Responses: The Old Testament/New Testament God, Good and Evil, Salvation

Okay, I think the comments line of my “why do people go to hell” post is getting too long, and replying in the comments in that line is getting tiresome for people. So here goes me trying to simply post a reply when the questions are good (and don’t have quite as much swearing in them, please people, I try to run a family-friendly blog). I’m answering these not because I’m smarter, but because people ask.

Today’s installment: Questions from Jake (thanks for the really good queries BTW):

I’ve enjoyed reading the earlier blogs, and have learned much from your words. I myself am Agnostic. A fence-sitter if you please. I was raised a Baptist, and have attended a few Catholic churches, but I do not claim to be Catholic. I don’t know if its true or not, but I have heard that the old testament of the bible claims that our god is vengeful god, full of destructive power to rain down upon sinners. Yet, in the new testament, supposedly, he is depicted as the exact opposite. Are these correct?

Unfortunately, this is a pretty common understanding of scripture. Indeed, in the early Church it found full-flower in the heresy called Marcionism which saw in the Old Testament a different “vengeful” God from the one found in the New (so they rejected the Old). Scripture is not nearly that simple. For one thing, the Old Testament has mixed in among the plague and smitings and such, amazing acts of kindness and grace to his covenant people (Israel) despite their many many failings. God is seen as a shepherd to the hurting soul, not in the New Testament, but the Old (Psalm 23), and even in the midst of some very extreme punishments in Deutreronomy, there is clear forethought for the poor, the foreigner, the outcast, and the widow. Indeed, one of the most common words associated with God (Hesed) essentially speaks of a faithful love.

Similarly, in the New Testament, we see among the grace of God poured out for sinners in Christ Jesus, promises of wrath and of punishment. Most of the comments about hell are on Jesus’ own lips, and the book of Revelation has some very gory scenes concerning the punishment of the wicked on the earth (Chapters 8 and 9), and of the final judgment (Chapter 14).

So Honestly, God in both the Old and New Testaments is both vengeful and graceful.

I have designed a theory of my own, and I’d like to hear your opinion. God is perfect. But in most opinions, perfection itself means to be all good. Well we have seen that god has a dark side, so maybe to be perfect, you have to do what isn’t good, OR bad, just what is necessary. For every good a bad. Ying-Yang of christianity.

A possible interpretation, though by way of proviso, I don’t think of evil “existing” any more than a hole or any other absence “exists”. Evil for me is the lack of good. It only exists insofar as there is a good to be lacking something. Lies don’t exist without truth, injustice doesn’t exist without justice, and holes in paper don’t exist without paper. Truth can exist without lies, and paper can exist without holes.

But you are onto something. In the book of Job, in the face of Job’s suffering God comes to answer Job out of the whirlwind to say essentially that “your perspective is a little limited on this”. There’s more at play in any given situation than you can see at first (or even 20th) blush. That’s why I take as the title of this blog a reference to Romans 8:28. All things work together for good…. It’s a promise, and I’d say also an epistemology of morality. God is good, but we can’t always see that.

I haven’t been able to deciede whether or not god exist or not, but I have a hunch that there is something else after this. What it is, I don’t
know, but there is something.

You’ll excuse me for a second on this one, but it does seem a little surreal to have you deciding whether God exists or not. You can decide on your belief, you cannot decide on the reality. :-) Remember too, that god isn’t simply “what comes after”. Most theists would argue that God forms a grounding for reality itself, so we would say that there is something beyond the reality we see that in fact grounds reality itself.

Also, I don’t agree with the christian idea that if you don’t repent your sins, and embrace god, jesus, and the holy spirit, you won’t get into heaven. What if you lead a good, honest life? Shouldn’t that count for something? Does a small tribe in the middle of no where, who has never heard of our god, deserve to go to hell for not embracing him? I don’t think so…

This was more closely dealt with in the post you’re replying to (this one). Works really do not have a lot of value for a Christian when it comes to salvation. They don’t count for that AT ALL. My good works count no more than do the good works of some guy in an unreached tribe, they both count equally at precisely zero. This does not mean that good works are not important, but that they are the effect of salvation, not the cause. There are many causes possible for good works, and not all of them are good, so Christians don’t tend to look at the works as necessarily getting people saved.

The question is actually why do people go to hell. I think that it is because people turn away from God to the enjoyment of other things instead of God. If the Bible is to be believed (see Romans 3:10-18) everybody is in that boat. Now, if someone manages to turn to God , trusting in His righteousness and mercy not relying on his own works, but on God’s mercy, then He is saved. It’s unlikely that people will do that spontaneously, though.

Anyway, I hope this has been somewhat helpful.

Author: Stephen Dawe

Steve is a part-time vocational elder Calvary Baptist Church, St. John's as well as a full-time student at Memorial University of Newfoundland, in the Religious Studies Department.

8 thoughts on “Responses: The Old Testament/New Testament God, Good and Evil, Salvation”

  1. I appreciate your response greatly. Thank you.

    As to the part involving whether I can believe something for the sake of belief, not for reality, I have something to add. Reality is perception, perception’s change, so reality is fluid. What is real for one does not neccesarily have to be real for another.

    Also, today I heard a comment from a friend of mine stating that “God is a creation in the minds of mankind. If nobody believed in God, he would cease to exist.” Well thats all well and good, but lets say he IS real, this would just make him royally pissed… but I’d like to hear your opinion on it.

    Thank you.

  2. “Reality is perception”

    I seriously do not buy that statement. Your perception of reality may indeed be fluid, but that does not make reality itself fluid. Regardless of how I convince myself to perceive that my bicycle is an automobile, reality is not fluid enough to match my perception.

    We could claim that reality is the consensus of perceptions, but that doesn’t help either, as a multiplicity of perceptions of that automobile that was once my bicycle still leaves me pedalling up hills.

    That means too, BTW, that the comment you heard today is equivalent in my estimation to saying that God does not exist. I agree, that would make Him royally pissed, which may be part of the reason for hell. :-)

    It’s an arrogant idea in a rather extreme sense. It would be like my blog (a very limited set of my thoughts) deciding that I was just a function of it. Sure, that’s the only way many perceive me, and really the only way other blogs know of my existence, but it doesn’t make me a function of it. I might just start playing with it to show who actually controls the dashboard.

  3. Again, thank you.

    Please keep in mind that 90% of these ideas are just that, speculations born from boredom.

    I say that, and follow up with this idea. Throughout time, humankind has believed in an almighty entity, that is responsible for everything that happens. Over the years, the ideas, and names for that such entity have changed, but the idea remains the same. Due to our inability to explain the unexplainable, we created the idea of God (or in some cases Gods) and it is he/she/it that is the cause of everything good and bad. Some have given what they believe to be logical evidence to things, and quit believing in God, creating Atheists, others continue to believe in him, resulting in believers.

    Im sorry if I challenge and oppose your ideas so frequently… Like I said in my original comment, im Agnostic, and I am searching for enlightenment on this subject. I also quite enjoy arguing this subject, but sadly cannot do that with my fellow students, for fear of upsetting the balance of high school normality =D. So, in all respects, I come to you with my questions… I hope your not offeneded, and thanks again.

  4. Hey, you can do a heck of a lot less beneficial things with boredom than come up with new ideas. I actually keep a notebook to write down ideas in.

    Questions do not offend me, they’re something I enjoy, and from my twisted understanding of the universe, seeking answers to things like this is a good way to worship God.

    The idea you give is the basic story people use to explain the development of theism. When people say that God is something that is there to explain the unexplainable, its usually followed by calling it a “god of the gaps”. The implication is that as the gaps decrease, so too will the need for a god to explain them.

    Many theists (especially from the major monotheistic religions of Islam, Judaism and Christianity) assert something a little stronger in that we believe in a self revelatory God. That has been revealed to us.

    We also don’t quite think that God explains things that we can’t explain, but rather that the existence of God allows us the constancy of reality and trustworthiness of our own senses to seek knowledge (and believe that it is actually knowable, as well as providing a universal basis for morality). At our best, religious people can be insatiably curious, and I think that seeking truth is a good thing (As I said, a form of worship of God, and a mark of faith).

    I forget you’re in High School. Let me be clear on something. Do not EVER apologize for bringing respectful probing, but maybe sometimes difficult, questions to a discussion. Nobody has the right to silence questions asked in the spirit of learning. Some questions are simply attacks, and that’s bad. I think you’re just looking to know.

    Opposing me with questions, based on thoughts that come to you as we discuss is a large part of free inquiry.It also shows respect for me in that you seem to believe I might have pertinent thoughts, and that I might be benefitted by your insight. Thank you.

    I usually get offended when people are dismissive of what I think, or simply attack opposing opinions without really listening to them. You haven’t done that as far as I can tell. When I respond vehemently, it’s because I’m positing my position, not because I’m angry or insulted.

    And BTW, there’s nothing “normal” about high school, from what I remember (though it’s been a while). So many things I thought important then didn’t matter DAYS after I graduated.

  5. Well, currently I am at a loss of questions (for once) and so I will just leave it at a thank you for your answers.

    I’ll be sure to write again one day and ask you much more.

    Sincerly,
    -Jake

  6. Oh wait, I do have a question!

    But it has nothing to do with our previous conversation. I simply wish to ask, where are you from? You seem to remind me of people around here where I live, and I was just wondering if you happened to have lived around here at some time. I myself am a good ole’ Southeast Texas boy and proud of it. Well thanks.

    Jake

  7. I’m from (and live in) Newfoundland, Canada (way north and way east of you). Our only seeming claim to fame in the US is that we happily kill seals, despite PETA, Greenpeace, and the American Humane Society.

    I think I was in Texas once, but I was 4.

  8. Hebrew children in the Old Testament were born into God’s covenant, both male and female. Circumcision was the sign of this covenant for boys, but the sign was not what saved them. Faith saved them. Rejecting the sign, circumcision, for boys, either by the parents or later as an adult himself, was a sign of a lack of true faith, and therefore the child was “cut off” from God’s promises as clearly stated in Genesis chapter 17:

    “Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, 13 both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

    What was the purpose of this covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? God tells us in the beginning of this chapter of Genesis:

    “And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.”

    This covenant wasn’t just to establish a Jewish national identity or a promise of the inheritance of the land of Caanan, as some evangelicals want you to believe. In this covenant, God promises to be their God. Does God say here that he will be their God only if they make a “decision for God” when they are old enough to have the intelligence and maturity to decide for themselves? No! They are born into the covenant!

    If Jewish children grew up trusting in God and lived by faith, they then received eternal life when they died. If when they grew up, they rejected God, turned their back on God, and lived a life of willful sin, when they died, they suffered eternal damnation. Salvation was theirs to LOSE. There is no record anywhere in the Bible that Jewish children were required to make a one time “decision for God” upon reaching an “Age of Accountability” in order to be saved.

    Therefore Jewish infants who died, even before circumcision, were saved.

    The same is true today. Christian children are born into the covenant. They are saved by faith. It is not the act of baptism that saves, it is faith. The refusal to be baptized is a sign of a lack of true faith and may result in the child being “cut off” from God’s promise of eternal life, to suffer eternal damnation, as happened with the unfaithful Hebrew in the OT.

    Christ said, “He that believes and is baptized will be saved, but he that does not believe will be damned.”

    It is not the lack of baptism that damns, it is the lack of faith that damns.

    Gary
    Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals
    An orthodox Lutheran blog

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