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Can the Christian Theory of Atonement Be Defended?  Can the Bible Be Objectively True?  Is the Old Testament Law Still Morally Binding on Christians?






Eric V. Snow


            This letter was written to a friend of mine was once in the old Worldwide Church of God (WCG) as I was, but since the “Great Schism” of 1995, has become a skeptical Deist.  This is the text of a letter I sent him, with various personal references removed.


          Well, I suppose now we should turn to matters of faith and religion.  I now perceive that I had mistaken your position, for I expected some type of defense of Evangelical Protestantism, even if in a lapsed condition, but I see you’re now a thorough-going deist.  (I suppose some of our Founding Fathers, Franklin and Jefferson (at least in their more skeptical moments),  would appreciate the posthumous company!)  I can see how this position is more consistent than, and developed from, the one you have upheld in the past.  For example, you may remember our debates over the inerrancy of Scripture, during which I cited Gleason Archer’s “Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties” in support of the position the WCG & Mr. Armstrong had upheld.  In reply, you upheld a position that could be called Neo-evangelism or Neo-Orthodoxy, which maintained not necessarily every word in the Bible (in the original language autographs) was infallible or directly inspired by God.  (The Neo-Orthodox would say the Bible “contains” the word of God rather than “is” the word of God).  I still remember, and may even still have some place in my voluminous files, a copy of some 75 or 100 year old book, apparently by a liberal or moderate Christian, that you photocopied for me that defended this viewpoint (of partial inspiration/inerrancy). 


Likewise, consider our debates about whether the law existed before Sinai, such as when we argued about how to interpret Romans 4:15 and/or 5:13.  When I would cite Genesis 26:5 (“Abraham obeyed Me, and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws”) to show the law was in force before Sinai, your reply was that this text was later on inserted by someone else, that it wasn’t originally part of the text of Genesis.  Of course, I maintained that this was editing the text based upon preconceived theology.  I don’t believe we can pick and choose among texts in Scripture unless we have some textual and/or transmissional warrant for doing so (such as the infamous pro-Trinitarian interpolation in I John 5:7, which is missing from almost all Greek manuscripts).  But by departing from the Bible’s authority entirely, and adopting deism, your intellectual religious position is decidedly more coherent and internally consistent than a liberal or moderate Christian one is. 




Now I          would encourage you to consider reading the standard works of Christian apologetics, if you never have done so.  We in the HWA [Herbert W. Armstrong]/COG [Sabbatarian Church of God Movement] tradition tended to discount traditional Christian scholarship excessively.  Their doctrinal blunders led us to reject it too much as a whole, when in fact we can readily “mine” it for good insights into how to interpret Scripture, especially in matters of detailed language work and historical background.  Because I was led to reject evolution through a slim basic volume written by Henry Morris (“The Incredible Birth of Planet Earth”) when I was about 17, I always have been much more open to seeing value in what they have written besides (say) what Gary Smalley or James Dobson wrote on marriage and childrearing advice.  So, for example, have you read (say) C.S. Lewis’s “The Screwtape Letters” and “Mere Christianity”?  You may in particular may wish to read that book or “Miracles” concerning the puzzle you find in God having such an interest in this most (otherwise) unremarkable dust speck in the universe populated with weak & sinful semi-rational creatures (i.e., men and women).  What about G.K. Chesterton’s “Heretics” and “Orthodoxy”?  What about Josh McDowell’s “More Than a Carpenter” or “Evidence That Demands a Verdict”?  What about the efforts of the scientific creationists and (a more moderate crew) the Intelligent Design advocates?  Examples of such books include Dr. Duane Gish’s “The Fossils Say No!,” Dr. Henry Morris’s “Scientific Creationism,” “Darwin on Trial” by a moderate Christian (and Berkeley legal professor) named Philip Johnson, and (for an intelligent design theorist, not a fundamentalist apparently) there’s “Darwin’s Black Box,” by Behe.  Once one reads such efforts, they can’t be dismissed casually as the “voluminous, convoluted ramblings of Creationism.”




 The Intelligent Design people really do seem to be stirring up some trouble for the evolutionist establishment (such as in Kansas, it seems).  Think of, for example, what provoked the recent conversion to Deism by the famous philosopher Sir Anthony Flew, who had been an atheist.  Think of Sir Fred Hoyle and his counterpart’s effort, “Evolution from Space,” and the specific quantification of how likely it would be to produce the minimal number of organic catalysts necessary for the first cell to function out of an ocean of “chemical soup.”  Many, many other books could be listed.  I’m thoroughly convinced that most people in academia who reject Christianity or the Bible know little about the arguments and facts contained in such books, for it’s a matter of philosophy and “sense of life” (to use Ayn Rand’s term), not intelligence, that determines how the present “climate of opinion” was formed.  (Why do some people care about the problem of evil more than others, for example?  Why do some see more of a need for God in their lives than others, who are mostly content materialists?   Like Ayn Rand, a fanatic atheist, I’ve always been indifferent to the issue concerning God’s love for humanity as a whole, even if eventually I individualized my complaints on the matter, and became more like Job than I like to admit personally).  Cornelius Hunter, in “Darwin’s God,” is particularly brilliant in pointing out the philosophical flaws in the arguments used to advance evolution historically in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. 


So many modern day skeptics are much like I was in the Unitarian Church as a kid, assuming there’s no good reason to believe (for example) that Adam and Eve were literal persons, by simply believing the opinions of their teachers and professors, the main intellectual authorities in their lives besides (maybe) their parents.  It’s only by going out of one’s way, and hunting down such books, one discoveries the huge edifice of modern religious skepticism is built on a set of philosophical assumptions that can easily be questioned or knocked down.  Routinely arguments are made against belief in Scripture that never take into account any conservative Christian replies on the matter, such as (say) the hoary old question, “Where did Cain get his wife?”, which Voltaire posed over two centuries ago.  Proper scholarship consists of building in (likely) replies by one’s (informed) opposition when erecting the initial statement of one’s own position, rather than seeing what one can get away with when assuming the ignorance of one’s adversaries.  Hence, my book deals with and quotes from my intellectual/religious Jewish adversaries in detail before I reply to them.  I don’t assume my readers are safely ignorant of what these men would say in detail to superficial Christian arguments, such as concerning the Messianic texts of the Old Testament.  By contrast, how many people with Ph.D’s in the hard sciences have ever been open-minded (aren’t liberals supposed to practice this virtue also?) enough to read a creationist book by a creationist scientist (meaning, someone with a doctorate also)?  Hence, I believe Romans 1:19-32 and Acts 17:22-31 is thoroughly true, that even the uncalled (here I’m using HWA/old WCG terminology) can perceive (however dimly) the witness of God, but reject it, and suffer in consequence.




          One basic issue you raise concerns how to do systematic exegesis or hermeneutics of Scripture.  Hence, you became skeptical that HWA was merely just reading his own ideas into the Bible.  The catch is, of course, I’m aware of people who have had no connection with the WCG or its literature who end up drawing many of the same conclusions HWA did independently of HWA.  For example, take the parents of Samuele Bacchiocchi, the SDA church historian who has written various scholarly defenses of the Sabbath’s continuing validity.  His parents, living in Rome, Italy around 75 years ago, were good Catholics, but wanted to read the Bible.  After having an amazing amount of trouble locating a bookstore selling a Bible (they got it from a Waldensian bookstore, not a Catholic one), they read it . . . and came to the conclusion they should keep the Seventh-day Sabbath.  They thought they were the only Christians in the world doing so, since they weren’t aware of the SDA church at the time.  Many other stories like these could be produced, such as Ruppert’s take on the Holy Days outlying the plan of God.  (Of course, it’s been argued HWA got his idea of the Holy Day plan from Ruppert, which isn’t impossible).  Norm Edwards, of “Servants’ News”--COG fame, has made a point of saying various independent Christian groups have come up with the truth of the binding nature of the OT law on their own, separately from HWA and the WCG.  On the other side, we find there are various high level scholars who have seen in the past two decades or more that traditional Christianity took too hard a line against interpreting Paul in a Jewish manner.  David Hulme made a point of mentioning these scholarly ruminations in his infamous resignation letter back in 1995; he later wrote a summary article on the subject that was published in the UCG’s “Good News” magazine.  Consider the God Family doctrine:  Are you aware that the Greek Orthodox Church has long had a tradition of interpreting salvation as “theosis,” of human divinization?  That the great defender of the Trinity doctrine, Athanasius, was willing to say that men become God?  (I could hunt down for you an interesting essay one UCG member in Australia put together of various early Catholic writers saying things that equated salvation with divinization).  True, they may not have been exactly literal when saying these things, but it shows HWA and the AC students in the late 40’s or early 50’s that came up with the God Family doctrine weren’t totally off their rockers a priori. 


          The issue here really concerns the assumptions used to interpret Scripture, and whether one will use the whole Bible to determine doctrine, or just some select portions of it.  Do we, like Brinsmead apparently did in his “Verdict” series, take Paul’s letters, or especially an antinomian interpretation of Galatians, and then interpret all the rest of Scripture, including the Gospels and the OT, in that light, instead of using an interactive, back & forth interpretative approach between the NT and OT?  For example, consider these two a priori constructs about whether there is continuity to the Old Testament law into the New Testament period/dispensation:


1.     All Old Testament laws are in force, unless specifically and clearly abolished by Paul and/or Jesus, etc.

2.     All Old Testament laws are abolished, unless specifically and clearly affirmed by Paul and/or Jesus, etc.


So then, if we look at such texts as Matt: 5:17-19; I Tim. 3:14-17; I Cor. 10:1-11; James 2:8-12;  I believe the weight of Biblical evidence favors option number 1 above.  Or, of course, we have Paul’s “pro-law” texts (say, Romans 7:12; 8:4), and his “anti-law” texts (say, Romans 10:4; Gal. 3:25).  It’s very bad hermeneutics to cite to latter kind of texts while ignoring the former ones.  Of course, since you don’t believe the Bible has any real (supernatural) inspiration behind it, you’re free to say Paul changed his mind and/or contradicted himself.  My approach instead, since I believe Paul was inspired, is to say he believed the law was worthless for removing sin (“justification”) as part of the process for gaining salvation, but that it was a good guide to conduct (Romans 7:7; cf. the analogy made in James 1:23-25).  In the essay I have posted on my Web site, dealing with the falsity of Protestant rhetoric against the Sabbath’s continuing obligation, I deal with the “theological shotguns” used to attack it that also refute beliefs held by anti-Sabbatarians, which renders their (self-refuting) arguments invalid.  But, obviously, I know, what’s the point of slogging over this same old ground again about how much, if any, the OT law applies to Christians still?  I suppose one way you might see someday that HWA and the old WCG weren’t wrong on this issue would be should (say) compulsory “blue laws” are imposed one way or another in the USA, especially after (say) an economic or financial collapse that allows the rising “Eurobeast” to impose its “mark” on people or causes an “abomination of desolation” to be set up in Jerusalem.  That is, if HWA’s general way of interpreting prophecies starts coming true (as opposed to his mistaken dating for their fulfillment in 1972/75 or during WWII), as you follow the news in the years to come, I would encourage you to reconsider all the reasoning that led you to your present theological conclusions.  But time will tell in that regard, assuming the end time events the WCG and many evangelical Protestants have long discussed all occur in our natural human lifetimes.




          Now is the Bible a “coded book”?  We know that Daniel didn’t understand all of his own prophecies (Dan. 8:15-17, 27).  He was told that the meaning of revelations he received were to be concealed until the time of the end (Daniel 12:8-10):  “As for me, I heard, but could not understand; so I said, ‘My lord, what will be the outcome of these events?’  And he said, ‘Go your way, Daniel, for these words are concealed and sealed up until the end time.  [That is, others much later would understand better what Daniel said than Daniel himself did back then!—EVS]  Many will be purged, purified and refined; but the wicked will act wickedly, and none of the wicked will understand, but those who have insight will understand.”  My approach to HWA’s general ministry is to say he was given special insight, or illumination, by the Holy Spirit to understand Scripture better without all the preconceived ideas of pagan-influenced traditional Christianity.  (For example, given the OT & NT alone, would anyone have ever come up with the doctrine of the immortality of the soul and eternal torment instead of the resurrection and conditional immortality?  That teaching has a lot more to do with Plato than it does with Jesus or Paul).  In this regard, it can pay to some degree to be ignorant of what the seminaries taught, as he was, for they train people to have certain standard ways of interpreting Scripture that can be very hard to unlearn or break free of.  (Remember HWA’s old saw about it being 10 times harder to unlearn error than to learn new truth?)  This isn’t to say that what they teach is totally worthless, although it can come close to that when they are theological liberals who constantly attack the inspiration of Scripture one way or another (like, say, Bultmann or the “Jesus Seminar” scholars).  HWA did make various mistakes because he lacked this training, such as in soteriology:  “Imputed righteousness” is a teaching of Paul’s, although one obviously doesn’t need theological training to figure that one out.  (I did on my own, just by reading the Bible years ago, despite it being denied by HWA in one of his booklets dealing with salvation theology).  I would deny he was a prophet or that he wrote truly inspired (i.e., by God directly) books, booklets, or articles.  I do believe he had a full “doctrinal package,” that his unorthodoxy collected together various strands of thought that other groups had some of, but not the full picture.  He (along with his youngest son) were used to teach more people in the world a non-Trinitarian Sabbatarianism than any Christian teachers since the first century A.D.


You raise a good point concerning how easily the Bible can be (mis)interpreted.  I’ve long said that if someone tossed a Bible at me when I was 16, before I was called, and said, “Interpret this!,” I wouldn’t have the foggiest idea of how to proceed.  Hence, there’s a place for a ministry to teach others, much like the job Phillip did for the Ethiopian eunuch concerning Isaiah’s passage about Jesus (Acts 8:27-35).  I feel the same tension you do in that I wouldn’t want merely to place full dependence on these experts (inside or outside the COG movement).  I am ultimately responsible for my own salvation.  Once enlightened as to the importance of the Bible as something besides (say) classic literature, on the order of Shakespeare, I know I’m responsible for analyzing what I’m told by others about it as (potentially) mattering to whether I gain eternal life or not.  It’s very easy to be deceived, however, and I most certainly was on various doctrines by late 1994 while still in the WCG.  I do believe at some level the Bible can be a trap for the unwary, for the uncalled.  HWA’s jigsaw puzzle analogy really does have something to it. 




Now, notice a key strength of the old WCG’s theology:  We taught that the traditional Christians just aren’t called now, that they aren’t automatically going to go into the lake of fire.  Hence, their dependence on a false interpretation of the Bible doesn’t cost them their salvation, which avoids the problem you see as ludicrous.  So people in the church have looked at people in the world, and said they will be our future brothers and sisters, instead of only saying they are permanently alienated from them and “satanicially deceived and headed for the Great Tribulation.”  A great power in the old WCG theology was the idea of God’s master plan for the human race, that God isn’t casting most of the human race into an eternally burning hell for never hearing about Jesus as Savior, or not hearing about Him correctly enough to be saved.  The problem you perceive here is really one that confronts a Catholic or especially a Calvinists much more than an “Armstrongite.”  Besides that factor that gives an edge to HWA’s theology over mainstream Christian teaching, consider this insight of Ian Boyne, the CGI pastor in Jamaica.  He is much more theologically informed than the average COG minister because he reads a number of theological journals by traditional Christians.  Being rather troubled by the problem of evil, he finds the “Armstrongite” theology much more compelling than mainstream Christian teaching because of the great promise to the saved (divinization) more than makes up for the evils endured in this life.  The belief that the vast majority will be saved, not lost, ultimately allows God’s goodness to not be questioned the same way someone objecting to (say) Calvinist predestination could turn God into a monster.  After all, Calvinist teaching inevitably means the vast majority are going to burn in hell for all eternity, and that they really had no choice in the matter.  




          Now the issue you raise concerning the inspiration of Scripture doesn’t reckon with a key issue:  fulfilled prophecy.  The book of Daniel is, in particular, a challenge to all skeptics.  The prophecies of the Bible in such a book can’t be written off the way (say) daily astrology columns are written, in which an ambiguous prediction is made that totally different outcomes could fulfill.  No human, unaided by the God who knows the future (Isa. 41:26), could be so accurate.  Indeed, the standard liberal theological line is to try to post-date this book to the second century b.c., and so turn prophecy into (admittedly accurate) history.  But the nature of the language used in Daniel shows it couldn’t have been written that late, no more than someone today using modern English would use “Thou” to address a close friend or family member in normal conversation or write “mayest” in a story on the sports page of the local daily newspaper.  We have the remarkable prophecy in Daniel 11, which is mostly about the struggles between the Ptolemies of Egypt and the Seleucids of Iran/Syria/Mesopotamia.  Consider the predictions of Alexander the Great’s defeat of Persia followed by his death and replacement by four kings/kingdoms. (See Daniel 8:3-9, 20-22; 11:3-4).  There’s Isaiah’s prediction of the utter destruction and, even more boldly, the permanent abandonment of the site of Babylon (Isa. 13:19-22; 14:22-23).  After all, ancient cities would often be destroyed and rebuilt on the same spot, such as in the case of Jerusalem, and others have been continuously occupied for centuries, even millennia (Damascus for around 5,000 years).  Why did Isaiah pick out this city for this prediction of total and permanent destruction rather than Damascus, also an enemy city?  Why did Ezekiel make a complicated prediction of Tyre’s destruction that’s been fulfilled so far to date (Eze. 26:3-14) instead of Sidon?  This is why I deem the Bible to be provably inspired, inspired in a way that (say) Shakespeare and Hemingway weren’t.  Combined with historical accuracy in what can be checked (such as through archeological discoveries, see Werner Keller’s “The Bible as History” in this regard, although he’s not a fundamentalist), the Bible can be inferred to be fully true and therefore we should trust its statements in ethics and about how to gain eternal life.  A rational scientist will set up an experiment, and then extrapolate, believing all the matter in the universe under the same conditions would act the same way as the small amount tested in his lab.  Likewise, a Bible believer can reason the same way from fulfilled prophecy and historical accuracy in what can be checked, and then infer it’s all reliable and supernaturally inspired in the original manuscripts.  This is not a procedure of blind faith, although it still does require faith.


If God is truly almighty and all-knowing, and has a revelation for mankind, He wouldn’t let errors enter it during its writing.  That’s why I don’t believe there can be later revelations that contradict earlier ones when people knew less than they do today.  And, of course, are people today necessarily more right on moral issues (not scientific ones) than they were 2000 years ago?  The Eastern Liberal Establishment thinks today it couldn’t POSSIBLY be making a blunder as bad as (say) slavery was in the USA 150 years ago.  Yet, I could make the case the sin of abortion is far worse than slavery was, since slavery normally left its victims alive, but abortion always (if not botched) kills them, and it has killed far more millions over the past generation in the USA than were held in slavery in 1860.  The blood-soaked history of the 20th century undermines the claim that humanity is morally any better off in many regards than it was in (say) medieval times.  The old WCG frequently drew attention to this problem, of material/scientific/technological advance being much greater than any moral improvement the human race was going through.  The Bible’s message is not a historical one ultimately, but a moral one, even if certain historical events are the foundation for the truth of Christianity, such as the resurrection of Christ.




          Now I can see you are critical of the theory of atonement Christians have upheld concerning why Jesus died.  Let’s consider this issue more broadly although I could always resort to the Isaiah 55:8-9 kind of reply to your reasoning.  (If God can make us immortal, but otherwise can let us die for all eternity, we should do whatever it takes to live forever if we deem eternal life to be better than eternal death (unconsciousness).  If I can find a way to keep the “party” of life going, shouldn’t I research it to see if it is indeed true?)  The real issue is this:  Why can’t God the Father just look down to a sinful humanity, and say, “You’re all forgiven if you repent”?  Why must there be such a costly sacrifice also?  And why must it cost God so much also, not just the humans in question?  Why must Christianity demand total sacrifice from all of its human disciples (John 12:25; Luke 9:23-25) even as it demanded a total sacrifice from God also?  


          Although the New Testament assures Christians that Jesus' sacrifice works effectively to redeem them, some questions do remain:  How does it work? Why was it necessary?  Why couldn't some other human serve in place of Jesus as the source of redemption?  Someone, perhaps an Arian, might think, "Because only Jesus lived a sinless life, only He could be the source of redemption."  But how is that known, except by indirect theological argumentation?  Scripture clearly teaches Jesus was sinless, but why does the atonement require that?  Could some other righteous God-fearing human have served as the redeemer, such as Elisha or John the Baptist?  Why not an animal, for that matter?  If the atonement has no ontological basis, but was a mere arbitrary cancellation of the penalty of God's law for sin, how can men and women know that God is just in His actions?  How could one know whether or not He will punish sins when they should be punished?  Ultimately, the source of redemption has to be the Lawgiver Himself, since God's moral laws are intrinsic to His eternal character and divine nature.  Having been the Lawgiver to Israel through Moses, Jesus was the originator of the Law for humanity.  Having been the reason for its existence, He also could take in His own Person the penalty resulting from that law, and stand in humanity’s place for it. The one who put the moral law in motion has to be the Creator, and thus be God.  The violation of the moral law demanded human death as the penalty for its violation.  Consequently, Jesus had to become human to save us by becoming just like us.  He also had to become human in order to die, and to give up His life temporarily so Christians may live eternally themselves.  Although Jesus was our Creator physically, and thus His life was worth more than all of humanity's combined, He also had to be the Lawgiver in order to be able to receive the penalty of sin in His own Person in humanity’s place.  By stressing repentance as the reason for God to grant forgiveness, Judaism ultimately brings into question God's sense of justice as He enforces His law, since sometimes He forgives and sometimes punishes for the same sins.  Why shouldn’t He be merciful all the time, if He really loves humanity?


Although Calvinists would propound a different theory of atonement to answer these kinds of questions, I’ll give one version of the Arminian solution since it answers them better than Calvinism does.  Because God’s government over the whole universe is subject to His law, the atonement was necessary.  This law is for the good of all.  But since humans have an evil nature, they naturally wish to sin and violate the laws of God's government, God's kingdom. God has to punish sin for two basic reasons, instead of arbitrarily letting men and women off.  First, to deter the future violations of God's own law for later acts of sin, God's government has to inflict a formal penalty upon all who violate His law.  By punishing sin, God discourages others in the future from sinning.  To this extent, the theory of morality that’s at the basis of the atonement is a consequentialist or utilitarian one.  But that’s only half the picture. 


Second, God also has to inflict a penalty to uphold justice.  Consequently, punishing a murderer through the death penalty is perfectly just, even when it doesn't deter a single future murder or criminal act.  Here a deontological, or duty-oriented, theory of morality also undergirds the atonement.  Fortunately, God's sense of justice doesn’t require the inflicting of an exact punishment for each act of sin by every individual human.  Otherwise, Jesus would have to have suffered and had transferred upon Him exactly the penalties for sin as mankind should have (or did) suffer because of its sins (cf. I Pet. 2:24; II Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13). (This is part of the basis for the Calvinistic doctrine of the limited atonement, which says Jesus died only for saved Christians, not the whole world).  Instead, what's required is a sufficiently great, perfect, and high sacrifice that shows that God's law (which is an expression of His moral character and nature) is so important to Him that it can't be casually ignored.  A penalty for its violation must be inflicted.  By having the Creator and the Lawgiver die for all men and women, this bears witness to all the intelligences in the universe (human and angelic) that God's moral government over all the universe isn't a mere paper tiger, but has full substance behind it.


The story of Zaleucus, a lawgiver and ruler over an ancient colony of Greeks in southern Italy, helps illustrate how God's law could require a high but not necessarily fully exact penalty for its violation.  Zaleucus's own son had violated the law, which required as a penalty the son being made blind.  As this case came before Zaleucus himself, he suffered terrible inner torment since his roles as father and lawgiver collided.  Although even the citizens of the colony were willing to ask for his son's pardon, he knew as a statesman that eventually the reaction against letting his son arbitrarily off was that they would accuse him of partiality and injustice; consequently, in the future his laws would be broken more.  Yet, as a father, he yearned to lessen or eliminate the punishment for his son.  His solution?  He gave up one of his own eyes so that his son would only lose one of his own!  Notice that had he paid a sum of money, or had found someone else to take the penalty for this punishment, his authority as a statesman and lawgiver would have still been subverted, since the law and the penalties for its violation weren't then being taken seriously enough.  By giving up one of his own eyes, a crucial piece of his own body, Zaleucus showed his own high regard for the law and the moral sense standing behind it. 


The Jewish and Unitarian theories of atonement subvert the moral justice of God's government by making an arbitrary, non-costly act of God's will be the basis for forgiving the sins of humanity.  Consequently, the penalty for violating God's law ultimately becomes trivial. Only by making a great sacrifice, such as Zaleucus’s for his son, did God demonstrate to all the universe's intelligences that any violations of His moral government’s law, which expresses His intrinsic moral character, would not be taken lightly or arbitrarily ignored as He expresses His great love for humanity.


          So then what was the goal for God to make the human race to begin with?  Here HWA’s theology is actually very insightful:  God is in the process of making beings like Himself.  There’s always the great question of why a good and almighty God allows moral evil to exist.  HWA’s theodicy (a way of demonstrating God’s goodness despite the evil He allows) maintained God wishes to make beings like Himself that have 100% free will yet who will choose to be (ultimately) 100% righteous and obedient to His law.  God couldn't just create this good character by fiat (instant command) in men and women since it is developed by a conscious decision-making process in the individual so given free will.  God could have created 100% obedient robots by fiat, but then they wouldn't have had the free will to reject evil and to choose good that is also part of God’s nature.  Hence, He allows them to choose between both good and evil, but hopes they choose the former while enduring various trials so they that they become more like Himself, i.e., "sons of God," in character (cf. Matt. 5:48; Eph. 4:13; James 1:2-4; I Pet. 1:5-7; Heb. 5:8; Rom. 5:3-5; I John 3:1-3).  And this process requires time and space from God’s direct correction of the evils so produced or otherwise men and women would be intimidated by His glory into obeying Him out of fear alone.  (Something which didn’t work with Lucifer/Satan ultimately obviously, who came to doubt God’s love for His creatures). 




          I like here the “substitute teacher” analogy, having been one of these for nearly four years.  Suppose I told a class of sixth graders at 8 AM that they had a certain very difficult assignment due at 3 PM that day, and then left the classroom totally for the rest of the day until 3 PM.  How many of  them would do any work at all before “judgment day” (i.e., the 3 PM deadline for handing it in) arrived?  How many would have faith that the teacher would actually come back?  Would some perhaps even doubt his existence if this was there first day of school, and they came late, and missed the initial 5 minute description of the assignment given at 8 AM?  Likewise, humanity is in this position relative to a Creator God who remains, for the present, hidden, but who has assigned us work to do if we wish to live forever in union with Him.


          Developing holy righteous character and continual improvement is the goal of human life, for obviously a certain amount of imperfection will persist in even the best “students.”  The mere fact 100% perfection can’t be reached sensibly in this life (as per I John 1:8-10) isn’t a good reason to try not at all.  The limitations and weaknesses built into the flesh human beings have is merely a way God can see whether we’ll obey Him now so He can trust us with eternal life later.  He doesn’t want to remove those limitations until it’s safe to do so, that He wouldn’t be creating eternal beings who would be eternally unhappy (cf. Genesis 3:22-24) because they would be constantly violating His law by harming each other.  We may not know about how (say) the angels battled each other when Lucifer and the angels who sided with him rebelled, but I’m sure it was fearsome enough, and they violated God’s law plenty when doing so.  Having a body of spirit doesn’t automatically take away all temptations to sin, at least in the angelic realm.  Satan’s pride, vanity, and power lust motivated him into launching a most frightful rebellion.  I know you use the analogy of comparing human behavior to dogs messing up, but in this case I reply that God wants to see whether the “dogs” in question can learn to restrain themselves before they can be trusted with the gift of eternal life to not make themselves and others miserable throughout all eternity, just as the demons would be if God doesn’t annihilate them.




          The issues you raised concerning answered/unanswered prayer are really of a piece with the problem of evil that Job and his three friends debate (in a vacuum, not knowing about God’s discussions with Satan in Job 1-2), and which David also perceived in Ps. 37.  That is, there doesn’t seem to be much of a correlation between material prosperity and spiritual righteousness, or between getting married and the level of someone’s faith and/or obedience.  But, of course, is this life the most important thing?  Or is the next life the most important thing?  Eternity is much more important than (say) staying alive for 70 or 80 trips around the sun, if it indeed is available for us to have.  If material sacrifices have to be made in this life by some or many to have something in the next, do we have a right to complain?  Now, there is a mystery here, for some people in the COG are both called (so they can be in the first resurrection, which has a special status to it—Rev. 20:4-6) and have material prosperity.  Some, well, have lives that lack material prosperity, whether due to their own bad decisions (choosing the wrong career, not getting a higher education when they had the ability and money to get it), the bad decisions of others (like an ex-husband or bad father), or simply bad luck.  Some prophets were martyred, like Stephen and Zechariah, and others aren’t, like Jeremiah and John.  Is God merely being capricious and arbitrary in this regard?  Here I’ll now resort to Isa. 55:8-9 and Romans 9:11-23:  We don’t know the full story of God’s plan for the human race, and how each of us (well) fits into the great puzzle.  Consider the man born blind who hadn’t sinned to deserve this condition (John 9:1-3).  Why was he born blind?  So Jesus could do a great miraculous work that would witness to others that He was from God and represented the Father to others in the world.  (There’s a very interesting epistemological theme running through the Gospel of John concerning the relationship of faith, miraculous works, and public evidence for Jesus’ relationship with the Father, but I won’t try to show that here). Was it unfair for this man to be born blind for this reason?  Well, I can always resort to Isaiah 45:9, can’t I?:  “Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker—an earthenware vessel among the vessels of the earth!  Will the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you doing?’  Or the thing you are making say, ‘He has no hands’?”  I know many may not find that emotionally or rationally satisfying, but I’m one acutely aware of his own limitations in knowledge, so I don’t presume to think I know enough to correct God, especially at this time before the Second Coming.  I know better than to think like Job did, that he could judge God.  Going back to Mr. Boyne’s point above, the great gift of being an eternal member of God’s very Family is going to make up for any amount of evil suffered in this life for any reason (self-inflicted or otherwise).


          I’m well aware that it seems to be in this life there is some kind of peculiar interaction of human free will (i.e., making good or bad decisions based upon human reason and/or Scriptural guidance), random chance (i.e., luck, Eccl. 9:11, such as having a tsunami or hurricane hit your house one day), natural cause and effect (such as concerning one’s inborn natural talents and abilities and inclinations, or those gained by what family/society one was born into and raised/educated in), and God’s special intervention and general providence.  (Consider how God, out of love, gives rain to the righteous and unrighteous, for example—Matt. 5:45—as opposed to “zapping” the sinful directly always with thunderbolts).  Hence, as I examine my own life’s conditions materially, I see an acute amount of self-inflicted “misery” (although in many senses, looking at what happens to many people in the world, now and in the past, it really isn’t that bad, just merely frustrating).  A Christian in his or her life has to maintain a balance between these elements.  Hence, I don’t believe prayer has to oppose doing practical things to gain one’s goals in this life (such as finding a wife, etc.)  We should do both.  God may only answer a prayer after seeing us do practical things to try to gain our chosen ends.  I think here of a story I heard in one sermon dealing with prayer about a new ministerial trainee who was looking for a particular place to live.  Since he didn’t have a car yet (as I recall the story, so he had to be picked up by the pastor for visiting, etc.), he had a list of specifications that was somewhat daunting.  He spent all day looking for an apartment or place to live, and after basically giving up for the day, was discussing things with someone . . . who led him exactly to what he needed in this regard.  He was rewarded by God after showing he had put serious effort into finding the place desired himself.  Likewise, if we’re unemployed, we should put a lot of work into finding a job, just as Jacob put a lot of effort into trying to appease and prepare for meeting his brother Esau again, instead of expecting God having food delivered to our doors as we need it.  The catch here is trying to keep a balance between doing too much ourselves and passively leaving too much to God.  God wants His children to be active and working in this life, not passively hoping their faith and obedience will turn “God” into some kind of magic wand for meeting their needs.


          I suppose at this point I’ve rattled on long enough.  I’m well aware I haven’t answered all the points you’ve made, but just merely some of the more important ones.  In some cases, it requires far less space to pose a problem against Christianity than to explain it really isn’t a problem, which is an issue I encountered in writing my book that rebutted Jewish arguments against Christianity when dealing with the pagan mystery religions’ alleged influence on first-century Christianity.  But I would encourage you to consider reading some of the books by traditional Christians that defend Christianity as being a faith that can be embraced based on a certain level of logic and evidence, not just mere blind faith, such as by C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Josh McDowell, and Henry Morris.  I don’t perceive such a study having been done from what I read in your letter, but it seems you basically just read the Bible, some literature written by the WCG in the past, maybe a few traditional Christian works that weren’t apologetics, and reasoned upon them all to come up with your conclusions.  I would encourage you to do some more digging, and (say) point out the errors C.S. Lewis makes in (say) “The Problem of Pain” and “Miracles,” or Josh McDowell makes in “More Than a Carpenter,” if you wish to rebut the perspective I’m presenting in this letter.


Best Wishes,


Eric Snow




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