Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Month: May, 2016




Today is, of course, Memorial Day, the day on which we remember the servicemen and women who have given their lives for the sake of our country.  It is also significant that just this past Friday President Obama became the first sitting U.S. President to visit Hiroshima, the site of the first atomic bomb attack which occurred on August 6, 1945, an explosion that took the lives of 144,000 people, including many civilians: men, women and children among them.

It is a sensitive issue.  Many of the relatives of the victims would like to have heard an apology from the President, although the Japanese government did not ask for one.  Many others in the region, on the other hand, including both China and South Korea, condemn Japan for starting the war in the first place.  Who is right?

The final decision to drop the bomb was mad by President Harry S. Truman.  He had just become president upon the death of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on April 12, 1945.  As vice president Truman had not been informed of the A-bomb.  After the bomb had been successfully tested in July, if fell to Truman to decide how to use it.  He appointed a committee which weighed the options.

It was decided that the bomb would have to be used in a populated area with no prior warning in order to maximize the psychological effect and induce Japan to surrender.  The alternative, it was feared, would have been a long, costly invasion of the Japanese homeland.  The Japanese military was determined to fight to the bitter end.  Japanese military and industrial installations were scattered throughout populated areas; civilian casualties were unavoidable.  Intensive firebombing of Japanese cities had already taken a fearful toll.  Thus Truman was faced with a kind of grim calculus: how could he end the war by killing the fewest people?  In the end it appeared better to get it over with quickly with a single, devastating blow.  The decision was made to drop the bomb on a mixed military and civilian target.

History was changed forever.  The world would never be the same.  By 1949 the Soviet Union had acquired an atomic bomb of its own, and the “Cold War” ensued.  I can remember as a schoolboy air-raid drills and fallout shelters, as we prepared for a possible nuclear holocaust.  The old Soviet Union is gone now, but other nations have the bomb, including longtime rivals India and Pakistan; and others are trying to get one, including both North Korea and Iran.  If anything the world today is a more dangerous place in which to live than in was in 1945.

Technology changes; human nature does not.  Today we drive cars and fly planes; we watch TV and surf the Internet.  But at heart we are still the same sinful human beings as we were when Cain slew Abel.  Today we simply have more sophisticated and devastating weapons to throw at each other than we did before.  That hardly makes us more civilized.

Our Creator has made us in His image, and for that reason human life is sacred.  God expects us to use every means at our disposal to preserve life.  The wanton destruction of human life is immoral.  But lasting peace will come only when we change inwardly, and only the grace of God at work in our hearts can accomplish that.  On this Memorial Day may we look to the Prince of Peace, the only real hope of mankind.



Chemung Formation, Rte 287, near Tioga, PA

How old is the earth?  Generations of Christians have looked at their King James Bibles and seen 4004 B.C. as the date of creation.  That figure was arrived at by Archbishop Ussher, who determined it largely by adding up the numbers in the genealogies.

Doubts, however, began to arise with the advent of modern geology.  In the early 19th Century the French naturalist Georges Cuvier arrived at the conclusion that the different levels of sedimentary rocks indicated successive periods of geological time, and that the earth’s history was marked by a number of catastrophes.  His theories were further developed by other geologists.  Today the most commonly accepted scientific view is that the oldest rocks are at least 500 million years old.

So which is right?  Does science conflict with Scripture?  If God is the author of both Scripture and nature, the two, when interpreted correctly, cannot disagree.  That being the case there are two fundamental questions that must be answered: 1) What can science really prove?, and 2) What does the Bible actually say?

On the first question it must be stated unequivocally that the science cannot prove the Theory of Evolution.  Science is based on observation and experiment.  But it is impossible for the human observer to go back hundreds of millions of years to see fish evolving into reptiles, or apes into humans.  The presence of different forms of life at different times does not prove that the one evolved from the other.

Moreover, when we look at what we can actually observe today, it is apparent the evolution does not take place.  What we see today is that all living things occur in scientifically identifiable species, and that these species reproduce according to well defined laws of heredity and genetics.  While gene mutations certainly do occur, in order for them to be beneficial they would have to occur within the context of the evolution of an entire organic system.  A change in the eye is useless unless it is accompanied by a corresponding change in the central nervous system.  Thus the process of natural selection acts as an inhibiter of evolution, not a facilitator.  And evolution from a lower form of life to a higher one would be virtually impossible – it would have to involve the creation of whole new genes and chromosomes.

Thus evolution is a “scientific fact” that has never been directly observed, and has never been reduplicated in a laboratory.  At best the evidence for it is both circumstantial and fragmentary.

But with geology it is a little different.  Here where I sit in northern Pennsylvania there lies, 5,000 feet beneath my chair, the celebrated Marcellus Shale formation.  And the whole reason natural gas can be extracted from the shale is because it was originally formed from organic material.  At some places in the county there are up to 15,000 feet of sedimentary rock.  This simply cannot be accounted for by a single geological catastrophe.

While the interpretation of much of the geological evidence is certainly open to debate, a few things seem fairly obvious.  When we look at the fossil record and later bone deposits it becomes evident that the dinosaurs lived prior to the Ice Age, and that the Ice Age mammals after the dinosaurs had become extinct.  Moreover human beings were alive during the Ice Age, but not before.  Thus there had to have been successive geological ages, with plant and animal life in existence before the appearance of man upon the earth.

So what, then, does the Bible say?  Several different approaches have been taken to understand the creation account in Genesis 1 in the light of the geological record.  One approach is to challenge the findings of modern science, and to argue that the earth really was created only 10,000 years ago or so.  This generally takes the form of Young Earth Creationism.  The opposite approach is to argue that while Genesis 1 may be describing the creation of the earth, the six days of creation should not be taken as a literal sequence of events, but rather a poetic description of moral truths.  This is sometimes called “The Literary Framework Hypothesis.”

Among those who take the Bible literally two other approaches have been taken.  One is the “Day / Age Theory,” in which each of the six days of creation is taken to mean a geological age.  And then there is what is generally known as the “Gap Theory,” which postulates the existence of an unspecified length of time between Gen. 1:1 and 1:3, thereby allowing for long geological ages in between.

So what does Genesis 1 actually say?  First of all probably most conservative, biblically orthodox scholars would argue that the Bible does not purport to be a scientific textbook on geology.  It is primarily concerned about man and his relationship with God.  Descriptions of nature are mostly incidental and take the form of the perception of the ordinary observer on the ground.  Thus when the Bible says that the earth stands still (Ps. 93:1; 96:10; 104:5) and that the sun moves across the sky (Ps. 19:4-6), this is not meant to be taken as a literal statement in favor of a geocentric view of the solar system.  Thus the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy noted that “The truthfulness of Scripture is not negated by the appearance in it of . .  phenomenal descriptions of nature” (Article XIII and Exposition).  This does not mean, however, that Genesis 1 does not describe real, historical events.  Man’s relationship with God takes place in space and time, and therefore the Bible relates real facts of history.

Gen. 1:1, then, states that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (NKJV).  The word translated “created” (bara’) is only used in the Bible of God’s activity and signifies creation out of nothing.  The phrase “the heavens and the earth” is a comprehensive term signifying the universe as a whole, and thus the phrase “in the beginning” would refer to the very beginning of the universe itself.

Verse 2 then states, “the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep.  And the Spirit of the God was hovering over the face of the waters.”   The word translated “without form” has probably been mistranslated in our English versions.  The Hebrew word (tohu) is a noun, used here as a kind of emphatic adjective.  In passages such as Isa. 40:17,23 and 49:4 it is used in parallel with words that mean “non-existence” or “nothingness.”  In Jer. 4:23 the exact same phrase as is used in Gen. 1:2 (tohu vevohu) is used to describe the situation on the land following God’s judgment, and there it obviously does not mean a formless mass.  And in Isa. 45:18 the word tohu is used on contrast with a word that means “for a habitation.”  The correct translation of Gen. 1:2, then, should probably be “and the earth was emptiness and waste,” which is the way that it is translated in both the Latin and German versions.  What the phrase does not mean, is that God began by created a formless chaos, but rather that the earth was an uninhabitable waste.  The text then goes on to say that “darkness was on the face of the deep” and that “the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”

Significantly, though, the text does not tell us how these conditions came to be or how long they lasted.  Did God create it that way initially?  Or did it come to be that way as the result of a disaster or controversy?  The text does not say.

The text then proceeds with a description of the six days of creation.  That these “days” cannot mean long geological ages is established by the fact that the word “day” is defined in the text itself: “So the evening and the morning were the first day” (v. 5).  The statement occurs right after God separates “day” and “night,” and verses 14-18 describe the sun and moon as “ruling over” day and night.  Thus what is clear here are “days” that closely approximate our 24 hour days, thus ruling out the “Day / Age” theory.

Our conclusion, then, is that the Gap Theory does the most justice to the text of Scripture and the geological evidence.  Interestingly recent geological discoveries have put the whole question in a new light.  It is now widely recognized that what caused the extinction of the dinosaurs was a comet or asteroid that crashed into the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.  It is estimated that the impactor was six miles in diameter, burrowed into the ground in less than a second, and displaced 48,000 cubic miles of sediment!  Shockwaves would have triggered earthquakes and volcanic eruptions around the globe, and a giant megatsunami would have inundated what is now the U.S. Gulf Coast.  Dust particles in the atmosphere would have blocked out sunlight for up to a year.  Might not Gen. 1:2 be describing the scene immediately following the impact?  It would also explain why light would have appeared in the First Day of creation, but the sun not until the Fourth.  The sky was blacked out, light gradually appeared as the dust settled, and finally the sun and moon became visible.

We conclude, then, that the “Gap Theory” is the most plausible explanation of Genesis 1.

Related posts:

Velikovsky’s Case for Catastrophism

Morris and Whitcomb Fifty Years Later



Cain Kills His Brother Abel

In his book The Christian Counselor’s Manual, well know author Jay Adams stated that “Anger, in and of itself, is not sinful.  We learn this from Paul’s careful distinction between being angry and sinning: ‘Be angry and sin not’ (Ephesians 4:26)” (p. 348).  But is Adams right?

It is true, as Dr. Adams pointed out, that “God is angry with the wicked every day” (Ps. 7:11).  There is clearly such a thing as “righteous indignation.”  But Paul goes on, just a few verses later in Ephesians chapter 4, to say “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice” (v. 31; NKJV).  So did Paul just contradict himself?  Did he really intend to tell his readers in verse 26 to “be angry”?

What Paul is doing in verse 26 is quoting from Psalm 4, verse 4, which reads:

“Be angry and do not sin.

Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still.   Selah.”

But the exhortation in Psalm 4 is directed towards David’s enemies; he is hardly encouraging them to be angry with himself.  Thus the verse probably should be taken in the sense of “if you will be angry beware of sinning” (Delitzsch).

There obviously is such a thing as righteous indignation, the sense in which God is angry with sinners.  But there is also a carnal, sinful anger, an anger that arises from our own fallen human nature with its sinful passions and desires.  What precisely is the difference between the two?

God’s anger is perfectly just and holy.  It arises from His love for righteousness and His thorough disgust with sin. And it is perfectly just: it is directed only against those who are genuinely culpable.  Paul warns the wicked in another context that “. . .you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgement of God, who ‘will render to each one according to his deeds’” (Rom. 2:5,6; Paul here is quoting Prov. 24:12).

Our anger, on the other hand, is usually a carnal passion that lashes out in blind fury against a perceived threat, whether real or imaginary.  When God did not accept Cain’s offering, Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell” (Gen. 4:5).  God confronts him about this, saying, “Why are you angry?  And why has your countenance fallen?  If you do well, will you not be accepted?  And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door.  And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it” (vv. 6,7).  Tragically, Cain did not heed the exhortation, and proceeded to murder his brother Abel.

But then what should be our response be when we have genuinely been wronged?  “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (Jas. 1:19,20).  But does that mean that we should just let injustice go unpunished?  “Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. Therefore

‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him;

If he is thirsty, give him a drink;

For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.’

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:19-21).

To return to our passage in Ephesians, Paul tells his readers, “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice” (4:31).  But the object here is not just the absence of strife, but something positive as well.  Paul goes on to say, “And be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (v. 32).  Instead of the carnal passion of anger, there ought to be a genuine, heartfelt sympathy for each other, and that should find expression in a willingness to forgive each other when wronged.  What is called for is sympathy, not retaliation; forgiveness, not vengeance.

The question is, do we respond to conflict in a godly, Christ-like manner?


Bernie Sanders: Why I might run in 2016 -

At this point in the election cycle Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are the presumptive nominees of their respective parties.  And yet on the Democratic side Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont campaigns on.  He has no chance of winning the nomination, but still he won’t give up.  Presumably, at this point, his goal is to make the Democratic Party “more progressive.”  But what does that mean?

Sanders describes himself as a “democratic socialist.”  He defines his socialism this way: I don’t believe government should take over the grocery store down the street or own the means of production.  But I do believe that the middle class and working families who produce the wealth of America deserve a decent standard of living and that their incomes should go up, not down” (Harry Jaffe, Why Bernie Sanders Matters, p. 173).  Sanders cares very deeply about economic issues, especially income inequality, and he has made that the centerpiece of his campaign.

There is, however, a perplexing discontinuity in his argument.  He presents a very idealistic political agenda, but it does not appear to be rooted in any kind of coherent worldview.  Social injustice is bad and we must combat it, he says.  He sometimes even couches his argument in moral terms.  “A nation is judged by how it cares for its most vulnerable . . .” (Bernie Sanders in His Own Words, Chomois Holschuh, ed., pp. 23,24).  “I have spent my career fighting for something I consider to be a human right.  That human right is health care” (Ibid., p. 108).  “This grotesque level of inequality is immoral” (Ibid., p. 33).  “Protecting the environment is not a radical idea.  It is a moral responsibility” (Ibid., p. 96).  But where do human rights come from?  What makes something moral or immoral?  Sanders doesn’t really answer the question.  The problem here is that he is trying to approach the question of social justice from a secular standpoint.  There is no religious or philosophical frame of reference; and herein lies the moral dilemma of modern leftist thought.

Sanders is originally from a Jewish background.  He has family members who perished in the Nazi Holocaust, and this is part of what impressed him to get involved in politics.  His parents were not particularly devout, but he did attend Hebrew school as a boy and became Bar Mitzvah.  Sanders does say that “Being Jewish has greatly influenced by intellectual and emotional development” (Jaffe, p. 27).

Sanders’ intellectual outlook, however, was shaped more by his experiences as a social activist in Chicago in the 1960’s.  He was a student then at the University of Chicago, but did not find his classes there very interesting.  Instead he became involved in the civil rights and anti-war movements.  And he read. He read voraciously.  He read Erich Fromm, Jefferson, Lincoln, Dewey and Debs.  He read Marx, Lenin and Trotsky.  And he read Wilhelm Reich, the Neomarxist and apostle of free love.

It was a time of social and intellectual ferment.  But unlike earlier social reform movements, most of the radicals of the ‘60’s came from secular backgrounds, many of them students at large state universities.  They were outspoken in their opposition to racism and war, but did not have a clear vision of what America should be like.  The most they could do was experiment – experiment with sex and drugs and rock’n’roll.  Suffice it to say, this was hardly a constructive solution to the problems of society.

Sanders eventually moved to Vermont, which during the ‘60’ and ‘70’s had become a haven for the “back to the land” hippies.  Sanders bought into Reich’s philosophy of free love.  He was briefly married, then had a son by another woman out of wedlock.  He did eventually marry a third woman, Jane O’Meara, to whom he is still married.  Sanders moved to Burlington and became involved with a small left-wing party called Liberty Union.  He eventually got elected as mayor of Burlington as an Independent, and from there went on to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, where he is today.  Significantly he has never held a job in the private sector nor served in the military.

Through it all he has been feisty, principled, uncompromising, unswerving in his devotion to the working class and underprivileged.  On the issues he favors raising the minimum wage, a single payer national health insurance plan, and tuition free public higher education.  On issues like abortion and homosexuality he takes the standard liberal Democratic positions.

All of which brings us back to the question, what does it mean to be “progressive”?  The earlier Progressive movement of a hundred years before, the movement of William Jennings Bryan, Teddy Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson, was to a great extent based on religious faith.  William Jennings Bryan was a devout evangelical Christian, afterwards famous for his opposition to the theory of evolution.  When Teddy Roosevelt ran for president in 1912 on the Progressive (“Bull Moose”) ticket, he could declare, “We stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord.”  Their passion for reform was based on the conviction that as human beings we are accountable to our Creator, and part of what He demands from us is social and economic justice.

But contemporary “Progressives” attack the status quo without any moral bearings, and in the long run their disregard for Judeo-Christian moral norms is bound to be counterproductive.  A society in which everyone is free to define themselves any way he pleases, and is not required to conform to any social norms, is a society on the path to self-destruction.  No one can be induced to act responsibly, let alone make personal sacrifices for the common good.  And that, in turn, puts democracy at stake.  Legislative bodies cease to function because no consensus can be reached.  Law and order become increasingly difficult to maintain.  This is not social progress at all, but a civilization in an advanced stage of decline.  As well intentioned as Bernie Sanders undoubtedly is, he is nevertheless attempting to lead us to the precipice.  It bodes ill for the future of our nation.



Van Gogh, Skull with Burning Cigarette


As we have seen in Eph. 4:17-24 Paul describes the transformation that should take place in a person’s life when he becomes a Christian.  We are to “put off . . .the old man” and “put on the new man” (vv. 22,245).  He then goes on to say “therefore” (v. 25).   He is about to describe the practical implications of this inward transformation.

And the first thing he mentions is lying.  “Therefore, putting away lying . . .” (Eph. 4:25; NKJV).  He then quotes a verse from the Old Testament, Zechariah 8:16: “Let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor.”  In Zechariah chapter 8 the Lord promised the future restoration of Israel.  But then He says,

“’These are the things you shall do:

Speak each man the truth to his neighbor;

Give judgment in your gates for truth, justice and peace;

Let none of you think evil in your heart against your neighbor;

And do not love a false oath.

For all these are things that I hate,’

Says the Lord.”

Perjury, of course, is a violation of the Ninth Commandment.  But the underlying principle is that we should not harm our neighbor in any way through what we speak, and that includes even thinking about doing it: “Let none of you think evil in your heart against your neighbor.”  All of our dealings with each other must be done in honesty.  And so detestable in the sight of God is dishonesty that He says He “hates” it.

Having quoted the verse from Zechariah Paul goes on to explain: “for we are members of one another.”  The natural tendency of the unregenerate heart is to see ourselves as isolated individuals in competition with each other.  If my interests conflict with your interests, I am going to defend myself.  And if that means that I have to lie about something I will do it.  But that is the essence of human depravity – the willingness to hurt each other in order to advance our own interests and that in complete disregard for the will of the Maker.

What the Bible says instead is that we are connected to each other.  Our actions affect each other, and we should have enough of a care and compassion for each other that we would never do anything to harm each other’s interests.  I should care for you as much as I care for myself.

But sins of the tongue involve more than just perjury or even lying.  For later in the chapter Paul gives this word of instruction: “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers” (v. 29).  And then he goes on in the next chapter to say that among the things that should “not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints” are “filthiness,” “foolish talking,” and “coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks” (5:3,4).

Paul here speaks in very general terms – he does not give us a list of four-letter words banned by the Federal Communications Commission.  But the word translated “corrupt” in 4:29 literally means “rotten” or “putrid,” which conveys the image of something which is both ugly and disgusting and at the same time utterly worthless.  Commentator H.C.G. Moule says that it refers to “all talk tainted with moral decay, the miserable innuendo, the double entendre of sin, as well as more involved impurity . . .”   And Paul draws a contrast between this “rotten speech” and “what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.”

As noted above, in chapter 5 verse 4 Paul condemns “filthiness,” “foolish talking,” and coarse jesting.”  “Filthiness” means that which is ugly, shameful or base.  Another commentator, Marvin Vincent, says it refers to obscenity.  The word translated “coarse jesting” originally had a positive connotation in secular Greek – it described a person who was witty and urbane.  Here, however, it has the negative connotation of coarse jesting or buffoonery.

The basic principle here is that we are to use our tongues in a constructive manner, with the end in view of helping others rather than tearing them down.  Do we use our speech to ridicule others, make light of the sexual relationship, brag about our own misdeeds, or make ourselves look good at someone else’s expense?  Then it is a misuse of an instrument that God intended for constructive purposes.  We should be using our tongues to encourage and edify others, not make fun of them or destroy their reputations.  Be careful little tongue what you say!