2 Peter (Part 3)

2 Peter (Part 3)

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary Pollard

I’ll be repeating the book of II Peter in present-day terminology. It’s not a true translation of the book, as I am not qualified to do so. It will be based on an exegetical study of the book and will lean heavily on the SBL and UBS Greek New Testaments, as well as comparisons with other translations (ESV, NASB, NIV, ERV, NLT). My goal is to reflect the text accurately, and to highlight the intent of the author using concepts and vocabulary in common use today. 

This is not an essentially literal translation, and should be read as something of a commentary.

The Liars

There have always been liars who claim to be speaking on God’s behalf, so you’ll encounter them, too. They’ll secretly teach things that will wreck your faith. They’ll even disown the one who saved them, but they’ll be destroyed soon. They don’t have moral restraint, so a lot of people will follow them. This will make the world think of us as hypocrites. They don’t even have your best interests in mind! They’ll take advantage of you and lie to you. They will face inescapable consequences. God didn’t even give angels a free pass when they sinned. He sent them to a dark place where they’ll stay until judgment. God didn’t give the ancient world a free pass. In fact, only Noah and his family survived the flood that destroyed everything else. God didn’t give Sodom and Gomorrah a free pass, either. He completely destroyed them as a warning to everyone who might be interested in living like they did. Lot was a good man and he was extremely upset by how everyone in his city was living. God rescued him from the bad conditions he had to live through, so he knows how to rescue us from temptation. He also knows how to take care of godless people who do whatever they want and reject authority. They’ll have to answer to him. These people don’t even get nervous when they insult angelic beings! Even though angels are considerably more powerful than humans, they wouldn’t ask God to condemn those liars with that kind of animosity! These liars are just like dumb animals. They act on every impulse, they insult in ignorance, and they will be destroyed. They’ll gratify their passions in broad daylight. They drag you down with them, and they’re excited about that! They’re a cancer. They are obsessed with gratifying their impulses and they won’t stop. They drag down people who aren’t strong in their faith. They only care about themselves and they’ve abandoned the right path. Remember Balaam? He enjoyed living by his own rules, too. He was reprimanded by a donkey, of all things, so that he’d get a grip on himself. Donkeys aren’t even supposed to talk, but God did whatever it took to make sure he’d get back under control. These liars are like wells that don’t have water. They’re like rain that gets blown around by the wind. They’re destined to spend forever in the darkest place. They lie with confidence and bring down people who have a hard enough time staying pure as it is. They promise freedom, even though they’re slaves. After all, we’re slaves to whatever controls us. This is really bad for them. If you learn about God and escape the influence of worldliness, but fall right back into your old ways, you’re much worse off. It’s better to not know God at all than to know him and then reject him. You’ve heard the old saying, “Dogs eat their own puke,” and, “Pigs get right back into the mud after they’ve had a bath.” That’s what these liars have done. 

When Should You Go To The Doctor?

When Should You Go To The Doctor?

Friday’s Column: Brent’s Bent

Brent Pollard

I was chit-chatting with a friend from college about his latest work assignment, which took him to the Mississippi delta. He mentioned he had been by the birthplace of Kermit the Frog in Leland, Mississippi. Of course, I know Leland well since my mother grew up there. But sadly, I’ve not had a reason to visit Leland since my maternal grandfather passed in 2004. And while Deer Creek, which flows through Leland, is picturesque, I would have never thought it to be the place Jim Henson would choose to serve as the place of Kermit’s nativity. Yet, Jim Henson had been born in nearby Greenville, Mississippi, and spent his early childhood in Leland due to his father’s career as an agronomist for the Department of Agriculture.1  

Can you believe it has been about 32 years since Henson left this life? Do you realize that there are potentially two generations familiar with Henson’s creations but are unaware of their creator? It boggles the mind of this “middle-aged” man. The older I become, the more I appreciate the Latin inscription on some clocks: Tempus fugit (i.e., “time flies”). But as I ponder the legacy of Jim Henson, the more I am struck by its tragedy. There was no reason that Henson had to die. The illness that took him was easily treatable had it been caught in time. There are certain complicating factors, to be sure. Henson’s parents reared him in the Christian Science faith.2 If you were unaware, Christian Scientists believe they should treat illness with prayer before medicine. In all fairness to Henson, he had stopped being an active practitioner of Christian Science in the 1970s,3 but one wonders if certain aspects of that upbringing did not stick with him. His friends say that he likewise did not like to think he was bothering others. So, complaining about his health or going to the doctor were things away from which he shied.  

By the time Henson went to the ER, he had already been coughing up blood and had difficulty breathing. His inability to breathe landed him in the ICU and on a ventilator. X-rays showed lung abscesses, and the doctors gave him multiple antibiotics. The antibiotics were working, but Henson was still going into shock, his organs shutting down. Within twenty-four hours of his admittance to the hospital, Henson died from streptococcal toxic shock syndrome caused by Streptococcus pyogenes. The doctor announcing Henson’s death suggested that the medicine would have saved Henson had he come in a few hours earlier.4 Nevertheless, it was a shocking reminder to Americans about the lethality of pneumonia. 

It is easy to armchair quarterback Henson’s decision since we possess hindsight. But when would you have gone to see the doctor? Would you have gone the moment you felt something was “off?” Maybe you would go after having a sore throat for several days? Most people would not have waited until they were coughing up blood. Relatively speaking, disorders of the body are easier to spot. Spiritual sickness, not so much. The presence of such is not to suggest there are no symptoms. There is a lie told here or skipping an assembly of the church there. But things become cumulative and indicate spiritual sickness. Paul said of the Corinthians that their transgressions invalidated their observance of the Lord’s Supper and revealed them spiritually weak, sick, and even asleep (dead?—1 Corinthians 11.30). Elsewhere, the Hebrews writer had to caution Christians of the ease with which they can drift away (Hebrews 2.1). And the problem with spiritual sickness is that a calloused heart doesn’t realize it is imperiled (Hebrews 3.12-19).  

Our time to seek the Lord is limited. Thus, God cautioned His covenant people of old to seek Him while He was available for them to find (Isaiah 55.6-7). And Jesus invites us to enter the New Covenant today (Matthew 11.28-30). We have no more time promised than did they. James reminds us that our physical life is like rapidly dispersed water vapor (James 4.14), and the Hebrews writer says judgment follows death (Hebrews 9.27). So, when should you go to the doctor? I’d suggest that time is the moment you realize you are sick. But when should you go to the Great Physician? “Behold, now is the acceptable time,’ behold, now is ‘the day of salvation ’” (2 Corinthians 6.2 NASB1995). Don’t lose your soul because of something you could have prevented! 

Sources Cited: 

1 Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia.“Jim Henson”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 12 May. 2022, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Jim-Henson

2 Schindehette, Susan. “Legacy of a Gentle Genius.” People, 18 June 1990. https://muppetcentral.com/articles/tributes/henson/hensonarticle5.shtml 

3 Evans, W. R. “Henson Rumor Is Groundless.” Toledo Blade, 1 July 1990, p. E4. https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=7ElPAAAAIBAJ&pg=4502,372385

4 Schreuder , Cindy. “Pneumonia Quickly Spread in Henson.” Orlando Sentinel, Orlando Sentinel, 27 July 2021, www.orlandosentinel.com/news/os-xpm-1990-05-18-9005180413-story.html

When The Devil Bites

When The Devil Bites

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

Dale Pollard

Tasmanian devils are named for their chilling shrieks that can be heard when the sun goes down on the island of Tasmania. The sound of the devils crying in the night reminded the early colonists of the mythical hellhounds. Despite their terrifying calls, these creatures aren’t as much of a danger to humans as they are to themselves. Not so long ago a vicious cancer began killing these animals and the cause of the disease was a mystery. As scientists began to study them, they discovered that the cancerous tumors were self-inflicted. It’s not uncommon for the Tasmanian devils to fight and bite one another over a carcass or the rights to a female. A devil’s ears will burn a bright red color when they become upset but by lashing out at one another they further their own extinction. The bites they inflict on one another are likely to develop into the mutating cancer that will grow until they succumb to the disease itself, or starvation. You won’t see the ugly side of these animals in Looney Tunes, but there are some valuable lessons to be learned from this. At times we can be guilty of destroying one another through gossip or complaining and, sadly, the church isn’t immune to this disease. It’s no wonder that God warns us about the dangers through His New Testament authors. 

Consider the following verses: 

“Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door.” James 5.9 

“But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.” Galatians 5.15 

“We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.” 

I Corinthians 10.9-10 

While there’s much to be said about the damage that the tongue can inflict, it’s more productive to discuss solutions to the problem. Ironically, it’s a lack of productivity that often spawns gossip and complaints. As the old adage goes, 

“When there’s nothing to see and do, there’s much to hear and say.” 

Sadly, the darker side of closeness, history, and intimacy can be the breeding ground of gossip. The wounds inflicted and the trust that’s broken can be difficult, if not impossible, to repair. A song we teach to small children should be modeled by adults. 

O be careful little ears what you hear

O be careful little ears what you hear

For the Father up above

Is looking down in love

So, be careful little ears what you hear

O be careful little tongue what you say

O be careful little tongue what you say

For the Father up above

Is looking down in love

So, be careful little tongue what you say

Three Ways To Fight The Bite

  1. Avoid being a spreader. It will build your integrity and trustworthiness. 
  2. Make it a point to speak highly of the person being slandered. 
  3. Offer biblical solutions instead of contributing to the gossip. This assumes the person spreading the gossip is genuinely concerned about the person(s) they’re talking about. Have they confronted the subject of their gossip (Matt. 18.15-20)? If they’re unwilling to act but willing to talk— avoid them. 

On the last night of His life Jesus prayed the following, 

“I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” John 17.20-21 

If unity was on the mind of the Savior even as He faced the cross, it must be important. 

Unity: without it there’s pain but with it there’s unlimited power. 

via Flickr (credit: Mike Prince)
Anger Danger

Anger Danger

Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog

Carl Pollard

When it comes to that angry friend, it doesn’t take 1,000 of them to affect you. It only takes one. 

That one friend that has those anger issues can rub off on you. Their mindset, their reactions, and their sin will all rub off on you and you will learn their ways. The word “learn” is the idea of teach. This friend will teach you his ways and you will become his student. There was a study done on the influence of domestic violence and what it can do to not just the spouse, but to the children. 

The study went on to reveal that almost 70 percent of kids that grew up watching their father beat their mother ended up being abusive to their spouse later on in life. 

We don’t always realize that we are being taught. We don’t recognize that we are a student to something that we never wanted to claim as our teacher. We must be careful of our friendship with this dangerous man, or this concern will become a reality, and we will imitate his actions and ways. 

Proverbs 22:25 says, “…Or you will learn his ways And find a snare for yourself.” If you reject the command and ignore the concern mentioned in the previous verses, you will have to face the consequence. You will find yourself ensnared in anger. Genesis four shows us the consequence of anger. In verses 1-8, we are introduced to Cain and Abel. In this account we read that the anger of Cain caused his face to literally distort. This anger drove Cain to murder his brother. Now there have been times in the past that I’ve been mad at my brothers, but never angry enough to kill them. Cain’s anger had driven him to the point of murder.  As a result, verses 10-14 show us that Cain’s life would never be the same again. Unchecked anger will ruin our lives, but more than that unchecked anger will ruin our soul. 

The Better Health Channel did a study on the physical effects of uncontrolled anger which include: 

  • Increased Anxiety 
  • High blood pressure 
  • Headache
  • Digestion problems, such as abdominal pain
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Skin problems, such as eczema
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke

The Bible has done a study on the spiritual effect of anger, and side effects include

  • Murder
  • Eternal Punishment
  • And the loss of your Soul

The underground trains at airports and subways will run over and over all day. When many of them reach the end of the line you hear a voice that tells you it’s the last stop. Then the train starts all the way back over and does it again. With anger there is no starting over. The things you say and the things you do cannot be erased. Proverbs 28:13 tells us that the fool lets loose his anger causing irrepairable issues. Benjamin Franklin once said, “Whatever is begun in anger ends in shame.” Eskimo wolf hunters use a special technique to kill wolves. First, they coat a knife blade with animal blood and allow it to freeze. Then they stick the knife in the ground with the blade facing up. When a wolf smells the blood it comes over and begins to lick the blade with the frozen blood. The wolf continues to feverishly lick the blade faster and faster until just the bare blade of the knife is showing. The craving for blood is so strong that the wolf doesn’t even realize that his desire is being quenched by its own warm blood. The wolf is found in the morning next to the knife having killed himself because of his lack of self control. If we aren’t careful, the anger of our friend will become our own, and in the end it will cause the loss of our salvation. 

Anger can affect so many areas of our lives. We can be angry at ourselves, we can be angry at others, we can even be angry at God.  And this holds us back from our salvation.

If we are angry at ourselves for a past sin, the circumstances we were raised in, or the quality of our lives because of our own past decisions – this can hold us back from salvation. 

If we are angry at others, a brother or sister at church, our parents or our friends – this can also hold us back from salvation. 

If you’re angry at God, realize that He is the only One that can give you peace and cure you of that spiritual disease.

Don’t focus on the anger in your life, but on the love in Christ. The Love shown as men spit in His face. The Love shown as he was mocked. The Love as He was tied to a post, as He was scourged, as He carried His cross through the street. The Love shown as men drove nails through His hands. As they shoved the crown of thorns on His head…all of this and still He could look up at the Father and say, “Forgive them, they know not what they do.” If anyone had the right to feel anger – it was Him. The Son of God did not go through all of that so anger could eat us up. 

Don’t let anger keep you from the peace and love that Christ has to offer. And don’t let anger strip you of experiencing eternal life with Him. 

The Pair That Ate The Fruit

The Pair That Ate The Fruit

Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog

Carl Pollard

Contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t the “apple” on the tree that got us banned from paradise, it was the pair on the ground…anyway, I want us to take a trip back to the beginning. This is where our account takes place. In Genesis chapter one, God has just created the world as He intended for it to be. A place of peace and harmony. No pain, sorrow, and a perfect relationship with his creation. After this incredible account of creation, God concludes by creating man. He designed a perfect world for Adam and Eve. He placed them in the garden, a perfect home where they had everything they would need.

He gives them only one command in Gen. 2:15-17,  “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”

The following account in chapter three is what I want to focus on. God gave Adam a helper suitable for him and her name was Eve. Everything was perfect. God even says after He looked upon his creation that everything was “very good.” But one decision changed the course of mankind forever. 

In this account of the sinners at the tree, Adam and Eve are an example of what not to do when faced with temptation. This account also reveals the methods Satan uses to tempt us, and the choice that changed the course of the world. 

  1. Satan Sows Doubt (3:1-5) 
  2. Eve Felt Desire (3:6) 
  3. The Fall And Punishment (3:7-24)

One question that I’ve always had about this account is why God placed this forbidden tree in the garden. Genesis 2:9 says, “And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Did God set Adam and Eve up to fail? Was He hoping they would slip up and eat the fruit? On the contrary, God was giving Adam and Eve the power of free will. Without this free will to choose, Adam and Eve would’ve been puppets. 

True love always requires a choice. 

Our parents would make us hug and apologize when we fought with each other. And I can tell you, there is a big difference between a hug that is forced and a hug that is given out of love and concern. God wanted Adam and Eve to choose to love and trust Him. The only way to give this choice was to command something that was not allowed. Therefore Adam and Eve could decide whether or not they wanted to be in a relationship with God. What choice will we make today? Will we live in sin, or live for Almighty God? 

The Glue Of Guilt

The Glue Of Guilt

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

blond man with goatee smiling at camera with blazer on
Dale Pollard

Samuel is nearing the end of his life by the time you read 1 Samuel 12. He gives a speech to all of Israel and there are several chilling statements that force us to consider our own spiritual standing. Samuel seeks the counsel of the Lord and asks Him on behalf of the people for an earthly king. God had established the Judges to rule them rather than a king which was typical for the time period. God grants their request, even though this kind of leadership was bound for failure. He handed Israel their shovel, and they began to dig. Here are some of Samuel’s final words. 

“Then Samuel called on the Lord, and that same day the Lord sent thunder and rain. So all the people stood in awe of the Lord and of Samuel. The people all said to Samuel, “Pray to the Lord your God for your servants so that we will not die, for we have added to all our other sins the evil of asking for a king.”“Do not be afraid,” Samuel replied. “You have done all this evil; yet do not turn away from the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. Do not turn away after useless idols. They can do you no good, nor can they rescue you, because they are useless. For the sake of his great name the Lord will not reject his people, because the Lord was pleased to make you his own. As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right. But be sure to fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you. Yet if you persist in doing evil, both you and your king will perish” (18-25).

Here are five quick observations and practical truths based on Samuel’s speech. 

  1. We should never let our previous sins hold us back from pressing forward. Samuel tells the children of Israel not to let the evil in their recent past keep them down— but he doesn’t pretend as if they hadn’t sinned against God. 
  2. Samuel reminds the people that God is quick to forgive. 
  3. It’s interesting that Samuel says that his failure to pray for God’s people would be a sinful thing for him to do. 
  4. Samuel tells the people to fear the Lord AND remember what He’s done for them. God could have wiped them out. He clearly had the ability as he demonstrated His power over nature in the beginning of this section. 
  5. It was true for the children of Israel and it’s true for us today. If we persist in doing evil, we will perish. 

The Old Testament is filled with relevant applications for us today. Let’s learn from the past, and like Samuel said— let’s not let our past failures keep us from moving forward. 

Rescuing Your Brother

Rescuing Your Brother

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Neal Pollard

Friday night’s snow storm was almost blizzard-like, in manner if not in measure. With the winds, visibility was near zero. The drive from the church building to our house, all 8.8 miles of it, had to be negotiated at speeds of about 20 miles per hour at times. It was the first night of our gospel meeting with Melvin Otey, who did an excellent job! In attendance were all of our sons and their wives. I’m grateful that all three of our children learned to drive in Colorado and have a lot of experience handling snowy conditions. But, as a parent, you are never without concern. Thanks to Life360, I could watch their progress. And I did. I watched as one by one each made it to their homes. Only one of them did not. I saw that one of them was stuck at “0 MPH” kind of in the middle of nowhere. Thanks to cellphones, I could call him. Turns out that he had slidden off the road and was stuck. Another of our sons was not far away and he was able, with difficulty, to reach them and take them to his home. I watched every bit of it “unfold” on Life360. The saga ended with their safe arrival at 12:30 AM. They were able to pull out his truck without difficulty or damage. It turned out as well as it could.

This all made me think about what the heavenly perspective must be like. The Father does not rely on an App to see fuzzy details of His children’s situation. He sees with the perfect omniscience and is present with the perfect omnipresence of an Almighty God. While He has the power to do whatever He pleases, He has bound Himself to allow His children to exercise free will. When one of His children drifts into danger, He is dependent upon others of His children to rescue them. I am reminded of how anxiously He desires their safe return, how thankful He is when others of His children intervene, and how joyful He feels when He sees His children safe at home. Do you remember in the parable of the prodigal son? Luke 15:20-24 shows the joy and celebration of a father overjoyed that his son, astray in a sinful condition, had come back home. He could not contain his happiness. That story depicts God.

It also makes me appreciate Paul’s words in Galatians 6. “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ” (1-2). Or James’ closing admonition, that “if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (5:19-20). It should be the natural response of one brother who knows of another brother overtaken and astray to act, to “restore” and “turn him back.” The Father is happy when this happens! The stakes are infinitely higher than physical safety. Eternity is in the balance! Is there a brother or sister out there who needs you and me to rescue? If so, it is time for us to act! Consider the Father. Consider the brother. Let’s go get them back!

Friday night at Lehman
Unity Through Subtraction

Unity Through Subtraction

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Neal Pollard

As Paul works his way through some of the challenges and issues the Corinth congregation was dealing with, he turns his attention to an awful situation. As he says, “It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife” (1 Cor. 5:1). This was being openly practiced at the congregation, and Paul compares how they were reacting to how they should react. Even if the congregation unanimously embraced this situation, the end result would not be unity in truth. As Moses said in his day, “You shall not follow a multitude in doing evil” (Ex. 23:2).

Paul rallies them to unite in doing what pleased God. This began with amending their hearts, mourning rather than being arrogant (2). It should be followed by removing this man from their midst (2). Based on the report (presumably from Chloe’s household), Paul already knew what needed to be done (3). While the term “church discipline” is not used in the text, that is the action. Paul uses such words and phrases as “deliver to Satan” (5),  “clean out” (purge, 7), “do not associate” (9,12),  and “remove” (13). Why was such a drastic action necessary?

“THAT HIS SPIRIT MAY BE SAVED IN THE DAY OF THE LORD JESUS” (5)

By withdrawing fellowship from him, the goal was to induce his sorrow and cause his repentance. This relationship was unrighteous, and it would cost him his soul if he did not end it. How uncaring is it to validate an unscriptural relationship, knowing what Scripture says about it? Paul is about to write that fornicators and adulterers will not inherit the kingdom of God (6:9). 

“A LITTLE LEAVEN LEAVENS THE WHOLE LUMP OF DOUGH” (6-8)

Paul calls this the leaven of “malice and wickedness” (8). Allowing sin unchecked and unaddressed to continue in a congregation does not make the sin all right. It allows the influence of sin to spread throughout the congregation. Remembering that the church is the body of Christ (see chapter 12), how can the body act in rebellion to its head and still please God? For the purity of Christ’s body, this action must be taken.

THERE IS GUILT BY ASSOCIATION (9-11)

Paul expands this beyond just the situation of the man with his father’s wife. He says not to associate with the immoral, covetous, idolatrous, reviling, drunkard, or swindling brother in Christ (11). Even eating a fellowship meal with them sent them the message that they were okay living in rebellion against God. Remember, this is not about vengeance or angry resentment. This was about honoring God’s will in a matter that God’s word clearly addresses. 

IT IS AN EXERCISE OF DIVINE JUDGMENT (12-13)

This was not a matter for human courts, which in most civilizations do not legislate morality. This is an “internal matter,” a child of God “judged” by the people of God according to the will of God. God established the pattern. 

When I preached in Virginia and Colorado, the elders in both churches practiced church discipline. It was done in such a loving way, with the elders first going to the individuals in various sinful situations and pleading for them to repent. When they refused, the elders brought the matter before the congregation urging any and all with any influence and relationship to plead with them. When that did not work, they announced that it was necessary to withdraw fellowship from them. There was no angry or hateful rhetoric, no gleeful attitude that such an action would be taken. To the contrary, it was as sad and solemn a moment as I’ve experienced in the family of God. I am happy to say that I have witnessed on several occasions the ultimate repentance and return of some of these wayward Christians. That was the goal in every situation. It would seem to me that one of the most neglected, disobeyed commands among God’s people is the practice of church discipline. It is unpleasant, frightening, and unpopular, but it is what God commands. God knows what is best and what is the best way to handle every situation among us. We should always trust Him and submit to His pattern for handling every difficulty and dilemma among us. The end result is biblical unity. 

Bowl full of dough
How Can Evil And A Loving God Coexist?

How Can Evil And A Loving God Coexist?

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary Pollard

Note: This is not going to be a quick read. Any answer to the question addressed is going to require some theological/philosophical consideration. 

Stephen Fry is a well-known actor, activist, humanist, and athiest. When asked what he would say to God in a face-to-face, he replied, “Bone cancer in children, what’s that about? … How dare you create a world where there is such misery that is not our fault?” There’s more to the quote, but this sums it up. 

“How can evil and a loving God coexist?” At some point, we have to confront this question in our own faith. Some can accept the problem of evil as being a byproduct of a fallen world. Others – especially those who have experienced evil firsthand – have a hard time justifying the two. 

Most answers offered sound something like this: “The creation groans with the pains of childbirth up to now. Man, as a free moral agent, transgressed God’s law and brought the consequences of sin upon humanity. God cannot look upon evil, and certainly does not cause it. Every good thing and every perfect gift comes down from the father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” 

While the principles in this explanation are correct, it fails to address the question on at least two levels. One, it does not answer how God could allow evil to affect humans. We exist, technically, against our will. Two, it utilizes jargon. It’s easier to say religious-sounding things to answer difficult questions, but anyone struggling with this problem knows how frustrating this answer can be. It doesn’t address the question, and sometimes comes across as avoiding it altogether. 

The following is based on personal study, as I’d wrestled with this problem, too. To be very clear: God loves us, and the existence of evil does not change that at all. This question was answered for me through an unrelated study that put a few things into perspective. Here’s the condensed version: 

God created reality, and it was flawless (Gen 1.31). In fact, Jesus described heaven as being a return to this flawlessness (Matt 19.28). The code of reality was intact. God didn’t force us to love him, he gave us freedom to choose for ourselves. According to Romans eight, nature was fundamentally affected by the choice we made. This choice essentially introduced a bug into the code of reality. God didn’t create evil, we did. 

Even though our choice has consistently been rejection – and we’re solely responsible for messing everything up – he still gave up everything to give us a second chance. Yes, Jesus sacrificed himself on a cross. This was extremely selfless and loving in itself. But this was NOT the only sacrifice he made. 

Jesus – the one who designed and built reality (John 1) – permanently demoted himself for humans. He gave up his status to die for us (Heb 2.7). He’s in the father’s chair right now, but will step back down after the end of time (Heb 1.14; 2.8-9). He is still God, but permanently lower because he’s still human, too (I Tim 2.5; I Cor 11.3; I Jn 3.1-3; Heb 2.11-18). 

So, how can evil and a loving God coexist? We’re stuck with the way reality is now, but he fundamentally changed himself to give us a second chance. He works full-time to get his family home (Rom 8.27; I Tim 2.5; I Jn 2.1-2). We changed the terms, but he changed the consequences. The most powerful entity in the universe stepped down – forever – knowing most of us would ignore it. When we look at it that way, it puts our own culpability into perspective and demonstrates God’s infinite capacity to love. 

Photo Credit Of Stephen Fry (Flickr)
Three Ways Pride Distorts Our Thinking

Three Ways Pride Distorts Our Thinking

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Neal Pollard

Some people’s sin struggles are evident. If they wrestle with foul language or lying, you can hear it. If they wrestle with immodesty or drunkenness, you can see it. Some spiritual weaknesses, though, are insidiously difficult to see–especially in ourselves. In Luke 9:46-56, in events that follow each other in very short order, the disciples’ struggle with pride is exposed by Jesus. We can understand why they struggled with pride. They were walking with the Messiah! He was training them for a special mission. Now, the only matter for them to settle was how they ranked among each other. Jesus exposes that very mindset in these verses.

PRIDE SEEKS PREEMINENCE (46-48). The disciples argue among themselves about who might be the greatest. Not only is this childish, but it reflects their short memory. They just displayed a deficiency of faith that prevented them from casting out the unclean spirit. Perhaps Peter, James, and John, given privy to the transfiguration, might have felt that if they had been among these other disciples they would have been able to cast it out. We don’t know. All we know is that Jesus rebukes the very idea of the arguing by placing a child in their midst. Children were barely noticed among first-century adults, but Jesus makes paying attention to and ministering to the least of people the mark of greatness. Discipleship is not about glory and visibility. It’s about having our eyes open to the humble and our hearts open to serving them. 

PRIDE SHOWS PREJUDICE (49-50). While some have tried to use these verses to say that there are saved Christians in religious groups outside of the New Testament church, they totally misunderstand Jesus’ point (not to mention, miss the teaching of a great many passages). What was John’s bone of contention? There was a disciple of Jesus who was doing works in His name (acting by His authority; recognizing His identity). They tried to prevent him “because he does not follow along with us” (49). They concluded this person couldn’t be acceptable because he wasn’t accompanying them. Jesus knows this man is on His side, but the disciples’ needed to hear this: “Do not hinder him; for he who is not against you is for you” (50). This territorial mentality can creep into our thinking. We should hold hands with all those who are on the Lord’s side, doing the Lord’s work. This is true if it regards the good works of others in the local congregation or if it is area congregations. 

PRIDE SEEKS PUNISHMENT (51-56). Pride shows itself in a very different way shortly after this. Jesus sends some followers on a mission, but they were rejected. James and John’s solution was to exact vengeance on them. They were anxious to call down fire from heaven and consume them. Whatever they expected as Jesus’ reaction, they had to be surprised at His rebuke. He corrects their thinking, saying that He came to this earth to save rather than destroy men’s lives. Jesus’ solution was simply to move on to more receptive hearts (56). Sometimes our impatience with others or disappointment in their displays of unbelief can make us trigger happy. Whether we are indignant on the Lord’s behalf or we feel personally slighted, we need to remember the patient, charitable response Jesus makes to those who, in the moment, refused to receive Him. That patience and kindness may or may not ultimately reach their hearts, but it is the best route to success in trying to both be a disciple and win disciples for Jesus. 

Do a Bible search and see what God says about pride. It’s at the top of the list in those deadly sins of Proverbs 6:16-19, things God says He hates! Both Testaments say that it leads to our downfall (Prov. 3:34; Jas. 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5). So often, we see it as a struggle for those who are already in the body of Christ. I must constantly watch for this self-centered behavior, keeping my focus on other disciples, the lost, the less fortunate and weak, and especially the Lord. Let me remember that it’s all about Him and them, and say with John the Baptist, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).