Tuesday, January 8, 2013

January 8, 2013 - Tough Question, Tough Answer

After I blogged about Psalm 1 the other day, I got this question:

Hi Amanda,
I enjoy reading your blog. A question arose while I was reading this post. Do you interpret this scripture to mean that kind and gentle men, women, and children of other religions are "wicked"? 

First of all, let me say I am really grateful to this person for not immediately bashing me for what I said, and for taking the time to ask this question. To this person I say:

The question you asked may not have the answer you like, but I hope I can answer your question in a way that you feel is respectful. Remember, this is totally my opinion, although I am basing my answer off scripture. I certainly don’t claim to know everything or be correct in everything; I am still learning. If I answer your question and you disagree with the answer I would simply say you will have to do some digging in scripture yourself to come to your own conclusion. 

Short answer (and probably unpopular): Yes, kind and gentle men, women, and children of other religions are "wicked".

More explained answer:
Romans 3:23 says that we are all sinners. 1 John 1:8 says that if we say that we aren’t sinners we are deceiving ourselves. Simply by being a sinner we are deemed wicked. When we are born, we are born into sin and wickedness. At some point in our lives we will gain knowledge of God. At that point each individual makes a decision – do you want to acknowledge that you are a sinner, confess those sins to God, turn from them, and begin to live for Him? Or do you continue to believe that you’re not a sinner and therefore make the decision to reject God? To me, this means that atheists and agnostics are wicked in the eyes of God because they have heard of Him and choose not to believe in Him.

John 14:6 has Jesus saying, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no man comes to the Father but by me.” What this means to me is that no one will come to true salvation unless they believe in God and have a relationship with Him. But we can’t do that on our own. We have to believe that Jesus came to earth as God’s son in a human form, that He died on a cross, and by doing so, bore all of our sins on Himself, that He rose from the dead, and then ascended to heaven. Here is the reason that is important – 1 John 4:10 says “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

Basically we were not lovers of God. Like I said, we were born sinners. But even while we were sinners and not loving him, he loved us first and sent Jesus to be a sacrifice for us, to bridge the gap between us and God. (You see, back in the old days, B.C., you had to pay for your sins by sacrificing animals to God… it was supposed to make you realize the consequences of your sin. Once Jesus died for all sin, his blood covered everything, so we no longer have to make those physical sacrifices.)

Now the reason that is important is because many religions other than Christianity don’t believe in Jesus, or that Jesus was the Son of God. Certain sects of Mormons believe that Jesus was simply a prophet. A Christian Scientist doesn’t even believe in sin or death. A Jehovah Witness believes that Jesus was just a man. Now, if you don’t believe in sin, or believe in the fact that Jesus was God’s Son who died for your sins, then you are not saved, and therefore in God’s eyes you are still wicked.

Do I personally know people who are atheist, agnostic and Mormon? Yes. Do I think they are good people? Absolutely. They are brilliant, creative, loving, hilarious people. Are they wicked in God’s eyes? Yes. Because they have made a choice not to believe in him. Heck, in Matthew 7, the Bible says that there are people who profess to be Christians who will die and Jesus will say to them, “I never knew you; depart from me.” People aren’t exempt from rejecting God just because they label themselves as Christians. When we get to heaven, God will judge us all. He will separate us. The “godly” aren’t better people than the “wicked”. They don’t sin less. They aren’t more beautiful. They aren’t smarter. They aren’t more financially well off. But they trust in God and have an intimate relationship with him, and they believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross for them and covered their sins. The “wicked” will be deemed wicked simply for their rejection of God and a relationship with him.


Ken Loyd said...

Amanda, I know of no theologian who has dealt with this question more eloquently and convincingly, including Lee Strobel. Makes me want to copy and paste the whole blog-- but I think I'll just share the link. Keep it up-- God is pleased.

Anonymous said...

Dear Amanda,
Thank you for your thoughtful reply to my question. Of course I wouldn't bash you for your words! Where would that get us? I wasn't fishing for an answer, but was genuinely curious as to how you would address it given the depth and sensitivity I have perceived in you through your writing. My question touched on one of the prickliest thorns of Christianity: is it our way or the highway? I should like to continue this dialogue with you. Below I address some points you raised and pose additional questions.
The supporting evidence for your stance comes from the Bible, which means I must assume the Bible is a work of divine authority through and through to embrace it. In the centuries following Christ’s ascension, the work was revised on multiple occasions by men. Some would-be gospels were rejected from the canon (eg. Mary of Magdalene, Judas, Thomas). Much disagreement existed among early followers of Christ. One of the greatest questions was one of Christology. These were addressed at various Councils, notably the Councils of Nicaea. What was the exact nature of Jesus? Was he a God himself? The Son of God? Merely a man who, through introspection and study of the natural world, reached the apex of spiritual perfection? The modern-day Christianity you paraphrase so eloquently – Christ as divine being and Son of God who must be worshiped and recognized as the only vehicle through which salvation may be attained, or else burn for all eternity – did not exist in many early groups, which, all the same, professed to following Christ’s teachings. In light of this, it is difficult for me to embrace something as Truth simply because it happened to be deemed acceptable by men in position of religious authority hundreds of years after the crucifixion of Christ. My heart lies with Christ, not with what others said about him.
The Muslims claim their book is the holiest and must be followed. The Christians claim it is theirs. What separates the two? How can peace be when each of us believes our book, our path is the only right one?
You write: “At some point in our lives we will gain knowledge of God. At that point each individual makes a decision – do you want to acknowledge that you are a sinner, confess those sins to God, turn from them, and begin to live for Him? Or do you continue to believe that you’re not a sinner and therefore make the decision to reject God?” I agree that God reveals itself to our knowledge at some point in our lives. That does not mean we are left with only one of the two options you mention. God reveals itself to people of all walks of life and all over the globe. The nature of that revealing is tinted with cultural references. The Muslim will place any divine revelation in a Muslim framework, a Christian in a Christian one, a Hindu in a Hindu one, and so on. The beautiful thing is that God does reveal itself to humankind! It would be wrong of me to say another’s divine revelation is false or wicked because it doesn't occur in a Judeo-Christian context.
Another question I struggle with is this. You and I were born and raised in a Christian culture with easy access to what you call the “right” way. Are we favored by God? It seems unfair to expect a poor child from rural China who was raised by atheist parents to embrace the Bible and Christ. Are we to call that child wicked?
My present position places me in a delicate situation vis-à-vis the traditional dogma of Christianity, which you so lucidly explicated using references from Biblical scripture. I have an intimate relationship with God and Jesus. However, I can’t help but feel I am stooping to the level of a fanatic or extremist when, in matters of religion, I assert my way is the only way to salvation and when I discount all other religious traditions as entirely false.
My sincere thanks for this engaging discussion.

Amanda said...

Forgive me for taking so long to answer your questions. They are GREAT questions, and very valid, and I'm having to research them thoroughly.

But a lot of what you are asking is like you said - based on the premise that you believe the Bible is the authority of God. Short answer - I believe everything in the Bible is the authority of God. I believe Jesus was the Son of God because the Bible says he was. I believe that the disciples (who SAW Jesus, KNEW him, not just stories but literally walked around with him) went to the grave still saying that Jesus was Savior. It's harder for us to say that because we have no tangible proof - just faith. But these men were proven historically to live at the same time as Jesus, and they believed he was Savior. Maybe they were all crazy? Brainwashed? Enough to die for the cause? I don't know... I mean, brainwashing certainly happens, that's certain, but Jesus wasn't even on earth anymore when these disciples and other believers were martyred for the cause. They weren't getting brownie points from him as a cult member does from their cult leader.

Every other spiritual book of every other religion was written by men. The Bible is the only religious text that was written physically by men but by spiritual revelation of God. No other text written by man has had prophecies come true hundreds of years AFTER the prophecy was made, or is put together with absolutely no inconsistencies.

I don't believe that we are favored by God based on where we are born or what culture we're born into. I do believe that we as humans can't comprehend God's reasoning. I believe that when we die, the judgment that we go through will be based on all the knowledge that God has. We have such limited knowledge here, and we cannot see the whole picture. God will be able to judge if a person has out-and-out rejected him. Also, in the scripture it says that God's word won't return unto him void, and that he WANTS all people to come to salvation... even that poor child from rural China who is raised by atheist parents. I believe God will give people situations in their lives that will give them the opportunity to come to know Him.

It's hard to tell people they are wrong. But I believe one of the ways that Satan gets his way with us is to make us feel like WE are too hard on people. That we're fanatics or that we're MEAN to tell people that they're not okay. There's a song that says "We're so sinner friendly we're dishonest, what's wrong with telling sinners they're not right?" We're so worried about hurting people's feelings or losing friends or having people call us names that we back down from telling people the truth. It's not easy. It's scary. Just recently I wrote a letter to my uncle because I just couldn't stop thinking about the fact that I wasn't sure he was saved, or that maybe he THOUGHT he was. It was extremely hard for me to say something to him because I felt like he might reject ME, or he might feel like I was judging him. Instead, he was very proud of the fact that I stepped out on faith to contact him, and he said he could tell how much it meant to me. I think the important thing is that we step out on faith. Then it's up to God to work on people. You might say something to someone that makes them upset, but if it's scriptural and it's the truth, then you have planted a seed in their mind. Whether they act on it or not is their decision.

I'm planning to write some more later if you feel this doesn't answer all of your questions - I'm writing this pretty spontaneously because I didn't want you to think I was ignoring you! With two kids running around I don't have as much study time as I'd like sometimes. :)

Anonymous said...

Many thanks for your reply. It was very helpful. I will try to respond in greater detail later, and after reading your additional post!
Best wishes!