold (Acts 10:9–29).

However, it is different when it comes to sins such as drunkenness, greed, homosexuality, gluttony, idolatry, etc., because with these sins we find that every single OT and NT text that mentions them mentions them negatively. This shows a continuity of thought and practice which spans OT to NT in belief and practice.

“The good news for a gay man or woman
is the same good news for a straight man or woman.
Homosexuality isn’t the chief sin; unbelief is”


Back to the original thought. Can a follower of Jesus be homophobic? Fact is a Christian following the teachings of Jesus Christ can’t be homophobic, even while having one fear regarding homosexuals. The Christian should have the fear that anyone practising a homosexual lifestyle (along with anyone living in disobedience to God) will suffer eternally if they decide to reject the only means of salvation – the Lord Jesus Christ.

The good news for a gay man or woman is the same good news for a straight man or woman. Homosexuality isn’t the chief sin; unbelief is, and thankfully Jesus has an answer for that.

“… do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God”. – 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

Is Easter Birthed Out Of Pagan Origins?

The other day I was having lunch with a good friend of mine. At one point the subject of Easter came up and he shared with me how he doesn’t believe we should celebrate it as Christians. Partly because it has ‘iffy’ pagan beginnings and partly because it has become less about Jesus’ resurrection and more to do with commercialism. Is he right? And if he is, should we then all cease to celebrate this Christian holiday?

Certainly, for some people in our culture, Easter Sunday is more about the Easter bunny, colourfully decorated Easter egg hunts and chocolate treats then it is about Jesus’ resurrection. Granted, most folks still know that Easter Sunday has ‘something’ to do with the resurrection of Jesus yet are unclear as to how that is related to the Easter eggs and the Easter bunny. That’s because there is no connection between the resurrection of Jesus and the common modern traditions related to Easter Sunday.

The truth is, that in order to make Christianity more attractive to non-Christians, the ancient Catholic Church mixed the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection with celebrations that involved spring fertility rituals. These spring fertility rituals are the source of the egg and bunny traditions.

Fast forward to today, our consumeristic culture can’t seem to help itself in trying to cash in on the gullibility of people to be parted with their money for none essential trinkets and sweets which focus on those eggs and bunnies. So, it seems that Easter might as well have pagan origins, since it has been almost completely commercialized – the world’s focus is on Easter eggs, Easter candy, and the Easter bunny and not on the resurrection. Does that mean we stop celebrating Easter? And what about the ‘iffy’ pagan origins?

Pagan origin theories

Some have made the claim that we get the name Easter from pagan sources, one being Ishtar an ancient Mesopotamian goddess of war, fertility, and sex. She is featured in the Epic of Gilgamesh, and the “Ishtar Gate” was a part of King Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon. Her worship involved animal sacrifices; objects made of her sacred stone, lapis lazuli; and temple prostitution.

A popular meme has been circulating the internet with these words superimposed over an image of Ishtar: “This is Ishtar: pronounced ‘Easter.’ Easter was originally the celebration of Ishtar, the Assyrian and Babylonian goddess of fertility and sex. Her symbols (like the egg and the bunny) were and still are fertility and sex symbols (or did you actually think eggs and bunnies had anything to do with resurrection?). After Constantine decided to Christianize the Empire, Easter was changed to represent Jesus. But at its roots, Easter (which is how you pronounce Ishtar) is all about celebrating fertility and sex.”

Here’s the thing, there is absolutely no conclusive connection between the pagan goddess Ishtar and the Christian celebration of Easter. Any theory that Easter is named after Ishtar is pure speculation. Added to that, there is also no proof that Ishtar was ever associated with eggs or rabbits as symbols. Truth be known – Ishtar’s sacred animal was actually a lion. Both lions and bunnies are fluffy and furry, but certainly not the same.

Another theory makes the claim that the name Easter comes from a pagan figure called Eastre (or Eostre) who was celebrated as the goddess of spring by the Saxons of Northern Europe. According to this theory, Eastre was the “goddess of the east – from where the sun rises,” her symbol was the hare (a symbol of fertility), and a festival called Eastre was held during the spring equinox by the Saxons to honour her.

This theory on the origin of Easter is highly problematic however, because we have no hard evidence that such a goddess was ever worshiped by anyone, anywhere. In fact, the only mention of Eastre comes from a passing reference in the writings of the Venerable Bede, an eighth-century monk and historian.

Bede wrote, “Eosturmononath has a name which is now translated as ‘Paschal month,’ and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate the Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance” (source: De Temporum Ratione).

Other than this one source though, Eostre is not mentioned in any other ancient writing; no shrines have ever been found, no altars discovered, and nothing has ever been identified to document the worship of Eastre. So, it is quite possible that Bede simply extrapolated the name of the goddess from the name of the month.

Others contend that the word Easter ultimately derives from the Latin phrase in albis, related to alba (“dawn” or “daybreak” in Spanish and Italian). In Old High German, in albis became eostarum, which eventually became Ostern in modern German and Easter in English.

In the end, even if it could be proved that the word Easter is etymologically related to the name of a pagan goddess such as Ishtar or Eostre, it would not change what the Easter holiday itself means to us. For that matter, I don’t think that it should go unnoticed that the word Wednesday comes from Woden’s Day in honour of the Norse god Woden or Odin – but we don’t fret about ‘that’ word’s pagan origin.

In the end, while the word Easter most likely comes from an old word for “east” or the name of a springtime month, we don’t have much evidence that suggests anything more. Assertions that Easter is pagan or that Christians have appropriated a goddess-holiday are untenable.

What Does Scripture Have to say?

Christians celebrate Easter as the resurrection of Christ on the third day after his crucifixion. It is the oldest Christian holiday and the most important day of the church year because of the significance of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. I get that because of the commercialization and possible pagan origins of Easter, many churches prefer to call it “Resurrection Sunday.”

The rationale is that, the more we focus on Christ and his work on our behalf, the better. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:17, that without the resurrection of Christ our faith is futile. What more wonderful reason could we have to celebrate!

But, whether we call it “Easter” or “Resurrection Sunday,” isn’t the important thing. What is important is the reason for our celebration, which is that Christ is alive, making it possible for us to have eternal life. “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” – Romans 6:4

So, should we celebrate Easter or allow our children to go on Easter egg hunts? This is a question both parents and church leaders struggle with. Ultimately, I believe that it comes down to a matter of conscience as Paul speaks to in Romans. “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” – Romans 14:5

There is nothing essentially evil about painting and hiding eggs and having children search for them. What is important is our focus. If our focus is on Christ, our children can be taught to understand that the eggs are just a fun game. Parents and the church, however, do have a responsibility to teach the true meaning. In the end, participation in Easter egg hunts and other secular traditions must be left up to the discretion of parents.

Regardless of where the name Easter came from, or what the world has done to commercialize an ancient experience, Easter itself is the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is a critical doctrine of the Christian faith. When we celebrate, we are making a statement declaring definitively that Jesus conquered death and the grave, proving to be the world’s Saviour from sin and death. “Whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” – John 3:16

Why Democracy Is A Poor Choice For Church Governance

It has been argued that democracy functions most effectively in a Christian culture. However, democracy is not necessarily a Christian form of government. There is no necessary aspect of democracy that absolutely requires a Christian worldview. For that matter, Christianity itself does not mandate democracy or any other form of earthly government. Democracy can exist apart from a Christian worldview. Even still, it’s been a pretty good system for the time it has existed.

The question I wish to ask us to consider is not about the idea of democracy as a form of societal governance, but rather about believing that democracy has a place within church governance. Because we live in a somewhat free and democratic society, there is an underlying belief that democracy is God ordained as the one, the only, and best way to operate in the church community too. But is it?

The Baptist Faith and Message, the confessional document of the Southern Baptist Convention, contains the following statement on the function of the church (Section VI, The Church): “Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic process.”

That’s a clear statement, if there ever is one, of their understanding of church governance. It’s a position that says that that the church is designed by God to function by majority rule through the voting of members of the congregation. As the phrase “democratic process” implies, each member in good standing has equal input in decision making.

Congregational voting – the biblical model for church function or not?

In answering that question, one must distinguish between a consensus and a vote. It is clear that Scripture encourages a consensus among church members and we are commanded to have one mind.

Paul says, “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ; so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; in no way alarmed by your opponents.” – Philippians 1:27-28

So, it seems that having one mind is the standard for God’s church, but notice it nowhere says that we are to get really good at the voting processes.

In the New Testament, we see this pattern worked out in the church at Jerusalem. In Acts 6, when men were selected for the distribution of food to the Hellenistic widows at the recommendation of the apostles, it says, “And the statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch” – Acts 6:5 (emphasis added).

This passage clearly indicates that there was a consensus because obviously a choice was made. What the passage does not mention is whether or not a vote was taken in order to make that choice. What we do know, is that the action was not initiated by the congregation but was initiated by the Apostles, who incidentally, were men who held their positions without any human vote having taken place.

Many of my friends in congregational churches (I pastor in one) tend to assume a vote was the means to reaching the consensus in Acts 6, but I really don’t think that this assumption holds up well under scrutiny. Think about times when voting has taken place – anywhere, and you’ll realize that votes never produce consensus.

That’s because a congregational vote is a choice of “yes” or “no” to a proposal that has been made. That proposal may not address the concerns of many in the congregation, so in casting a vote, the voter is sometimes forced to simply choose the lesser of two offensive options and will not be satisfied with any outcome. When the church’s vote is not unanimous, congregational voting may well create disharmony rather than consensus.

Consensus is far more likely to be reached through good communication between leaders and the congregation, especially without Roberts Rules of Order interfering with open discussion, and without limiting the content of the discussion to a single motion or the duration of the discussion to a single meeting. If a statement finds approval with an entire congregation, the leaders and the people will know it without a democratic process.

The truth is that voting and certainly the democratic process was not a part of the cultures of the Old or the New Testament and was not imposed on those cultures by commands of Scripture, as a good many other concepts were. It’s safe to say that the ‘democratic’ process comes from western tradition, not from Scripture.

In fact, I can’t find anywhere in scriptures where the church, the local Body or for that matter any other Body should be a democracy. If anything, the scriptures display a Theocracy with Jesus by the Holy Spirit as the head for the glory of God the father.

Are There Dangers That Democracy Brings?

A danger that democracy brings to the life of a congregation is the frequent error of a majority focus. Throughout history, it’s demonstrated that the majority is often horribly wrong. Look no further than Nazi Germany, or even the movement to popularize homosexuality, abortion, or a myriad of other social and spiritual ills we face in Canada today.

In Exodus 32 the people took a popular vote which led Aaron to acquiesce to the popular consensus: so, he gave them a golden calf. In 1 Samuel the popular choice was to appoint a king over Israel, so God gave them one: Saul. Throughout Scripture, the popular ‘way’ was often a sinful one. That’s why God so frequently sent prophets to hold his people accountable. Without strong, godly leadership, they were like sheep without a shepherd. There seems to be a tendency for people to be led astray in large groups.

What Is The Biblical Model of Leadership?

The biblical model for leadership and decision making within God’s church involves qualified and tested leaders making decisions on behalf of the body. This does not take place without the body’s involvement, but it does take place without granting equal power to those who have not been biblically qualified as elders. First Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are clear regarding qualifications and duties of these leaders. If equal input is given to those who haven’t been biblically qualified, the church in question is simply rejecting God’s commands regarding the function of his church.

The reason that voting is absent in Scripture may well be that voting itself is in conflict with the God-given structure for the church. Hebrews 13:17 commands, “Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.” A vote that would remove decision-making responsibility from qualified leaders is in direct opposition to the command of this text.

Democracy can’t bear the test of a careful study of Scripture. It is a system which stands in opposition to God’s design regarding church leadership and church function. As such, it is a concept that can be gently laid aside by the believer who is willing to test everything by the Word and to adjust his or her life accordingly.

You Can Have Confidence In Your Salvation

As a boy I got saved from my sin about 101 times. Well, not really, but as a 10 or 11-year-old, I would lay awake in my bed and not ‘feel’ saved’. My lack of maturity would get the best of me and I’d want to make sure that Jesus had heard me say the ‘sinner’s prayer’- again, just to make sure of course. I don’t struggle with that issue today because my confidence is rooted in my understanding and acceptance of what Jesus has already done for me, but I run across many today who are living angst driven lives, having the same fears I did as a boy, questioning their salvation and not ‘feeling’ that they’re saved. .

Here’s the thing… God’s word has a lot to say about salvation, but nothing to say about “feeling saved.” The world we live in is a feeling-oriented society and, sadly, that has spilled over into the church. But feelings are unreliable. The fact is, God promised to save us if we come to him in faith. But he never promised that we would ‘feel’ saved.

Emotions are untrustworthy. They ebb and flow like the tides of the ocean that bring in all kinds of debris and deposit them on the shore, then go back out, eroding the ground we stand on and washing it out to sea. That’s a pretty good picture of those whose emotions rule their lives. The simplest circumstances – a headache, a cloudy day, a word thoughtlessly spoken by a friend – can erode our confidence and send us “out to sea” in a fit of despair. Doubt and discouragement, particularly about the Christian life, are the inevitable result of trying to interpret our feelings as though they were truth. They are not. 

But the disciple who is forewarned and well-armed is a person not governed by feelings but by the truth she knows, not relying on feelings to prove anything. Someone who relies on feelings is someone who is so introspective that they become preoccupied with themselves, constantly analyzing their own feelings. As a result, they’ll continually question their relationship with God. “Do I really love God?” “Does he really love me?” “Am I good enough?” What we need to do is stop focusing on our feelings and instead redirect our focus to God and the truth we know about him from his Word.

The disciple’s life is about death to self and rising to “walk in the newness of life” – Romans 6:4, a life characterized by thoughts about him who saved us, not thoughts about the feelings of the dead flesh that has been crucified with Christ. When we are continually thinking about ourselves and our feelings, we are essentially obsessing about a corpse, full of rottenness and death. Not a good thing. 

As I have matured in my faith I have found scripture to be an encouragement to me and have found confidence about my salvation as I’ve spent time reading the Word. More specifically, here are three assurance sign-posts of salvation from 1 John that have blessed me over the years:

Theological: 1 John 4:14-16; 5:1-13

You should have confidence if you believe in Jesus Christ the Son of God, And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” – 1 John 5:11-13

John doesn’t want people to doubt and God wants you to have assurance, to know that you have eternal life. And this is the first sign that you believe in Jesus, that you believe he is the Christ or the Messiah,  “Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.” – 1 John 2:22.

You believe he is the Son of God, “Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son.” – 1 John 5:10.

And you believe that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.” – 1 John 4:2.

One of the signs that should give you confidence before God is that you believe in his only Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

Moral: John 15; Romans 6; Galatians 5

You should have confidence if you live a righteous life,No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.  Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God.” “Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.” – 1 John 3:6-9; 3:24

Those who practice wickedness, who plunge headlong into sin, who not only stumble, but habitually walk in wickedness, should not be confident. This is no different than what Paul tells us in Romans 6 that we are no longer slaves to sin but slaves to righteousness and in Galatians 5 that those who walk in the flesh will not inherit the kingdom. This is no different than what Jesus tells us in John 15 that a good tree cannot bear bad fruit and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 

So, if you live a morally righteous life you should have confidence. And lest this standard make you despair, keep in mind that part of living a righteous life is refusing to claim that you live without sin and coming to Christ for cleansing when you do sin, If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” – 1 John 1:9-10

know we have eternal life if we love Jesus, love his commands, and love his people.

Social: 1 John 4:7-12, 21

You should have confidence if you love other Christians, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.” – 1 John 3:14. If you hate like Cain you do not have life. But if your heart and your wallet are open to your brothers and sisters, eternal life abides in you. One necessary sign of true spiritual life is that we love one another.

These are John’s three signposts to assure us that we are on the road that leads to eternal life. These are not three things we do to earn salvation, but three indicators that God has indeed saved us. We believe in Jesus Christ the Son of God. We live a righteous life. We are generous toward other Christians. 

Or we can put it this way: we know we have eternal life if we love Jesus, love his commands, and love his people. 1 John 2:4, 6; 4:20; 5:2. No one of the three is optional. All must be present  in the Christian, and all three are meant to be signs for our assurance. Of course in varying degrees as we grow and mature but there non the less. 

John belabours the same points again and again. Do you love God? Do you love his commands? Do you love his people? If you don’t, it’s a sign you have death. If you do, it’s sign that you have life. And that means confidence instead of condemnation. 

Why We Should Talk About Hell

A while back I read Rob Bell’s book ‘Love Wins’ and it caused me to re-think a lot about how I view hell, even causing me to have some concerns about what I had been taught all my life. That fallback position to go back to ‘what I’ve always been taught’ isn’t the best standard to judge the legitimacy of an idea, though, like comfort food, can be a good starting point. I will admit that I even had some doubt about what I believe. What is hell? What is its purpose? Is it a place? Is it forever? Should we fear it? Does it cause people to turn away from God? Does it make it hard if not impossible for us to share the love of Christ with someone else? Is it a problem for Christianity?

I think that the whole idea of hell is one of Christianity’s most offensive doctrines. Peter Kreeft writes: “Of all the doctrines in Christianity, Hell is probably the most difficult to defend, the most burdensome to believe and the first to be abandoned.”

 Many are repulsed, sickened and appalled by the idea of an eternal place of punishment, especially if someone suggests that includes themselves, friends & family. “Hitler maybe, but not my grandmother.”

Because of these angsts, many Christians will avoid the topic of Hell altogether. We don’t hear it talked about from the pulpit in may churches anymore and it isn’t usually a part of the conversation around a shared meal. We don’t want to rock the boat maybe or we think that Hell isn’t a required subject when sharing the gospel.

I propose however, that we need to talk about Hell more than we do. I believe that it is integral to the Gospel message and is doing the church a disservice when we hide it away as though it is the crazy uncle we’re embarrassed to talk about.

So, I did what I always do when faced with a spiritual and / or theological question. No, I didn’t ask Siri or head to the theological depths of Wikipedia, I went to God’s word… and even more specifically the Word made flesh. If we want to answer the question of hell, then we need to look at Jesus and what he had to say on the subject.

He’s a great place to start for a few reasons. The first is that people in the West think Jesus is a pretty good guy so if you want to help others understand a particular subject it helps if you can ‘name drop’ someone they like. Oprah likes him, at least the non-confrontational Jesus, and Deepak Chopra has even written books about Jesus as a great mystic and guru of Eastern religion.

In our culture we find that Jesus isn’t painted with the same brush as that angry, vengeful, cranky God of the Old Testament who hadn’t matured out of his confusing puberty years yet. But when God finally grew up and entered his college years in the New Testament, he reemerged as the party guy named Jesus. Good times! Parties in Cana, lots of talk about love and compassion and grace, and of course helpful spiritual sound bites. Selfies all round!

The problem with this view though is that it’s not true, which is another reason why I find it helpful to go to Jesus. We get most of our understanding of hell, not from the Old Testament, but from Jesus own words. When you start reading the Gospels, you find that Jesus speaks about hell more than anyone else. About 13% of his teachings and half of his parables are about hell, judgment, punishment, and the wrath of God.

Jesus talked about hell and it follows that we should too. First though, how do we reconcile a Jesus of grace & mercy & love with a Jesus’ of wrath, punishment & hell?

I think that number one, we need to see that interwoven with the love of God is his mercy that requires justice. If a judge pardons an unrepentant child abuser without any good reason, we wouldn’t applaud his mercy and see it as an act of love, particularly when we consider the rights of the victim (and the safety of potential future victims). Mercy without justice is reckless and dangerous. True justice requires adequate payment for the crime or crimes committed.

“When a person goes through rape or child abuse, she needs to know that there is a God of such holiness and beauty that his reign can tolerate no evil.” – Tim Keller

Even if someone got off because of a loophole in the justice system, we’d call it “Injustice!” Why? Because we have something within us that tells us that injustice is wrong. It’s a universal belief that we know it has to be paid for.

If God is truly just, then there is punishment for offenses committed.

Yet, many people will demand God show them mercy while still refusing to love that very same God. “I will not follow you and obey your commands –  but don’t send me to hell.” However, the facts are that God’s mercy & love are inseparable.

The other concern I needed to address after reading Rob Bell’s book was the idea that hell was symbolic as opposed to a real cavernous abode of fire and brimstone… so I went back to the Word of God to see what is revealed there.

Some people get confused and will deduce that hell can’t be a physical place because of how it is described. For example, when scripture describes hell, it speaks about “eternal fire” “unquenchable fire”. But it also says that hell is a place of utter darkness.

So, what is it?

It’s all the above. It is fire, darkness and a real place hung in real time. Yet, because of our culture, we often imagine the fire and darkness as literal flames and literal inky blackness. Instead we need to understand the language was used to help us understand the magnitude of the place.

For example, when the bible speaks about a God of unquenchable fire, we don’t imagine him being a big ball of literal fire. Rather we understand that it’s giving us a picture of his holiness.

Likewise, when we read that God has blinded the eyes of the unbeliever in John 12:10, we don’t expect to see a bunch of unsaved people on the roads driving around with dark glasses on because they’re literally blind all of a sudden. We know that it’s speaking of their spiritual condition.

At the same time, in Luke 16, Jesus speaks about heaven and hell as being real places with hell as a place of separation from the presence of God. Yet it wasn’t utter darkness in a physical sense since the Rich man could see Lazarus (albeit through sweaty eyes). However, think about the following; Since God is the source of all spiritual light, and all joy and all wisdom and all love or good thing of any sort, and since we were originally created for God’s immediate presence, it is then only before him will we thrive, flourish, and achieve our highest potential.

So, if we were to lose his presence totally, that’d be the deepest darkness of the soul. Without his light, we can only expect the loss of our capability for giving or receiving love or joy and finding any kind of satisfaction.

Add to that the picture of fire which speaks to its nature as a degenerater, something that deteriorates to ash everything it touches. Even in this life we can see the kind of soul deterioration that self-centeredness creates.

We know how selfishness and self-absorption leads to piercing bitterness, nauseating envy, paralyzing anxiety, paranoid thoughts, and the mental denials and distortions that accompany them.

We see this process in a small way in addictions such as drugs, alcohol, gambling, and pornography. First there is the degeneration, because as time goes on you need more and more of the addictive substance to get an equal kick, which leads to less and less satisfaction.

And then add the bitter darkness that isolation brings we had talked about in the Rich man’s situation, as increasingly you blame others and the surrounding environment or circumstances in order to justify your behaviour.

With that in mind ask the question:

“What if when we die we don’t end, but spiritually our life extends into eternity?”

With that picture in your mind’s eye you can see that Hell is the fire or the deterioration of a soul by living a self-absorbed, self-centred, angst driven, anxiety filled, blame shifting life – going on & on forever.

“Yeah, but I’m not all that bad. I haven’t murdered somebody, I’m not a drug addict, I don’t look at porn – often. I only get mad at ‘stupid’ drivers, God will be fair and let me into heaven.”

Jesus didn’t say the greatest commandment is to not murder, or to not commit adultery, though he did say that if you had anger in your heart you’ve committed murder, or if you’ve ever lusted after someone other than your spouse you’ve committed adultery.

But what Jesus did say was that the greatest commandment was, “to love God with all your heart soul and mind.” There is no greater evidence of the inability of man to obey God’s law than this one commandment. No human being with a fallen nature can possibly love God with all his heart, soul, and strength 24 hours a day. It’s humanly impossible.

Even without considering the sins we commit daily, we are all condemned by our inability to fulfill this one commandment. Further to that, the Bible declares that everyone sins, and that all sin is ultimately against God.

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” – Romans 3:23

“Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.” – Psalm 51:4

Those verses are sobering enough, but then also understand that those who go to Hell aren’t going to be suddenly sinless and perfect. Those who go into eternity without Christ will be confirmed in their decision to not follow him while on earth.

Jesus said that there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” in Hell. The gnashing of teeth isn’t a picture of someone who is in sorrow and repentance but rather a picture of a continued defiance toward God.

In Hell there will be no repentance.

So, unless you surrender your life to God in this lifetime, you will not only be living in disobedience to God for 70, 80, 90, or 100 years, you will be in disobedience before him for eternity – which requires an eternal penalty.

Why did Jesus speak about hell more than anyone else in the Bible? Because he wanted us to see what he was going to endure on the cross on our behalf so that we might choose heaven – so that we might choose God.

On the cross, Jesus’s sacrifice was scarcely describable: this bloodied, disfigured remnant of a man was given a cross that was perhaps recycled, likely covered in the blood, feces, and urine of other men who had used it previously. Hanging there in immense pain, he slowly suffocated to death. All the while knowing he could end the suffering, but choosing not to for our benefit.

But that wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was the separation from the Father that Jesus felt, a separation that was like hell itself. “My God, my God,” he cried out, “Why have you forsaken me?” – Matthew 27:46

An eternity without God is hell.

Without the cleansing of sin that he provides, and the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit who lives in the hearts of the redeemed, loving God to any degree is impossible.

But, when we receive the free gift of salvation offered by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, we are cleansed from sin and receive the Spirit of holiness to do the impossible. That being, a transformation of our hearts and minds to love God as we have been commanded to do, and as a result heaven becomes our home. This is great news!

That is why we talk about hell, because it allows us to talk about Jesus and his sacrifice… it allows us to make Jesus known, it brings clarity to the Gospel message about why Jesus died, and it lets us brag up our Saviour in order to bring him all the glory he deserves.

What Is The Cure For Evil & Suffering?

Why does God allow evil? If God has the power to prevent evil and desires to prevent evil, why does he still allow evil? Why isn’t he doing something about it? If God created the world the way it is today; he wouldn’t be a God of love, but rather an evil God.

These are some of the questions posed, sincerely and not so sincere, by many people. Sometimes they are used to bolster arguments against God and sometimes are asked in a sincere quest to ‘understand’.

We might not have any easy answers (if any at all) about why God allows evil and suffering, but we can know the ultimate cure for evil, suffering and death – his name is Jesus. When asking questions of such importance, I believe that the best place to find answers is found in God’s word. That being the case, let’s look at five truths found in God’s word, that if embraced, will be a source of encouragement for the Jesus follower.

God didn’t create a fallen world

 The first truth to embrace is that God didn’t create the world in the state in which it is now, instead evil came as a result of the selfishness and sinful disobedience of human beings.

The truth of the matter is that God is a God of love and his desire was to create a person and eventually a race that would choose to love him. However genuine love can’t exist unless it’s freely given through free choice. Mankind was given the choice to accept God’s love or to reject it which made evil a very real possibility.

The thing is that if God hadn’t allowed for the possibility of evil, mankind would be serving God out of obligation, not choice. He created us as real human beings with the ability to love and follow him – or not. Unfortunately, we chose the “not,” and brought sin and evil into the picture.

If Adam and Eve had only obeyed God, then they may have lived on earth forever, walking with God, tending the garden, working together, no mosquitos. But after they sinned, they were just not on the same page with God anymore. That’s because God can’t tolerate sin, having no sin within himself.

Maybe we should just blame Adam and Eve for the evil in the world. After all, they blamed each other and the serpent; however, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” – Romans 3:23

I think that it’s safe to say that, had we been in the garden instead of Adam and Eve, we would have sinned in the same way. Now, because of the fall, the world is chaotic and abnormal. Things are not in the state that they should be in. Nature is not always kind and there is conflict between each other. Health issues, hunger issues, abuse issues… none of these conditions were true before the fall when God created it all good.

God knows what’s best

The arguments go something like this: If God is good, then maybe he isn’t powerful enough to deal with all the evil and injustice in the world since it is still going on. Or, if God is powerful enough to stop wrongdoing, yet all-knowing and so must know about the pain and suffering inflicted, then he must be evil since he’s not doing anything about it, even though he has the capability.

The truth is that God knows what’s best even when we don’t. Although the Bible informs us how and why evil came about, it does not tell us why God allowed it to happen. However, we do know that God is all-wise and all-knowing and that he has reasons for allowing things to happen that go way beyond our understanding.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:8-9

All one has to do is read Job to see that no one understands the depth of wisdom and knowledge possessed by God. We are not his counselor! He does as he pleases and we are left to praise him for what he does!

That would be a good lesson for us all to learn as we go through life. We need to stop trying to figure out the ‘why’ of everything and start simply learning to trust God by faith. He knows what he is doing, we don’t! He sees the future and knows what is best for now and then, we don’t!

God has a plan

In the middle of all the evil and suffering, one thing becomes abundantly clear. God has a plan to redeem fallen mankind. The salvation Jesus provides attests to his goodness and love, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8

The Bible clearly reveals the devastating effects of sin and the hopelessness of man in solving his own sin problem. Because of this ‘sin situation’ we find ourselves in, a proper understanding of the doctrine of sin is essential to understanding God’s remedy for it.

Jesus called Satan “the ruler of this world” – John 12:31, which means Satan has been allowed a certain amount of authority over this world. The blame for the evil in this world should be placed squarely upon Satan. Much is written about the devil – he comes only to kill, steal, and destroy (John 10:10). He is a fierce enemy and a liar and a murderer.

By contrast, Jesus is the Good Shepherd who gives his life for the sheep. God’s plan was to send his son to earth to die in our place because we could never hope to take care of our sin problem and defeat the devil on our strength, wisdom or terms. It had to be through God’s sinless son.

Though evil is here and it is real, it is temporary because of Jesus. Jesus is Goodness incarnate. Evil will eventually be destroyed. This is the hope that the believer has. After all, our God is the God of justice, and he will one day make all things right (Revelation 21:5). Because of Christ, we have the promise of Romans 16:20, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.”

There is a new world coming in which there will be no more tears or pain because all things will be made new. Paradise lost will be paradise regained.

God is delaying for us

Some ask, “That’s all fine and good, but a truly good God would eliminate evil today.” My question is, “But then, are you ready to be eliminated, since you – like me – are to some degree evil?” The truth is that the total annihilation of evil is a part of the plan. There will one day come a time when God will judge the sin in this world and make all things new.

Great news if you are already counted among those who have repented of their sin, but what about those who haven’t yet made things right with God? The great news is the fourth truth to embrace, which is that God is purposely “delaying” in order to allow more time for people to repent so that he will not need to condemn them. God’s desire is that for all of our sakes we would obey him that it might be well with us.

 “Oh, that they had such a heart as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it might go well with them and with their descendants forever!” – Deuteronomy 5:29

Instead, what happens is that we choose our own way, and then we blame God for not doing anything about it. That’s the heart of sinful man.

But Jesus came to change our hearts through the power of the Holy Spirit, and he does this for those who will turn from evil and call on him to save them from their sin and its consequences.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” – 2 Corinthians 5:17

Just picture the Sinless One who created everything, willfully hanging on a cross and spilling his blood for the sin of those who put their faith in him. Jesus proves God’s love. “Love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” – 1 John 4:7-8.

God has experienced suffering

For whatever reason God chose to make man as he is – limited and suffering and subject to evil, pain and death – yet God had the honesty and the courage to take his own medicine. He can demand nothing from man that he has not demanded from himself.

He has himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair and death. He was born in poverty and died in disgrace and thought it absolutely worthwhile.

Yes, God suffered too. It’s easy to forget that the Holy God of the universe chose, out of love, to humble himself, become one of us, and ultimately to suffer in ways none of us every will (or ever could imagine) in order to purchase our redemption.

As a result, he can not only forgive our sins and freely give us salvation, but also sympathize with all we’re going through.

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” – Hebrews 4:14-16

God does prevent and restrain some acts of evil. Thankfully so, because this world would be MUCH WORSE were not for God restraining evil. At the same time, God has given us the ability to choose good and evil, and when we choose evil, he allows us, and those around us, to suffer the consequences of evil.

So in the end, rather than blaming God and questioning him on why he doesn’t prevent or eliminate all evil, we should be about the business of proclaiming the cure for evil and its consequences – Jesus Christ!

Legalized Pot – What Should Be The Church’s Response?

Following up on the news that Canada would be legalizing recreational marijuana use, I was asked by a friend what I believed the Christian’s stand should be. I didn’t have a ready answer and so ended up immediately going to my safe place ‘position’ by stating that the answer is something we, the church, need to wrestle with.

I believe we need to wrestle with this new reality right now. Especially given that if you’re a Canadian pastor, you’ll now be able to ‘legally’ fire up a reefer at your next staff retreat. Should that be acceptable? Some of you will be celebrating that news, while others will be recoiling in horror.

In the past, the answer to this issue was easy enough by simply pointing to the legality of it. We simply made mention that we must obey the law of the land. After all, whether we like it or not, God calls us to obey the authorities. conversation over – a sweet moral trump card for pastors.

However, in Canada at least, the trump card is gone. That being the case do we accept the ‘law of the land’ as our determining factor? Maybe then accept it and view it as an opportunity to evangelize? Imagine with me the hip pastors, free to spark a bowl with the lost in order to be “incarnational” because after all it is now ‘ok’ to use according to the law of the land.

The problem with that is that we can’t use the law of the land to determine the Christian’s measurement of freedom. I could be an alcoholic, adulterous, deceitful, prescription-abusing, manipulative, hate-filled connoisseur of grotesque pornography and still be OK, legally and socially. The government’s stamp of approval doesn’t mean I should partake.

Since that initial conversation, I have spent considerable time praying, pondering, and discovering what I ultimately feel will allow me to offer a much more intelligent response to the next person who poses that same question to me. Here are four questions to ask ourselves as we step into this new age of legal marijuana.

Does Scripture Give permission?

Pat answers to the question of recreational marijuana use are often unhelpful. Responses without nuance will not best serve the church in the long run. To say that alcohol is permissible, and weed isn’t, because “Christians drink beer and wine for the taste, but people only smoke pot to get stoned,” just won’t do.

Let’s be honest. We don’t drink beer and wine only for the taste. Even moderate drinking, which is biblically permissible, has lubricating psychoactive effects. From a biblical perspective, this lubricating effect can be acceptable. While drunkenness is clearly prohibited throughout scripture, God has given “wine to gladden the heart of man” – Psalm 104:14-15.

However, evangelical churches sometimes have prohibited the use of alcohol among members because the Bible forbids drunkenness. This is a mistake because the Bible warns us against such extra biblical prohibitions, “…Who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.” – 1 Timothy 4:3

Scripture actually permits the moderate use of alcohol, when it can be enjoyed in faith, even though it has psychoactive effects. But is marijuana permitted? I don’t believe it is. I’ll share my reasons as we move on. But I think a good starting point for my hypothesis is because Alcohol and Pot are not the same, much like comparing apples to oranges.

Firstly, unlike alcohol, marijuana has many different effects on an individual due to its complex chemical makeup. There are at least 113 different chemical compounds (cannabinoids) inside the cannabis plant that combine to cause a variety of effects on an individual when smoked or ingested. As well, cannabis has not been a staple in cultures all around the world for use in celebrations and ceremonies, whereas alcohol has been, as seen at the wedding in Cana found in John 2. Further to that, we can easily see in culture as a whole that unlike alcohol, cannabis has been a cultural symbol of rebellion for a large part of the last century.

Keeping with the cultural theme, we see that it wasn’t cannabis used but wine (yes it was fermented) that was used by Jesus in his Last Supper, a Christian cultural event which is to be regularly commemorated by the church.

Some may claim that the only reason we don’t see a prohibition of cannabis in the bible is that the writers of the scriptures, didn’t know about or didn’t see the need, to address it. However, if you hold to the truth that these same writers were inspired through the Holy Spirit and that the Word is meant for all generations and cultures, then we should not take lightly what we see written – and not written. So, the fact that the Bible gives us clear and direct permission for the moderate use of alcohol while never directly referencing other psychoactive compounds such as marijuana should be a strong clue to aid us in reaching our conclusions.

Is It a Healthy Choice?

Paul said, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be dominated by anything. Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food – and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So, glorify God in your body.” – 1 Corinthians 6:12-20

Now before you say it, I already know that the context is not specifically about harming the body, however the clear implication is that we are not to intentionally do things that hurt our bodies (among others, one of the reasons for not getting drunk).

A recent study by the Journal of Neuroscience demonstrates that even casual marijuana use changes the brain and can lead to mental illness (see USA Today and Journal of Neuroscience). While heavy drinking (alcohol abuse) has also been linked to mental health disorders, moderate drinking has not.

Even without studies, there is a reason that marijuana has long been associated with the couch, a bag of chips, and a television remote, and has never been associated with engaged parenting. It’s because we all know that regular marijuana use causes disengagement, dulling individuals into a long-term, slow, and subtle numbness. Studies have actually shown a high correlation between regular cannabis use and the clinical diagnosis of Amotivational Syndrome.

Recreational marijuana use is not consistent with anything the Word of God tells us about the Christian life. We are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, not by the deadening of our minds. We are to be sober-minded about the devil’s schemes, not so stoned that we don’t even care. We are to be filled with the Holy Spirit, not baked/blasted/wasted by what is undeniably a harmful drug.

The health implications are by no means a secret. And the detailed scientific study demonstrating the effects of marijuana use on the brain was probably unneeded. Even simple observation demonstrates that marijuana deadens the brain, resulting in laziness and an inability to concentrate or think clearly. So, very similar to using tobacco and abusing alcohol, the recreational use of marijuana should be avoided due to its adverse effect on health especially given that marijuana is addictive (see Psychology Today).

Does It Help Us See Clearly?

Our trajectory as Christians, our aim is to seek the reality of God’s glory. But sin has distorted our vision and corrupted our world. Ever since sin first entered the world, all of us have been born spiritually dead, unable to discern the true glory of God. When we experience the redemptive work of Christ through the Holy Spirit, we are awakened to the reality and beauty of God. But until we see him face to face, we still see his glory as through a glass dimly.

As redeemed believers, we are on a journey to knowing him without obstruction. Therefore, we do not want to distort reality; rather, we aim to know him as he really is. We want to see things as they really are. With that understanding, the Christian use of any kind of psychoactive substance should always align with this gospel goal of looking to see things clearer. We do not want our vision of reality distorted.

Inevitably the coffee and alcohol arguments are used in this discussion. So, I’ll bite. First of all, why do people drink coffee in the morning? To help them to see things as they really are, rather than through the fog of grogginess. The right and proper use of this God-given substance helps us see things as they really are.

But how does this principle apply to alcohol? At times, moderate lubrication in Godward celebrations can be in keeping with the reality. People don’t drink wine at funerals, which are a reminder of the curse and consequences of sin. If someone drank wine at a funeral, I would wonder whether they have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol.

But people do drink wine at weddings, in which we celebrate the profound parable being played out before our eyes: the great Bridegroom coming for his bride, the church! And wine (clearly) will have a God-given role at the final consummating celebration (Mark 14:23-25). In this way, the proper and moderate use of alcohol used in the way God intended, can be a clarifier, not a distorter as it points us to the joy, fellowship, and celebration of the great coming feast.

 The question though is whether or not there is a proper and moderate use of marijuana that can actually serve to clarify and point to biblical realities like coffee does and alcohol may in certain circumstances? Or does the recreational use of marijuana always distort?

Research concludes overwhelmingly that recreational cannabis distorts reality and numbs people to the ability to experience life as it truly is. Even a relatively small amount puts the infrequent user into a fog. A larger amount can potentially cause paranoia.

As Christians, our goal is knowing and experiencing the full and undistorted reality of the glory of God in our resurrected physical bodies. “For now, we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” – 1 Corinthians 13:12

What Should Be Our Response?

Now I know that there is a difference for smoking marijuana for health reasons and smoking for recreational reasons. Most of us understand the difference. We’ve all been given prescriptions by our doctors for certain purposes, but then don’t turn around and use the fact that we have been given the prescription for our cure as an excuse to use recreationally – that’d be lunacy.

However, it’s the recreational use of cannabis that seems to violate the Christian value of sobriety. As our culture celebrates the casual use of cannabis today, and does so increasingly in the coming days, we should be vigilant not to be deceived as a church. We should not idly stand by as we watch brothers and sisters who profess faith in Christ enter into a mind-numbing, reality-distorting cloud.

We should encourage one another to peer through the dim glass and discern the glory of God with all our might as the Day draws near, “Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” – Hebrews 10:25

Having said that, it is worth saying that we should also be careful not to make the same mistakes that churches have made in the past with regard to alcohol (some churches even with coffee), adding extra prohibitions to God’s revealed word. Instead we should be quick to engage with individual members who we may discover are using marijuana, asking them questions while seeking to understand, being ready to exhort and rebuke in love if it becomes apparent that they are violating the biblical standards of sobriety and integrity.

The details and nuances we’ll encounter will be complex, but Jesus’s church, holding fast to his word, led by a team of wise pastors, will be up for the challenge. God will have new opportunities for us to be salt and light as we walk together by faith in this age of legal marijuana.