ENCOURAGEMENT TODAY, CONQUERING DOUBT PART 39



09/15/21


Question: "Is it true that everything happens for a reason?"


Answer: Does everything happen for a reason? The short answer is “yes”; because God is sovereign, there are no random, out-of-control happenings. God’s purposes may be hidden from us, but we can be assured that every event has a reason behind it.

There was a reason for the blindness of the man in John 9, although the disciples misidentified the reason (John 9:1–3). There was a reason for Joseph’s mistreatment, although his brothers’ purpose in what they did to him was very different from God’s purpose in allowing it (Genesis 50:20). There was a reason for Jesus’ death—the authorities in Jerusalem had their reasons, based on evil intent, and God had His, based on righteousness. God’s sovereignty extends even to the lowliest of creatures: “Not one [sparrow] falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will” (Matthew 10:29, NET).

Several factors help us know that everything happens for a reason: the law of cause and effect, the doctrine of original sin, and the providence of God. All these demonstrate that everything does happen for a reason, not just by happenstance or by random chance.

First, there is the natural law of cause and effect, also known as the law of sowing and reaping. Paul says, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7–8). This means that in every action we take or word we utter, whether good or evil, there are certain inevitable results that follow (Colossians 3:23–25). Someone may ask, “Why am I in jail? Is there a reason for this?” and the answer may be, “Because you robbed your neighbor’s house and got caught.” That’s cause and effect.

All that we do is either an investment in the flesh or an investment in the Spirit. We shall reap whatever we have sown, and we shall reap in proportion to how we have sown. “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously” (2 Corinthians 9:6). The believer who walks in the Spirit and “sows” in the Spirit is going to reap a spiritual harvest. If his sowing has been generous, the harvest will be bountiful, if not in this life, certainly in the life to come. Conversely, those who “sow” to the flesh are going to reap a life without the full blessings of God, both in this life and the life to come (Jeremiah 18:10; 2 Peter 2:10–12).

The reason some things happen can often be traced back to original sin in the Garden of Eden. The Bible is clear that the world is under a curse (Genesis 3:17), which has resulted in infirmities, diseases, natural disasters, and death. All these things, although under God’s ultimate control, are sometimes used by Satan to inflict misery upon people (see Job 1–2; Luke 9:37–42; 13:16). Someone may ask, “Why did I contract this illness? Is there a reason for it?” and the answer may be one or more of the following: 1) “Because you live in a fallen world, and we are all subject to illness”; 2) “Because God is testing you and strengthening your faith”; or 3) “Because, in love, God is disciplining you according to Hebrews 12:7–13 and 1 Corinthians 11:29–30.”

Then we have what is called the providence of God. The doctrine of providence holds that God quietly and invisibly works through the natural world to manage events. God, in His providence, works out His purposes through natural processes in the physical and social universe. Every effect can be traced back to a natural cause, and there is no hint of the miraculous. The best that man can do to explain the reason why things happen in the course of natural events is to point to “coincidence.”

Believers proclaim that God arranges the coincidences. The unbeliever derides such ideas because he believes natural causes can fully explain each event without reference to God. Yet followers of Christ are wholly assured of this profound truth: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

The book of Esther shows divine providence at work. The banishment of Vashti, the selection of Esther, the plot of the assassins, the pride of Haman, the courage of Mordecai, the insomnia of the king, the bloodlust of Zeresh, and the reading of the scroll—everything in the book happens, like cogs in a well-oiled machine, to bring about the deliverance of God’s people. Although God is never mentioned in Esther, His providence, working through “coincidence,” is plain to see.

God is always at work in the lives of His people, and in His goodness will bring them to a good end (see Philippians 1:6). The events that define our lives are not simply products of natural causes or random chance. They are ordained by God and are intended for our good. We often fail to sense God’s hidden guidance or protection as events in our lives unfold. But, when we look back at past events, we are able to see His hand more clearly, even in times of tragedy.


Question: "What does it mean that God is sovereign?"

Answer: God’s sovereignty is one of the most important principles in Christian theology, as well as one of its most hotly debated. Whether or not God is actually sovereign is usually not a topic of debate; all mainstream Christian sects agree that God is preeminent in power and authority. God’s sovereignty is a natural consequence of His omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence. What’s subject to disagreement is to what extent God applies His sovereignty—specifically, how much control He exerts over the wills of men. When we speak of the sovereignty of God, we mean He rules the universe, but then the debate begins over when and where His control is direct and when it is indirect.

God is described in the Bible as all-powerful and all-knowing (Psalm 147:5), outside of time (Exodus 3:14; Psalm 90:2), and responsible for the creation of everything (Genesis 1:1; John 1:1). These divine traits set the minimum boundary for God’s sovereign control in the universe, which is to say that nothing in the universe occurs without God’s permission. God has the power and knowledge to prevent anything He chooses to prevent, so anything that does happen must, at the very least, be “allowed” by God.

At the same time, the Bible describes God as offering humanity choices (Deuteronomy 30:15–19), holding them personally responsible for their sins (Exodus 20:5), and being unhappy with some of their actions (Numbers 25:3). The fact that sin exists at all proves that not all things that occur are the direct actions of God, who is holy. The reality of human volition (and human accountability) sets the maximum boundary for God’s sovereign control over the universe, which is to say there is a point at which God chooses to allow things that He does not directly cause.

The fact that God is sovereign essentially means that He has the power, wisdom, and authority to do anything He chooses within His creation. Whether or not He actually exerts that level of control in any given circumstance is actually a completely different question. Often, the concept of divine sovereignty is oversimplified. We tend to assume that, if God is not directly, overtly, purposefully driving some event, then He is somehow not sovereign. The cartoon version of sovereignty depicts a God who must do anything that He can do, or else He is not truly sovereign.

Of course, such a cartoonish view of God’s sovereignty is logically false. If a man were to put an ant in a bowl, the “sovereignty” of the man over the ant is not in doubt. The ant may try to crawl out, and the man may not want this to happen. But the man is not forced to crush the ant, drown it, or pick it up. The man, for reasons of his own, may choose to let the ant crawl away, but the man is still in control. There is a difference between allowing the ant to leave the bowl and helplessly watching as it escapes. The cartoon version of God’s sovereignty implies that, if the man is not actively holding the ant inside the bowl, then he must be unable to keep it in there at all.

The illustration of the man and the ant is at least a vague parallel to God’s sovereignty over mankind. God has the ability to do anything, to take action and intervene in any situation, but He often chooses to act indirectly or to allow certain things for reasons of His own. His will is furthered in any case. God’s “sovereignty” means that He is absolute in authority and unrestricted in His supremacy. Everything that happens is, at the very least, the result of God’s permissive will. This holds true even if certain specific things are not what He would prefer. The right of God to allow mankind’s free choices is just as necessary for true sovereignty as His ability to enact His will, wherever and however He chooses.


Question: "What does it mean that God is omniscient?"


Answer: Omniscience is defined as “the state of having total knowledge, the quality of knowing everything.” For God to be sovereign over His creation of all things, whether visible or invisible, He has to be all-knowing. His omniscience is not restricted to any one person in the Godhead—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all by nature omniscient.

God knows everything (1 John 3:20). He knows not only the minutest details of our lives but those of everything around us, for He mentions even knowing when a sparrow falls or when we lose a single hair (Matthew 10:29-30). Not only does God know everything that will occur until the end of history itself (Isaiah 46:9-10), but He also knows our very thoughts, even before we speak forth (Psalm 139:4). He knows our hearts from afar; He even saw us in the womb (Psalm 139:1-3, 15-16). Solomon expresses this truth perfectly when he says, “For you, you only, know the hearts of all the children of mankind” (1 Kings 8:39).

Despite the condescension of the Son of God to empty Himself and make Himself nothing (Philippians 2:7), His omniscience is clearly seen in the New Testament writings. The first prayer of the apostles in Acts 1:24, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart,” implies Jesus’ omniscience, which is necessary if He is to be able to receive petitions and intercede at God’s right hand. On earth, Jesus’ omniscience is just as clear. In many Gospel accounts, He knew the thoughts of his audience (Matthew 9:4; 12:25; Mark 2:6-8; Luke 6:8). He knew about people’s lives before He had even met them. When He met the woman collecting water at the well at Sychar, He said to her, “The fact is you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband” (John 4:18). He also tells His disciples that their friend Lazarus was dead, although He was over 25 miles away from Lazarus’s home (John 11:11-15). He advised the disciples to go and make preparation for the Lord’s Supper, describing the person they were to meet and follow (Mark 14:13-15). Perhaps best of all, He knew Nathanael before ever meeting him, for He knew his heart (John 1:47-48).

Clearly, we observe Jesus’ omniscience on earth, but this is where the paradox begins as well. Jesus asks questions, which imply the absence of knowledge, although the Lord asks questions more for the benefit of His audience than for Himself. However, there is another facet regarding His omniscience that comes from the limitations of the human nature which He, as Son of God, assumed. We read that as a man He “grew in wisdom and stature” (Luke 2:52) and that He learned “obedience through suffering” (Hebrews 5:8). We also read that He did not know when the world would be brought to an end (Matthew 24:34-36). We, therefore, have to ask, why would the Son not know this, if He knew everything else? Rather than regarding this as just a human limitation, we should regard it as a controlled lack of knowledge. This was a self-willed act of humility in order to share fully in our nature (Philippians 2:6-11; Hebrews 2:17) and to be the Second Adam.

Finally, there is nothing too hard for an omniscient God, and it is on the basis of our faith in such a God that we can rest secure in Him, knowing that He promises never to fail us as long as we continue in Him. He has known us from eternity, even before creation. God knew you and me, where we would appear in the course of time, and whom we would interact with. He even foresaw our sin in all its ugliness and depravity, yet, in love, He set his seal upon us and drew us to that love in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:3-6). We shall see Him face to face, but our knowledge of Him will never be complete. Our wonder, love and praise of Him shall go on for all millennia as we bask in the rays of His heavenly love, learning and appreciating more and more of our omniscient God.


Question: "What does it mean that God is omnipotent?"

Answer: The word omnipotent comes from omni-meaning “all” and potent meaning “power.” As with the attributes of omniscience and omnipresence, it follows that, if God is infinite, and if He is sovereign, which we know He is, then He must also be omnipotent. He has all power over all things at all times and in all ways. 

Job spoke of God’s power in Job 42:2: “I know that you can do all things and that no plan of yours can be thwarted.” Job was acknowledging God’s omnipotence in carrying out His plans. Moses, too, was reminded by God that He had all power to complete His purposes regarding the Israelites: “The LORD answered Moses, ‘Is the LORD's arm too short? You will now see whether or not what I say will come true for you’” (Numbers 11:23). 

Nowhere is God’s omnipotence seen more clearly than in creation. God said, “Let there be…” and it was so (Genesis 1:3, 6, 9, etc.). Man needs tools and materials to create; God simply spoke, and by the power of His word, everything was created from nothing. “By the word of the LORD were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth” (Psalm 33:6).

God’s power is also seen in the preservation of His creation. All life on earth would perish were it not for God’s continual provision of everything we need for food, clothing and shelter, all from renewable resources sustained by His power as the preserver of man and beast (Psalm 36:6). The seas which cover most of the earth, and over which we are powerless, would overwhelm us if God did not proscribe their limits (Job 38:8-11).

God’s omnipotence extends to governments and leaders (Daniel 2:21), as He restrains them or lets them go their way according to His plans and purposes. His power is unlimited in regard to Satan and his demons. Satan’s attack on Job was limited to only certain actions. He was restrained by God’s unlimited power (Job 1:12; 2:6). Jesus reminded Pilate that he had no power over Him unless it had been granted to him by the God of all power (John 19:11). 

Being omnipotent, God can do everything that is in harmony with His Holy character. The Bible reveals that He cannot do things which are contrary to His Holy character. For example, Numbers 23:19, Titus 1:2, and Hebrews 6:18 teach that He cannot lie. God lacks the ability to lie because lying is contrary to His moral perfection. In the same way, despite His being all-powerful and hating evil, He allows evil to happen, according to His good purpose. He uses certain evil events to allow His purposes to unfold, such as when the greatest evil of all occurred—the killing of the perfect, holy, innocent Lamb of God for the redemption of mankind.

As God incarnate, Jesus Christ is omnipotent. His power is seen in the miracles He performed—His numerous healings, the feeding of the five thousand (Mark 6:30-44), calming the storm (Mark 4:37-41), and the ultimate display of power, raising Lazarus and Jairus’s daughter from the dead (John 11:38-44; Mark 5:35-43), an example of His control over life and death. Death is the ultimate reason that Jesus came—to destroy it (1 Corinthians 15:22; Hebrews 2:14) and to bring sinners into a right relationship with God. The Lord Jesus stated clearly that He had power to lay down His life and power to take it up again, a fact that He allegorized when speaking about the temple (John 2:19). He had power to call upon twelve legions of angels to rescue Him during His trial, if needed (Matthew 26:53), yet He offered Himself in humility in place of others (Philippians 2:1-11). 

The great mystery is that this power can be shared by believers who are united to God in Jesus Christ. Paul says, "Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me" (2 Corinthians 12:9b). God’s power is exalted in us most when our weaknesses are greatest because He “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20). It is God’s power that continues to hold us in a state of grace despite our sin (2 Timothy 1:12), and by His power we are kept from falling (Jude 24). His power will be proclaimed by all the host of heaven for all eternity (Revelation 19:1). May that be our endless prayer!



Question: "What does it mean that God is omnipresent?"


Answer: The prefix omni- originates in Latin and means “all.” So, to say that God is omnipresent is to say that God is present everywhere. In many religions, God is regarded as omnipresent, whereas in both Judaism and Christianity, this view is further subdivided into the transcendence and immanence of God. Although God is not totally immersed in the fabric of creation (pantheism), He is present everywhere at all times. 

God's presence is continuous throughout all of creation, though it may not be revealed in the same way at the same time to people everywhere. At times, He may be actively present in a situation, while He may not reveal that He is present in another circumstance in some other area. The Bible reveals that God can be both present to a person in a manifest manner (Psalm 46:1; Isaiah 57:15) and present in every situation in all of creation at any given time (Psalm 33:13-14). Omnipresence is God's characteristic of being present to all ranges of both time and space. Although God is present in all time and space, God is not locally limited to any time or space. God is everywhere and in every now. No molecule or atomic particle is so small that God is not fully present to it, and no galaxy so vast that God does not circumscribe it. But if we were to remove creation, God would still know of it, for He knows all possibilities, whether they are actual or not.

God is naturally present in every aspect of the natural order of things, in every manner, time and place (Isaiah 40:12; Nahum 1:3). God is actively present in a different way in every event in history as provident guide of human affairs (Psalm 48:7; 2 Chronicles 20:37; Daniel 5:5-6). God is in a special way attentively present to those who call upon His name, who intercede for others, who adore God, who petition, and who pray earnestly for forgiveness (Psalm 46:1). Supremely, He is present in the person of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:19), and mystically present in the universal church that covers the earth and against which the gates of hell will not prevail.

Just as the omniscience of God suffers apparent paradoxes due to the limitations of the human mind, so does the omnipresence of God. One of these paradoxes is important: the presence of God in hell, that place unto which the wicked are departed and suffer the unlimited and unceasing fury of God because of their sin. Many argue that hell is a place of separation from God (Matthew 25:41), and if so, then God cannot be said to be in a place that is separated from Him. However, the wicked in hell endure His everlasting anger, for Revelation 14:10 speaks of the torment of the wicked in the presence of the Lamb. That God should be present in a place that the wicked are said to be departed unto does cause some consternation. However, this paradox can be explained by the fact that God can be present—because He fills all things with His presence (Colossians 1:17) and upholds everything by the word of His power (Hebrews 1:3)—yet He is not necessarily everywhere to bless. 

Just as God is sometimes separated from His children because of sin (Isaiah 52:9), and He is far from the wicked (Proverbs 15:29) and orders the godless subjects of darkness to depart at the end of time to a place of eternal punishment, God is still there in the midst. He knows what those souls suffer who are now in hell; He knows their anguish, their cries for respite, their tears and grief for the eternal state that they find themselves in. He is there in every way as a perpetual reminder to them of their sin which has created a chasm from every blessing that might be otherwise granted. He is there in every way, but He displays no attribute other than His wrath. 

Likewise, He will also be in heaven, manifesting every blessing that we cannot even begin to comprehend here; He will be there displaying His manifold blessing, His manifold love, and His manifold kindness—indeed, everything other than His wrath. The omnipresence of God should serve to remind us that we cannot hide from God when we have sinned (Psalm 139:11-12), yet we can return to God in repentance and faith without even having to move (Isaiah 57:16).




09/13/21


Question: "What does the Bible say about coincidence?"


Answer: The word coincidence is used only once in the New Testament, and it was by Jesus Himself in the parable of the Good Samaritan. In Luke 10:31, Jesus said, “And by a coincidence a certain priest was going down in that way, and having seen him, he passed over on the opposite side.” The word coincidence is translated from the Greek word synkyrian, which is a combination of two words: sun and kuriosSun means “together with,” and kurious means “supreme in authority.” So a biblical definition of coincidence would be “what occurs together by God’s providential arrangement of circumstances.”


What appears to us as random chance is in fact overseen by a sovereign God who knows the number of hairs on every head (Luke 12:7). Jesus said that not even a sparrow falls to the ground without our Father’s notice (Matthew 10:29). In Isaiah 46:9–11, God states unequivocally that He is in charge of everything: “I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’ From the east I summon a bird of prey; from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose. What I have said, that I will bring about; what I have planned, that I will do.”


When we consider life events, we tend to classify them as “important” or “unimportant.” Many people have no problem believing that God is in charge of the “big things” but assume that such a big God would not trouble Himself with the seemingly miniscule events of our everyday lives. However, that understanding is colored by our human limitations and not supported by Scripture. For God, there are no unimportant events. He does not need to conserve His strength because His power is limitless. His attention is never divided. If the Lord God tracks every sparrow (Matthew 10:29), then nothing is too small for His attention. He is often referred to as the Almighty (Genesis 17:1; Exodus 6:3; Job 13:3), a name denoting unrestricted power and absolute dominion.


Citing coincidence is how we humans explain unexpected events and surprise meetings. But just because we are taken by surprise does not mean that God is. Scripture is clear that God allows sinful humans to make mistakes and reap the consequences of those mistakes, but only a sovereign God could also promise that He will make “all things work together for the good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). In ways known only to God, He takes even our mistakes and unplanned events and weaves them together to fulfill His purposes.


In Old Testament times, God often used the Urim and Thummin, pieces of the high priest’s ephod, to help give guidance and instruction (Exodus 28:30; Leviticus 8:8; 1 Samuel 30:7–8). In the New Testament, we see the apostles trusting God’s sovereignty when they cast lots to choose a new disciple to replace Judas (Acts 1:26). Though each of these means of communication seems insignificant, God has shown throughout Scripture that He can use the smallest object or event for His purposes. God does not seem to allow for “coincidence.” The administration of the universe is not based on serendipity. The Bible says that God’s purposes will prevail and that He is in control of even the most random event (Proverbs 19:21). Proverbs 16:33 says, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.” What may seem insignificant to us may be in fact a result of God’s omniscient power working on our behalf to accomplish His will in our lives.


 


Question: "What is the meaning of the Parable of the Good Samaritan?"


Answer: The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30–37) is precipitated by and in answer to a question posed to Jesus by a lawyer. In this case the lawyer would have been an expert in the Mosaic Law and not a court lawyer of today. The lawyer’s question was, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" (Luke 10:25). This question provided Jesus with an opportunity to define what His disciples’ relationship should be to their neighbors. The text says that the scribe (lawyer) had put the question to Jesus as a test, but the text does not indicate that there was hostility in the question. He could have simply been seeking information. The wording of the question does, however, give us some insight into where the scribe’s heart was spiritually. He was making the assumption that man must do something to obtain eternal life. Although this could have been an opportunity for Jesus to discuss salvation issues, He chose a different course and focuses on our relationships and what it means to love.


Jesus answers the question using what is called the Socratic method; i.e., answering a question with a question: “He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?’" (Luke 10:26). By referring to the Law, Jesus is directing the man to an authority they both would accept as truth, the Old Testament. In essence, He is asking the scribe, what does Scripture say about this and how does he interpret it? Jesus thus avoids an argument and puts Himself in the position of evaluating the scribe’s answer instead of the scribe evaluating His answer. This directs the discussion towards Jesus’ intended lesson. The scribe answers Jesus’ question by quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. This is virtually the same answer that Jesus had given to the same question in Matthew 22 and Mark 12.


In verse 28, Jesus affirms that the lawyer’s answer is correct. Jesus’ reply tells the scribe that he has given an orthodox (scripturally proper) answer, but then goes on in verse 28 to tell him that this kind of love requires more than an emotional feeling; it would also include orthodox practice; he would need to “practice what he preached.” The scribe was an educated man and realized that he could not possibly keep that law, nor would he have necessarily wanted to. There would always be people in his life that he could not love. Thus, he tries to limit the law’s command by limiting its parameters and asked the question “who is my neighbor?” The word “neighbor” in the Greek means “someone who is near,” and in the Hebrew it means “someone that you have an association with.” This interprets the word in a limited sense, referring to a fellow Jew and would have excluded Samaritans, Romans, and other foreigners. Jesus then gives the parable of the Good Samaritan to correct the false understanding that the scribe had of who his neighbor is, and what his duty is to his neighbor.


The Parable of the Good Samaritan tells the story of a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho, and while on the way he is robbed of everything he had, including his clothing, and is beaten to within an inch of his life. That road was treacherously winding and was a favorite hideout of robbers and thieves. The next character Jesus introduces into His story is a priest. He spends no time describing the priest and only tells of how he showed no love or compassion for the man by failing to help him and passing on the other side of the road so as not to get involved. If there was anyone who would have known God’s law of love, it would have been the priest. By nature of his position, he was to be a person of compassion, desiring to help others. Unfortunately, “love” was not a word for him that required action on the behalf of someone else. The next person to pass by in the Parable of the Good Samaritan is a Levite, and he does exactly what the priest did: he passes by without showing any compassion. Again, he would have known the law, but he also failed to show the injured man compassion.


The next person to come by is the Samaritan, the one least likely to have shown compassion for the man. Samaritans were considered a low class of people by the Jews since they had intermarried with non-Jews and did not keep all the law. Therefore, Jews would have nothing to do with them. We do not know if the injured man was a Jew or Gentile, but it made no difference to the Samaritan; he did not consider the man’s race or religion. The “Good Samaritan” saw only a person in dire need of assistance, and assist him he did, above and beyond the minimum required. He dresses the man’s wounds with wine (to disinfect) and oil (to sooth the pain). He puts the man on his animal and takes him to an inn for a time of healing and pays the innkeeper with his own money. He then goes beyond common decency and tells the innkeeper to take good care of the man, and he would pay for any extra expenses on his return trip. The Samaritan saw his neighbor as anyone who was in need.


Because the good man was a Samaritan, Jesus is drawing a strong contrast between those who knew the law and those who actually followed the law in their lifestyle and conduct. Jesus now asks the lawyer if he can apply the lesson to his own life with the question “So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?" (Luke 10:36). Once again, the lawyer’s answer is telling of his personal hardness of heart. He cannot bring himself to say the word “Samaritan”; he refers to the “good man” as “he who showed mercy.” His hate for the Samaritans (his neighbors) was so strong that he couldn’t even refer to them in a proper way. Jesus then tells the lawyer to “go and do likewise,” meaning that he should start living what the law tells him to do.


By ending the encounter in this manner, Jesus is telling us to follow the Samaritan’s example in our own conduct; i.e., we are to show compassion and love for those we encounter in our everyday activities. We are to love others (vs. 27) regardless of their race or religion; the criterion is need. If they need and we have the supply, then we are to give generously and freely, without expectation of return. This is an impossible obligation for the lawyer, and for us. We cannot always keep the law because of our human condition; our heart and desires are mostly of self and selfishness. When left to our own, we do the wrong thing, failing to meet the law. We can hope that the lawyer saw this and came to the realization that there was nothing he could do to justify himself, that he needed a personal savior to atone for his lack of ability to save himself from his sins. Thus, the lessons of the Parable of the Good Samaritan are three-fold: (1) we are to set aside our prejudice and show love and compassion for others. (2) Our neighbor is anyone we encounter; we are all creatures of the creator and we are to love all of mankind as Jesus has taught. (3) Keeping the law in its entirety with the intent to save ourselves is an impossible task; we need a savior, and this is Jesus.


There is another possible way to interpret the Parable of the Good Samaritan, and that is as a metaphor. In this interpretation the injured man is all men in their fallen condition of sin. The robbers are Satan attacking man with the intent of destroying their relationship with God. The lawyer is mankind without the true understanding of God and His Word. The priest is religion in an apostate condition. The Levite is legalism that instills prejudice into the hearts of believers. The Samaritan is Jesus who provides the way to spiritual health. Although this interpretation teaches good lessons, and the parallels between Jesus and the Samaritan are striking, this understanding draws attention to Jesus that does not appear to be intended in the text. Therefore, we must conclude that the teaching of the Parable of the Good Samaritan is simply a lesson on what it means to love one’s neighbor.




Question: "What is the Socratic Method, and is it biblical?"


Answer: The Socratic Method is a logical technique that emphasizes asking questions. These inquiries are aimed at uncovering flaws or errors in some statement or position. This process is named after the famous philosopher Socrates, who is credited with this technique in the writings of his student, Plato. Socrates’ use of this method differs somewhat from how the process is applied today, mostly due to differing assumptions about the nature of truth. Various forms of Socratic Questioning are used in psychology, debate, and education.


Socrates lived in an era of brilliant public speakers. These orators and rhetoricians were skilled at painting their views in a positive light. Using attractive words and carefully crafted arguments, lecturers would encourage others to adopt their perspective. In contrast, Socrates preferred to pursue debate by asking questions about the other person’s view. These requests would force the other person to justify, explain, or further develop his initial idea. Through these dialogues, Socrates would uncover weaknesses, contradictions, or flaws in his stance, mostly through the other person’s own responses.


The original Socratic Method differs from the modern use of Socratic Questioning due to changed perspectives on truth. In Socrates’ view, all truth was self-evident, to some extent. The mind of each person already “knew” truth but did not necessarily “realize” it. This is most famously demonstrated in Plato’s work Meno, where Socrates speaks with an uneducated slave boy. Using nothing but questions and the boy’s own logical responses, Socrates “teaches” him geometry. This shows the original goal of the Socratic Method as a means to uncover truth through inquiry.


Modern applications of this method, most commonly referred to as Socratic Questioning, almost always approach truth from a different perspective. Psychologists and educators often use purposeful questions to help people connect the dots between ideas they already know, are capable of deducing, or simply need to clarify. In practice, this is in keeping with Socrates’ original intent, although the worldview assumptions are different. In logic, debate, and other spheres, Socratic Questioning is used as an “acid test” of a position, looking for weaknesses or self-contradictions.


Crucially, modern use of the Socratic Method and Socratic Questioning does not usually proceed with an intent to determine truth. Rather, the method is used to test or to clarify a position. Unlike Socrates, few people today believe that all truth—scientific, mathematical, and moral—is present in all minds, awaiting discovery. Almost all references to the “Socratic Method,” in a modern context, are really examples of “Socratic Questioning.”


Biblically, the difference between examining one’s views versus “self-revealed truth” is important. Scripture records many statements that are fairly described as examples of Socratic Questioning. The most dramatic of these come from Jesus in His interactions with His critics. When challenged about paying taxes, Jesus’ response, “Whose image is on this coin?” embodies the essence of the Socratic Method (see Mark 12:13–17). The intent was to demonstrate a flaw in the other party’s thinking. The same is true when Jesus responds using questions in encounters with the rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16–22) and with Pilate (John 18:33–38).


Christians are encouraged to apply the spirit of the Socratic Method, if not the actual technique, to their own spiritual lives (1 John 4:1; 1 Corinthians 11:27–29). The biblical command to “examine yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5) parallels Socrates’ quip that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” Other scriptural instances of a Socratic approach include Job 38:1–11 and Proverbs 18:17.


The Socratic Method, in and of itself, cannot define or determine truth. By its very nature, all it can do is illuminate those instances when assumptions, definitions, or relations conflict with each other. As with any other mode of logic, this does not prove any of those individual components false, nor does it prove their opposites true. For instance, we may use the Socratic Method to challenge a claim that “aspirin relieves headaches because the tablets are yellow.” Showing that color is irrelevant to the medicine’s effectiveness in no way proves that aspirin does not relieve headaches or that it causes them. It merely shows that particular connection to be untenable.


Nor does the Socratic Method itself suggest alternatives to the ideas it attacks. For this reason, a questioner who is clever—or calculating—can frame Socratic questions in such a way as to lead toward particular conclusions. Even if those leading questions are themselves irrational or based on false premises, they can lend an aura of reason to an otherwise unreasonable approach. This tactic is especially common in the work of atheists, à la Peter Boghossian, who attempt to use Socratic Questioning to debunk religious faith. This effort is grounded in a blatantly false definition of faith, obscured through a calculated use of persuasion and rhetoric, rather than actual logic.


It is important to distinguish between the use of a method and the abuse of a method. In and of itself, the Socratic Method is neither commanded nor condemned in the Bible. The deepest foundations of the original Socratic Method are unbiblical: man does not possess access to “all” truth, and some aspects of reality cannot be learned through pure deduction. The more general application of Socratic Questioning, on the other hand, is something that Scripture not only demonstrates but recommends.



Question: "What were the Urim and Thummim?"


Answer: The Urim ("lights") and Thummim ("perfections") were gemstones that were carried by the high priest of Israel on the ephod / priestly garments. They were used by the high priest to determine God's will in some situations. Some propose that God would cause the Urim and Thummim to light up in varying patterns to reveal His decision. Others propose that the Urim and Thummim were kept in a pouch and were engraved with symbols identifying yes / no and true / false.


It is unclear whether the Urim and Thummim were on, by, or in the high priest's ephod. No one knows the precise nature of the Urim and Thummim or exactly how they were used. The Bible simply does not give us enough information. References to the Urim and Thummim are rare in the Bible. They are first mentioned in the description of the breastplate of judgment (Exodus 28:30; Leviticus 8:8). When Joshua succeeded Moses as leader over Israel, he was to receive answers from God by means of the Urim through Eleazar the high priest (Numbers 27:21). The Urim and Thummim are next mentioned in Moses' dying blessing upon Levi (Deuteronomy 33:8). The following Scriptures likely also speak of the Urim and Thummim: Joshua 7:14-18; 1 Samuel 14:37-45; and 2 Samuel 21:1.





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