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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine God’s communicable attribute of goodness.

We examined the fall of Satan last time, and we know that after his fall Satan tempted Adam and Eve to sin. But we didn’t have time to answer the question of how Adam’s sin affects the rest of us. I know that this is a question that has been controversial throughout the ages but, Dr. Spencer, what does the Bible say about it?

Dr. Spencer: The Bible is clear that Adam was acting as our representative, what theologians call our federal head. We briefly mentioned this in Session 45 when we were discussing hermeneutics, the science of how to interpret the Bible. And we noted at that time that God uses a kind of representative government for his creatures. While he treats every individual with absolute justice or rich mercy, it is still true that he sees all human beings as being in one of two camps. We are all either in Adam, or in Christ. They are the two federal heads and we are all represented by one or the other.

Marc Roby: As I remember, you quoted Romans 5 in support of this view.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, I did. But we only took a brief look at a couple of verses. In answering this important question today, I’d like to take a longer look at Romans 5:12-21. In examining this passage I’m going to draw heavily on P.G. Mathew’s book on Romans. He points out that Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that Roman 5:12-21 is the key to understanding the whole book of Romans, but then Rev. Mathew states that “I would say this section is the key to interpreting all Scripture and all human history. If we want to know why people are bad and do bad things, or why a sinner cannot save himself, we should read this passage. If we want to understand why human salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, we should read this passage. If we want to comprehend the doctrine of union with Christ and be fully assured of our ultimate salvation, we must read this passage.”[1]

Marc Roby: Those are bold claims about the importance of this passage. I’m looking forward to getting into it.

Dr. Spencer: They are bold claims, but they are also true. The core of the gospel message is presented in this passage and it is often rejected by people because, as Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 1:18, “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” [2] And, in 1 Corinthians 2:14 we are told that “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

Marc Roby: And therefore, this passage in Romans is particularly important for anyone who considers himself a Christian. If we cannot accept this teaching about God’s way of salvation, we need to cry out to God for his Holy Spirit to grant us understanding and salvation.

Dr. Spencer: You’re right. This passage is that important. And it fits in with a discussion of God’s attribute of goodness because I can’t think of anything that illustrates God’s goodness more than the gospel of salvation by grace.

Marc Roby: Nor can I.

Dr. Spencer: The passage begins, in Verse 12, by saying, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned—”. The first thing we need to look at is the word “Therefore”.

Marc Roby: Which, of course, refers to what Paul had said prior to this verse.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. And, certainly, in part it refers back to Verse 10, where we read, “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” This verse clearly states man’s problem, “we were God’s enemies”.

Marc Roby: And it is never a good thing to have the eternal, omnipotent Creator of all things as your enemy.

Dr. Spencer: No, it isn’t. You’re bound to lose. And Paul goes on to argue that we were God’s enemies precisely because we were still in Adam; in other words, he was still our representative. But, in Verse 10 he tells us that we were reconciled to God through the death of Jesus Christ and that, having been reconciled, we will be saved. So, the word “therefore” at the beginning of Verse 12 is pointing back to this reconciliation and salvation that we have in Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: Alright, let me read the verse again with that thought in mind. It says, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned—”.

Dr. Spencer: And notice that this verse does not express a complete thought, it leaves you expecting something, expecting it to go on. And yet the next verse, Verse 13, starts a new sentence. In other words, Paul leaves his thought half finished. And this is indicated in some Bibles by ending Verse 12 with a dash or a colon. Also, in some Bibles Verse 13 begins with a parenthesis, indicating that it is the start of a parenthetical section that continues through Verse 17. Paul is doing what we all do often, he starts a thought and then realizes that he needs to explain it more fully before continuing. So, let’s look at the thought. He said, “just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned”.

Marc Roby: That is a statement loaded with meaning.

Dr. Spencer: Which is why Paul realized it needed to be fleshed out. The statement makes three points. First, sin entered the world through one man. Second, death is the result of sin. And, third, all die because all sinned in Adam. Let’s deal with the second point first.

Marc Roby: And that second point is that death is the result of sin.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, but it is specifically the sin of Adam as we’ll get to in a minute. The apostle says that death came “through” sin. He says the same thing somewhat differently in Romans 6:23, where we read that “the wages of sin is death”. In other words, death is not natural. It is the punishment God promised Adam and Eve for sinning as we read in Genesis 2:17. And so, in Verses 13 and 14, Paul explains this further.

Marc Roby: Let me read those verses before you go on. Romans 5:13-14 say, “for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.”

Dr. Spencer: And notice Paul’s logic here. He points out that sin is not taken into account when there is no law. He doesn’t say that people didn’t sin during this period of time, because they most certainly did; in fact, he says “sin was in the world.” But he says that sin isn’t taken into account. Nevertheless, he points out that the people who lived between the time of Adam and Moses and “did not sin by breaking a command”, still died. This proves that these people died for Adam’s sin. He makes that explicit in Verse 15 where he says that “many died by the trespass of the one man”. In fact, he repeats this point several times so that we can’t get it wrong. He also says in Verse 16 that “judgment followed one sin” and in Verse 17 he says that “by the trespass of the one man” death reigned.

Marc Roby: I can hear many of our listeners just bristling at the thought that people would die because of someone else’s sin.

Dr. Spencer: I understand the objection. But let me put off dealing with it for a few minutes, there is a very good answer to it. We can summarize Paul’s argument as follows: sin entered the world through Adam and all people since the time of Adam are subject to death as a result of his sin. So far this doesn’t sound good for us, but then Paul ends Verse 14 by saying that Adam “was a pattern of the one to come.” And he goes on to explain that in Verse 15.

Marc Roby: Which says, “But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!”

Dr. Spencer: And here is the gospel message! Adam was a pattern of the one to come, which is speaking of Christ, but there is a drastic difference, because we are condemned if we are in Adam, but eternally saved if we are in Christ. He was a pattern only in the sense that he was our head before and Christ is our head now.

Paul starts off Verse 15 by saying that “the gift is not like the trespass”. Salvation is a free gift. Paul also tells us that in Ephesians 2:8-9, where we read, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Marc Roby: And, of course, grace is unmerited favor. Or, we could even say, it is showing favor to those who deserve condemnation.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And Paul then explains further. He goes on in Romans 5:15 to say, “For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!” As I noted earlier, this verse makes it even more explicit that many died because of the sin of the one man, which refers to Adam. But the gift, which we are told came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflows to many.

Marc Roby: Praise God for his rich mercy.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, praise God indeed. And Paul goes on, in Verse 16, to say that “Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.” Here he again makes it clear that death, which is the just judgment for sin, followed “one sin”, which was the sin of Adam. But the gift, which followed many trespasses, or sins, brought justification. As he said in Verse 10, we are reconciled to God.

Marc Roby: And in Verse 10 it had said that “we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son”.

Dr. Spencer: Which, of course, refers to Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross. Then, in Verse 17, Paul says, “For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.” We again see the emphasis on the “one man” through whom death reigned, which is Adam, and the “one man” through whom righteousness and life reign, who is Christ. This passage clearly shows that the theological idea of Adam and Christ as the two federal heads is completely biblical.

Marc Roby: And it again speaks of God’s grace and gift. Salvation is clearly not by works.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that point is abundantly clear in this passage. And we have now finished the parenthetical comments that began in Verse 13, so Verse 18 finishes the thought that Paul started in Verse 12. Let me read both verses. Verse 12 says, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned—” and then Verse 18 says, “Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.”

Marc Roby: And I must praise God again. And I must point out that we have to be careful with this verse, when it says that this one act of righteousness, which is referring to Christ’s atoning sacrifice, “brings life for all men”, it is not telling us that every single human being will be saved.

Dr. Spencer: No, it isn’t. It means that all who are saved by the grace of God are saved as a result of this one act of righteousness. In fact, Paul phrases it differently in the very next verse. Verse 19 says, “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” We have to interpret these verses in a way that is consistent with all of Scripture.

Marc Roby: The first principle of hermeneutics as you taught in Sessions 39 through 48.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is the most important principle of hermeneutics. And when you apply it here it is obvious the statements about death coming to all men and the many being made sinners both refer to every single human being who has descended from Adam and Eve in the natural way. Whereas, the statements about bringing life to all men and the many being made righteous do not refer to every single human being, but only to those who are born again and justified by faith in Christ.

Marc Roby: Now the last two verses, 20 and 21, then say “The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Dr. Spencer: We don’t have time today to deal with what is meant by saying that “where sin increased, grace increased all the more”, but notice again that sin reigned in death – in other words, death is the penalty for sin, but specifically for the sin of Adam. And then also note that grace reigns through righteousness and brings eternal life through Jesus Christ. Saying “through Jesus Christ” means that eternal life comes to those people, and only those people, who are united to Christ by true saving faith. We are all conceived with Adam as our federal head and we are, therefore, subject to death. But, praise God, if we place our trust in Jesus Christ, we are united to him by faith and receive eternal life. In Romans 8:1 Paul wrote that “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”.

Marc Roby: What a glorious promise that is. But I’m not going to let you forget the question you put off earlier. You said that you have a good answer for those who think it is unfair for them to be born subject to the penalty of death because of the sin of Adam.

Dr. Spencer: There is a great answer to that question. First, let me point out that God is perfect and all he does is perfect, so he chose the perfect representative for the human race. None of us would have done any better than Adam did. And so, if what you want is fairness, and you interpret that to mean that you should be judged on your own merits, you need to realize that we would all have fallen and would go to hell for our own sins if we were put in the same situation as Adam. God’s representative government is the only way anyone can be saved! It is only because we can be united to Christ as our federal head that salvation is possible. If you have a problem with being represented by Adam, then logically, you should also have a problem with being represented by Christ.

Marc Roby: Yes, I see your point. We like the one, but not the other.

Dr. Spencer: And, of course, ultimately, it doesn’t matter what we like. What matters is what is true. And God’s Word makes it clear, as we have just seen, that this is how he has chosen to deal with his creation. And who are we to complain?

Marc Roby: Well, we certainly shouldn’t, but unfortunately people often do.

Dr. Spencer: It is unfortunate, but it is also because we are sinners. Not only do we inherit the guilt of Adam’s sin, we also inherit his sinful nature. When Adam and Eve sinned, it produced a real change in their natures. We aren’t told exactly how that works, but it is clear that it did. They used to have perfect fellowship with God, but right after the fall we see them hiding from God.

Marc Roby: Sin always produces fear and animosity.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it does. And the sinful nature that is displayed by their fear and animosity is handed down to us. We aren’t told exactly how that occurs, but however it happens, the results are clear. Every single human being who has descended from Adam and Eve by the ordinary means of procreation is, conceived in sin, born in sin, and practices sin. As David put it in Psalm 51:5, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” And because we are sinners by nature, we sin.

Marc Roby: Which is abundantly obvious in the world all around us. And I think you have answered the question of how Adam’s sin affects us. Since he was our representative, we share in his guilt and all of the bitter fruit of his sin.

Dr. Spencer: The Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it well. Question 16 asks, “Did all mankind fall in Adam’s first transgression?” and the answer is given, “The covenant being made with Adam, not only for himself, but for his posterity; all mankind, descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him, and fell with him, in his first transgression.” But, praise God, in his great love and according to his attribute of goodness, he provided us with a Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: And with that, I think we are out of time for today. Let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, we’d love to hear from you.

 

[1] P.G. Mathew, Romans: The Gospel Freedom (Volume 1), Grace and Glory Ministries, pg. 302

[2] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine God’s communicable attribute of goodness. Dr. Spencer, last session was a theodicy, which is a defense of the goodness and omnipotence of God given the fact that evil exists. But there is a related question we did not discuss that I suspect a number of our listeners may be wondering about, which is this, “How did evil first enter into creation?” In Genesis 1:31 we read that when God finished his work of creating, there was no evil present because, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” [1]

Dr. Spencer: Well, not only was all that God created very good, but this is also a very good question. It is also one of the hardest questions you could ask. The Bible doesn’t tell us a great deal about the origin of sin, but as we consider the topic we must carefully guard against a couple of very serious errors, as Wayne Grudem points out in his Systematic Theology.[2]

Marc Roby: What errors are those?

Dr. Spencer: The first one is the error of blaming God for sin. Deuteronomy 32:4 tells us, “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.” And in James 1:13 we are told that “God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone”. In light of these Scriptures, and many others, it would be absolute blasphemy to think that God is the author of sin.

Marc Roby: Yes, I agree, which is why the presence of sin is so puzzling. What is the second error we need to guard against?

Dr. Spencer: It is to think that God was not able to prevent sin. In other words, to think there is some equally powerful evil force at work in creation.

Marc Roby: Sort of the like the dark side of “the force” in the Star Wars movies.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it would be sort of like that if it existed, which of course it does not. God is absolutely sovereign over all creation, which includes Satan and his demons and everything else, and God is completely good.

As we discussed last time, God allowed sin to enter into his creation because it allowed him to more fully demonstrate his multifaceted glory. But the key word in that sentence is “allowed”. God was not the creator of sin, but he is absolutely sovereign over sin. He could have prevented it and he is able to prevent every single instance of sin that has ever occurred or ever will occur.

Marc Roby: That is a difficult notion to accept given some of the truly evil things that have been done throughout history. It is frightening to think, for example, that God allowed the Holocaust.

Dr. Spencer: I agree completely, which is why we have to think very carefully and biblically or we will get into trouble. If God were not absolutely sovereign over everything that happens in this universe, we could never trust that he would be able to make his promises come true. In addition, his promises would then be lies and he would be a liar. These are absolutely unthinkable heresies. The only answer I can give, which comes from the Bible as we discussed last time, is that God allowed sin into creation for his own greater glory. But that does not mean that he is responsible for it, or that he approves of it in any way, or that he cannot control it.

Marc Roby: Which is, again, why something like the Holocaust is so hard to reconcile with God’s goodness.

Dr. Spencer: It is. But, as we labored to show last time, you need to realize that God’s purpose in creation is the manifestation of his own glory and that there is an eternal reality that awaits all people and all angels. In that eternity there will be no injustice. Everyone will be treated either with perfect justice, or perfect mercy. In light of this eternal reality, a Christian’s troubles here are easy to deal with – even the most severe troubles we can imagine. Which is why the apostle Paul wrote, in 2 Corinthians 4:17, that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”

Marc Roby: That’s an amazing verse on two accounts. First, that Paul could call our troubles “light and momentary” given some of the terrible troubles he himself experienced. And secondly, it is amazing to consider what our eternal glory will be like if it far outweighs any possible trouble in this life.

Dr. Spencer: It is hard to imagine, but it is true. We again have to reckon with the fact that eternity is infinitely longer than this life. Let me give an analogy to help us grasp this truth.

Marc Roby: Yes, please do.

Dr. Spencer: Think of someone who gets cancer when he is 10 years old and he is told by the doctor that he will certainly die within a year if it isn’t treated. But if he undergoes radiation and chemo-therapy for six months it can most likely be cured.

Marc Roby: That is a very unpleasant thing to consider, especially in somebody so young.

Dr. Spencer: I chose that age deliberately, as you’ll see. Now let’s further suppose that this young boy goes through the treatments. That will be an extremely miserable six months. But let’s further assume that the treatments are successful and he goes on to live a healthy life and die at the ripe old age of 95. That is 85 years past the date when he was told he had cancer, and 84½ of those years were healthy and happy. The six months of misery amounts to less than 0.6% of those 85 years. I think we would all agree that it was worth it in the end.

Marc Roby: Yes, I have to agree with that statement.

Dr. Spencer: OK, so now think about eternity. Even if God calls me to be one of those who suffer for Christ in this life, it doesn’t matter if I suffer for 1 year or 100 years, it is literally zero percent of the time I will spend in heaven.

Marc Roby: I see your point. And, of course, suffering can also produce beneficial results in this life.

Dr. Spencer: Yes it can. I think we have all experienced or heard about a situation where some painful trial produced a good harvest in terms of either leading someone to saving faith, or driving someone away from some besetting sin, or in just making them a better person. God also frequently uses troubles to cause his people to stop trusting in themselves and this world and to look to him in humility and prayer.

In Romans 5 Paul says that we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God and then adds, in Verses 3 through 5, “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”

Marc Roby: That verse also fits with Romans 8:28, which says, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Dr. Spencer: It fits with that verse very well. And I can personally testify that I am a better person for having gone through the pain of needing and then having two hip replacements. For example, I am more thankful, less proud and more compassionate toward others.

And our greatest joy in heaven will be contemplating the glory of God, so if our misery in this life helps in any way to make that glory manifest, either directly because we suffer for the name of Christ or just by making us better people, and therefore better witnesses for Christ, just imagine the eternal joy we will receive from knowing that.

Marc Roby: I have to admit that makes it easier to see how sufferings could be considered inconsequential by Paul. Although they may still be terrible to endure in this life.

Dr. Spencer: They can be terrible, and God knows that. All suffering, ultimately, is the result of sin. And God is not pleased that sin exists. In fact, in Ezekiel 33:11 we read that God commanded the prophet, “Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?’” This verse, and others, tell us clearly that God does not take pleasure in the fact that sin must be punished. But because he is infinitely holy and just, it must still be punished. God cannot act contrary to his own perfect nature. So, I’m going to borrow a phrase from John Murray and say that allowing sin was a “consequent absolute necessity” for God.[3]

Marc Roby: I think that phrase from Murray needs some explanation.

Dr. Spencer: What I mean is that allowing sin into his creation, while certainly not something that in itself brings any pleasure to God, was absolutely necessary as a consequence of his having decided to create anything. Because God is perfect, his creation is perfect. And that means that the purpose for that creation is the best possible purpose, which we have noted is the manifestation of his glory. And the full manifestation of his glory must include his holiness and just wrath in addition to his love and mercy. Now I’m drawing a deduction at this point, rather than stating something that Scripture tells us clearly, so I could be wrong. But if sin did not have to exist to accomplish God’s perfect purpose, I don’t believe he would have allowed it since sin, in itself, something that God hates.

Marc Roby: I am going to meditate on that thought for a while.

Dr. Spencer: And I hope our listeners do as well. The more we think about God and what he has done and his revelation to us in his Word, the more we see how our own views have to change. That is why Paul commanded us in Romans 12:2, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Paul isn’t suggesting that we are able to “test” God’s will in terms of passing judgment on it, that would imply that we are greater than God, which is patently absurd. But he means that to the extent our thinking is transformed we will be able to “test and approve” because we will have come into conformity with God’s perfect will.

Marc Roby: And, of course, being conformed to the likeness of Christ, who is God, is the purpose for which we were predestined, called, justified and will be glorified as Paul wrote in Romans 8:29-30. And that conformity will certainly include our thinking.

Dr. Spencer: And our understanding of what is good, since God is the ultimate standard for what is good.

Marc Roby: I can see you’re trying to get us back on our topic, which isn’t a bad idea. But my question about the origin of sin still stands. You’ve argued, and I think successfully, that we need to avoid the ditches on both sides of the road; that is, the ditch on one side of thinking that God created sin and the ditch on the other side of thinking that he’s not able to prevent it. But you haven’t yet addressed how it came into this world, which was originally declared to be “very good”.

Dr. Spencer: Well, as I said at the outset, that is an extremely difficult question, and God has not chosen to reveal much of the answer. God has told us that the original creation was very good, as you just noted, so we know that there wasn’t any sin present in the beginning. God has also told us about Satan coming and tempting Eve, and through her Adam, to get them to sin. We can conclude from that passage that Satan himself had already become sinful. So, there was a fall of Satan and his demons that occurred before the fall of man. Grudem has a good discussion of this in his Systematic Theology.[4] And there are also some passages in Scripture that speak about Satan’s fall.

Marc Roby: The first one I think of is 2 Peter 2:4, where we are told that “God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment”.

Dr. Spencer: Another New Testament reference is Jude 6, which says, “the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day.”

These two verses tell us clearly that there were angels who sinned and that God judged them. The fact that they are in dungeons, or darkness and chains, does not mean that they have no influence on this world, but rather that God has absolute control over them.

Marc Roby: And a good example of that is seen in Job 1:6-12, where we read of Satan receiving permission from God to test Job.

Dr. Spencer: And in Luke 22:31 Jesus told the apostle Peter that Satan had asked to sift him as wheat. But in the next verse, Luke 22:32, we have that wonderful statement of Jesus “But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

Marc Roby: I can only imagine that after Peter had denied Christ three times and then Christ was crucified this statement must have provided great comfort, although I’m sure Peter didn’t understand at that time exactly what Christ meant. In fact, Peter must have felt like his faith had failed.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. But the wonderful thing is that Christ didn’t say “And if you turn back, strengthen your brothers.” He said “when you turn back”. Christ’s prayers are always effectual, and that should provide great comfort to all Christians because in his great high priestly prayer we read, in John 17:15, that Christ prayed to the Father about his people and said, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.”

Marc Roby: That is very comforting indeed.

Dr. Spencer: And that statement, along with Satan having to ask permission to sift Peter and the story of Job, show that God allows Satan and the other fallen angels to operate in this world for a time. In fact, in Ephesians 2:2 Satan is called “the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” So, we know that Satan and some other angels fell and are under God’s judgment, that they are allowed to oppose God’s people in this world for a time, but they are completely under God’s authority.

Marc Roby: Which is good news, because Jesus told us, in John 8:44, that Satan was “a murderer from the beginning” and he is “the father of lies” and the New Testament consistently portrays him as the mortal enemy of God’s church. But what about the fall of Satan himself?

Dr. Spencer: There are at least two passages in the Old Testament that many good theologians think refer to Satan’s fall. One is in Isaiah 14, where the prophet is speaking about the King of Babylon, and the other is in Ezekiel 28 where the prophet is speaking about the King of Tyre. In both cases the descriptions of the kings go beyond what could reasonably be said about any human king, so many theologians think that the prophets were weaving together descriptions of the human kings with the fall of Satan from heaven. This weaving together of human and heavenly events that are related in some way is not uncommon, as Wayne Grudem points out.[5]

In any event, these passages, if they do apply to Satan as many think they do, tell us that he became proud and wanted to take his place on the throne of heaven.

Marc Roby: Yes, in other words, he failed to humble himself and take account of the Creator/creature distinction, which we have pointed out numerous times is central to a proper understanding of who we are.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And he used the same temptation that caused him to fall to snare Adam and Eve. Notice what he said to Eve. After contradicting God and saying that she would not surely die if she ate the forbidden fruit, he then said, in Genesis 3:5, “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Marc Roby: It’s ironic that he should tell them, “you will be like God” since Adam and Eve had been created in God’s image. So, in one sense, they already were like God, and their listening to Satan actually resulted in that image being terribly distorted.

Dr. Spencer: It is ironic. But it is also clear that Satan was implying they would be like God in some deeper sense than just being made in his image. He may not have been implying that they would become gods themselves, but it was something close to that. Also, as we noted earlier, our final destiny as God’s children is to be conformed to the image of Christ.

John Murray made an interesting observation in this regard. In writing about the sanctification of believers, he wrote that “likeness to God is the ultimate pattern of sanctification. The reason why God himself is the pattern should be obvious: man is made in the image of God and nothing less than the image of God can define the restoration which redemption contemplates. … [but] it must not be thought that likeness to God is absolute. There is a sense in which to aspire after likeness to God is the epitome of iniquity.”[6]

Marc Roby: That is very interesting. So we know that Satan fell from his exalted place because of pride. He rejected the fundamental Creator/creature distinction that we must always keep in mind. I think that provides a reasonable answer to the question I posed at the beginning, but it also raises another one, which we will have to wait for next time to deal with because we are out of time for today.

Let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, and we’ll do our best to respond.

 

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 492

[3] Murray uses this phrase in to speak of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955, pg. 12).

[4] Grudem, op. cit., pp 412-414

[5] Grudem, op. cit., pg. 413 (he cites Ps 45 as an example)

[6] John Murray, Collected Works, Vol. II, Banner of Truth Trust, 1977, Vol. 2, pg. 306

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine God’s communicable attribute of goodness.

Dr. Spencer, at the end of our last session, you said that we need a proper biblical perspective to understand how a completely good and omnipotent God can allow evil into his creation. How would you like to proceed today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to spend more time on the topic of evil and its relation to the goodness of God because it is an extremely important and difficult topic.

I noted last time that many people in history have argued that the existence of sin and suffering prove that God must either not be good, or not able to prevent evil, in other words, not be omnipotent. I also pointed out that that argument is wrong because it assumes the unbiblical, that is to say, incorrect, idea that the purpose of creation is, or should be, to maximize our pleasure in this life.

Marc Roby: Perhaps we should mention that a defense of God’s goodness and omnipotence given the fact that evil exists, that’s called a theodicy.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, I think it’s good for people to know that term. And that is exactly what I want to do today. I want to explain, or justify, how it is possible for evil to exist in a universe ruled by an all-powerful, or omnipotent, and all-good, or omnibenevolent, God.

Marc Roby: You noted last time that a proper biblical perspective requires us to recognize that God’s purpose in creation is the manifestation of his own glory and that we also need to recognize that there is an eternal destiny for human beings. In other words, this life is not all there is.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s right, this life is definitely not all there is and we’ll deal with that more in a minute. But first, let me say a little more about the first of those two points, God’s purpose.

Marc Roby: Please do.

Dr. Spencer: We spoke in both Sessions 2 and 67 about God’s purpose in creation, but it would be good to give just a couple of Scriptures at this time to support the claim that his purpose is the manifestation of his own glory.

Marc Roby: I agree, what Scriptures would you like to cite?

Dr. Spencer: Let’s begin with the prophet Isaiah. God spoke through the prophet about his redeemed people, meaning the church, and in Isaiah 43:6-7 we read that God said, “I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth—everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” [1] There are many other verses as well that tell us God’s purpose in creation and redemption is the manifestation of his glory. But to give just one more example, Psalm 19 famously begins, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” (Psalm 19:1)

Marc Roby: I think it is also helpful to remember one other thing you said before, that there is no better purpose for creation than the manifestation of the glory of God. He chose the best possible purpose.

Now, returning to the second point, that this life is not all there is, it’s also pretty easy to come up with Scriptures that support the idea that human beings have an eternal destiny.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, the first one that pops into my mind is the 25th chapter of Matthew.

Marc Roby: Where Christ describes the final judgment.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And after separating the sheep from the goats and telling the goats that they must depart from him, he ends, in Verse 46, by saying, “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” And the same exact Greek word for eternal is used in both places in that verse, which makes it clear that it is exegetically impossible to believe in eternal heaven and deny the existence of eternal hell.

So, getting back to your statement that this life is not all there is, we can go further and say that that is, in fact, a gross understatement. When compared with eternity, this life is, quite literally, nothing. There really is only one important question to answer in life, and that is, “Where am I going when I die?” The Bible tells us that there are only two possible places. I will either go to eternal hell and suffer for my sins, or eternal heaven and live in bliss forever in the presence of the perfect God.

Marc Roby: Of course, not everyone is going to agree that those are the only two destinies.

Dr. Spencer: I’m well aware of that, but those are the only two destinies described in the Bible, which is the infallible Word of God, so I’m confident that that is the truth. And I would point out that even people who say they believe that we simply cease to exist when we die frequently speak and act in ways that make it clear they know it isn’t true.

Marc Roby: Yes, especially when someone close to them dies.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely, that is the most common time. You will often hear them say something like, “Aunt Mary will be very pleased to see you graduate” or whatever. But, of course, if Aunt Mary is dead, and if people simply cease to exist, then Aunt Mary can’t possibly know that someone is graduating, let alone be pleased by it.

Marc Roby: I’ve certainly heard people say many things that would indicate they know there is some mode of existence beyond the grave.

Dr. Spencer: And not only do they know that, but they also know there will be a judgment. That is one of the major reasons people fear death. They know they will be judged, and they aren’t confident it will go well for them in that judgment.

Marc Roby: Although most people flatter themselves and think they aren’t really all that bad. They might admit that they deserve a mild rebuke for some things they have said or done, but they don’t believe they have done anything deserving of real wrath.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. And there are two reasons most people think they will get a passing grade. First, they grade themselves on a curve, in other words, they compare themselves to other people. But God doesn’t grade on a curve. Jesus commands us in Matthew 5:48, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Marc Roby: That is definitely not grading on a curve. What is the second reason people think they will get a passing grade?

Dr. Spencer: It’s because they only consider external sins, not sins of the heart. So, since most people have never murdered, or raped or committed grand theft or anything like that, they assume that they are relatively good. And, of course, they may actually be good in a relative sense. But there are two problems with that view.

Marc Roby: What problems are those?

Dr. Spencer: First, as I mentioned, they are ignoring the heart. We are told in 1 Samuel 16:7 that “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” And in Hebrews 4:12 we read that “the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

Marc Roby: That’s a problem for us.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is a serious problem. And Jesus illustrated just how serious that problem is when he told the people in Matthew 5:27-28, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Now many men can truthfully say that they have never committed the physical act of adultery, but how many can say that they have never once looked at a woman lustfully?

Marc Roby: I’d rather not answer that question.

Dr. Spencer: I think you just did. And, of course, adultery isn’t the only sin for which this applies. We are also told that unholy anger is committing murder in the heart and so on. When you apply the true standard, even most law-abiding people do not do very well.

Marc Roby: Alright. You said that there are two problems with the view that we really aren’t all that bad; what is the second one?

Dr. Spencer: The second problem is even more serious. It is that we misjudge sin itself. The worst sin of all isn’t something I do to other people, it is my attitude toward God. If I don’t consciously give him thanks for life and material blessings, and if I don’t live to please him, I am insulting the living God, my Creator. Even if I murder someone, the worst sin involved is not what I did to that person. The worst sin involved is that in murdering the person I rejected God’s law and his authority to command me to not murder. And, even worse, if I live as though I am independent and he doesn’t exist, that is a huge insult to God. Rejecting the sovereign Creator and Lord of all is a very serious offense, it is an offence that deserves God’s wrath.

Marc Roby: That makes perfectly good sense. In fact, the Bible tells us that anything not done in obedience to God and for his glory is sin.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. In 1 Corinthians 10:31 we are famously told, “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” And the Greek verb in that sentence is in the imperative mood, so it is a command. And in John 14:15 Jesus told us that “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” We can conclude therefore, that any disobedience is a lack of love for God, which is most certainly a sin because Jesus told us in Matthew 22:37-38 that the greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Therefore, anything that is not done in conscious obedience to God and for his glory, is sin.

Marc Roby: That is a very convicting, but true, statement. But we were justifying God’s goodness given the presence of evil. How does this all tie back into that topic?

Dr. Spencer: It ties back in in at least two ways. First, because there is an eternal destiny awaiting every human being, we can’t judge what is good in any meaningful ultimate sense by looking at what happens just in this short life. And secondly, if we recognize that the worst sin is not murder, or any thing like that, but rather is rejecting the sovereign God who made us, then we will understand that we all deserve punishment. And if we then receive what we deserve, that is certainly just and we must agree that is good. And when we consider those to whom God has granted repentance and saving faith, we see that they receive mercy, rather than justice, and spend eternity in heaven. And certainly we must agree that is also good.

Marc Roby: I think everyone would agree that bringing people to heaven is good. I’m not sure many people are willing to accept that hell is good, although the fact that guilty sinners deserve God’s wrath certainly argues that it is. But I suspect that many people would ask why God can’t simply show mercy and forgive. After all, God commands us to be merciful and to forgive others.

Dr. Spencer: That’s a great question, and we dealt with it in Session 24. I pointed out then that God cannot forgive sin without the penalty being paid because he is the judge of the universe. If I steal from someone who happens to be a judge, he can forgive me on a personal level. But, if the case comes before his court and I am found guilty of the crime, as judge he cannot simply say that he forgives me. Justice demands that I be punished and he must abide by the laws of the state and sentence me appropriately. As Judge of the universe, God must do what is just and right, and the just and right penalty for sinning against God is death—eternal death.

Marc Roby: That helps. And it is also important to remember the fact you pointed out in Session 72, that people in hell do not repent and seek God’s forgiveness, but continue to hate him and rail against him in their hearts, which actually increases their guilt every day.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. When you put all of this together, you realize that hell is good. It is not pleasant, but it is just and fair and right. And so, in a deep sense of the term, it is good.

Marc Roby: But, at the same time, God does show mercy to some and save them. And that brings up another problem for many people. It seems unfair for God to choose some people to be saved while leaving others to suffer for their sins.

Dr. Spencer: That is a very common complaint. You’re speaking about the doctrine of divine election, and we dealt with that doctrine back in Session 15, but we must say a few words again here. The basic problem is that we think we want to be judged based on our own effort. That somehow sounds fair to us because in terms of dealings with other human beings that is, in general, fair. But, as I noted a minute ago, when we consider the true nature of sin, and we judge the heart and not just the external actions, we find that we all have a serious problem. We are all sinners in need of a Savior. As Paul wrote in Romans 3:23, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. So, if we think more carefully, we will recognize that we don’t really want to be judged fairly, or justly, we want mercy.

Marc Roby: And, of course, by definition mercy is not something we deserve, so God is not under obligation to show mercy to anyone.

Dr. Spencer: No, he isn’t. It would be completely just and fair for God to send all of us to hell. The huge surprise, the great mystery and amazing demonstration of God’s love and mercy is that he chose to save anyone at all. Especially when you consider the cost.

Marc Roby: Which was the sacrifice of Jesus Christ himself.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And we find ourselves right back at John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” And this is good in the most profound possible sense of the word, even though perishing in this verse refers to eternal hell. And notice that it is only those who believe who will not perish. In fact, just two verses later, in John 3:18, we read that “whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

Refusing to believe in Jesus Christ is the most serious sin a person can commit it is, ultimately, the sin that sends you to hell. In 1 John 5 the apostle tells us about God’s testimony about Christ and he says in Verse10 that “Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.

Marc Roby: Calling the perfectly holy and just Creator a liar is a terrible thing. And I think we have made a good case for the fact that the existence of hell is actually good, given the fact that evil does exist.

We got onto this topic because of the importance of having an eternal perspective in understanding the presence of evil. Can we go back now and tie it all together somehow? Why is it good that God allowed evil to enter his creation?

Dr. Spencer: Because it allowed a more complete manifestation of God’s multifaceted glory. Without allowing evil to enter creation God would not have been able to demonstrate his just wrath against evil, nor would he have been able to demonstrate his astounding merciful love in redeeming some people. I don’t think we can understand it fully, but you have to consider the finished product so to speak. Years ago I read something very profound that is relevant to this topic in, of all places, a devotional my wife and I were reading with our children when they were young.

Marc Roby: What was that?

Dr. Spencer: The author used the analogy of a cake to illustrate Romans 8:28, which says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Now I don’t remember the story in detail, but it went something like this; a child had asked the mother about something that wasn’t good, and questioned whether God was good for allowing such a thing. The mother’s response in the story was great. She asked the child, “Do you like chocolate cake?” And, like most children, the child responded, “Of course.” And then the mother said, “Well, do you like to eat flour?” And he said, “No.” Then the mother asked if he liked to eat baking powder, and he said no. Then she asked if he liked to eat salt, and he said no. Then she asked if he liked raw egg and he said no. But she then told him that all of those things were used in making chocolate cake.

Marc Roby: That is a great illustration. The ingredients may not be good in and of themselves, but the final result is good.

Dr. Spencer: And so it is with God’s works. We do not know enough or have a wide enough perspective to properly judge his works. We know that evil exists and we know that evil is not good in itself. In fact, it is the opposite of good. But we know that God is not the author of evil and God is good. In fact, he is the standard of good. He is absolutely, perfectly and immutably good. And he is omnipotent. Therefore, we can conclude that the presence of evil was necessary for the accomplishing of God’s perfect eternal plan for creation, which is good.

Marc Roby: And I think that is a good place to end for today – pun intended. I want to remind our listeners that they can email any questions or comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We will do our best to answer.

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine God’s communicable attributes.

Dr. Spencer, we finished God’s attribute of truthfulness last time. What do you want to look at today?

Dr. Spencer: We’re going to continue following the treatment of God’s attributes in Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, and he treats God’s goodness next.

Marc Roby: How does Grudem define God’s goodness?

Dr. Spencer: He writes that “The goodness of God means that God is the final standard of good, and that all that God is and does is worthy of approval.”[1] And I think it is important for us to remember that Jesus himself said, in Luke 18:19, that “No one is good—except God alone.”[2] Which certainly agrees with the point Grudem makes that God is “the final standard of good”. No one but God fully meets the standard that he himself sets.

Marc Roby: This idea that God is the standard of what is good is also a repeat of what we saw with regard to truth; that is, God is the ultimate standard for truth as well.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is the same idea, and for the same reason. If we say that God is good, the statement implies that we have some standard by which we evaluate what is good and that we have compared God to that standard and have found him to pass the test. But there is no such standard outside of God. In fact, the final statement in Grudem’s definition, that “all that God is and does is worthy of approval” could be confusing if we don’t allow him to explain what he means by it.

Marc Roby: What does he mean?

Dr. Spencer: I want to let him speak for himself. Remember the first part of his definition says that “God is the final standard of good”. And so he wrote that “Here, ‘good’ can be understood to mean ‘worthy of approval,’ but we have not answered the question, approval by whom?” He then writes that in an ultimate sense, “we are not free to decide by ourselves what is worthy of approval and what is not. Ultimately, therefore, God’s being and actions are perfectly worthy of his own approval. He is therefore the final standard of good.”[3]

We must realize that if we don’t accept God’s revelation of himself as our standard for what is good, the only other possibility is that we use a human standard, either our own, or someone else’s, or a consensus, or whatever.

Marc Roby: That again sounds exactly like what we said regarding both our ultimate standard for truth and our ultimate standard for morality. Which means that if we choose the human standard, we again have the problem that not all human beings will agree.

Dr. Spencer: That is exactly the problem. If you and I disagree about whether or not something is good, how do we determine who is right?

Marc Roby: Well, I think I’ll go with my view. … But, being serious, I think the popular view is that we should just “agree to disagree.”

Dr. Spencer: That is the modern way to handle it, yes. And it works if we are talking about something like whether or not the San Francisco Giants should trade Madison Bumgarner. We can disagree about that and there are at least two good reasons why it doesn’t matter. First, it isn’t that important in the grand scheme of things.

Marc Roby: I’m sure that serious Giants fans will disagree with that statement.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure they will too, but even they will have to agree that it has no cosmic or eternal significance. And then secondly, I don’t think there is any rational and fool-proof way to find out who is right.

But, when it comes to far more serious issues, for example, whether or not abortion should be legal, I don’t think that agreeing to disagree is an appropriate response. Some decision has to be made. Now of course, the decision has been made for our country at this point in time, but it is just a legal decision and is not something that is irrevocable.

Marc Roby: Which is why there was so much furor over the recent confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely, it was all about abortion, gay rights and a few other hot topics. So, my point is that when it comes to things like that, as Christians we have no right to think for ourselves because we have made the declaration that Jesus is Lord. God’s word must be our standard. It is our standard for morality and it is our standard for what is good in every situation. And the Bible is our standard because God himself is the ultimate standard and the Bible is his infallible revelation to us.

Marc Roby: And, of course, as with truth, God has implanted his image in us, so what the Bible says is good should, in general, resonate with our own idea of what is good.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. But it is very important that you said it should resonate “in general”, because it certainly will not agree in every instance. Every aspect of our being is still tainted by sin. And it is when we disagree with God’s standard that we must recognize that it is our view that must change, not God. Whenever I hear someone make a statement like, “My God would never say such and such” or, “My God would never disapprove of such and such” I get very nervous.

Marc Roby: Why is that?

Dr. Spencer: Because very often when someone makes that kind of statement it is not based on a careful analysis of the biblical data, it is based on their own ideas of what God should be like. In other words, they are changing God in their minds to make him conform to their ideas. But, as we discussed in Session 71 with regard to metaphysical truth, God does not need to conform to our ideas of what he should be. He is the Creator and we are the creatures. He alone has the authority and power to define what he should be like and he alone has the authority and power to define what is good. So, when someone says something like, “My God would never say such and such”, if the statement is not based on a careful analysis of the biblical data, it is very likely to be wrong.

Marc Roby: I see your point. But can you give us an example?

Dr. Spencer: Sure, if you say that your God would never lie or cause someone to sin, that’s fine because those statements are based on what God tells us about himself in the Bible. But, if you say, as I’ve heard people say, that your God would never send anyone to hell, or would never condemn homosexuality, then you have a serious problem because neither of those statements agree with what God himself tells us in the Bible. In fact, they are opposed to what God tells us in the Bible.

Marc Roby: Of course, people would usually defend such statements by saying that “God is love”, or something like that.

Dr. Spencer: I agree, that is the common defense of statements like that. And, of course, the Bible does tell us that God is love. But you then need a biblical definition of what love is. A good place to start would be John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Now think about that for a minute. It means that God’s love was the cause of his sending his eternal Son, the second person of the Trinity, to humble himself and become a man, and then to give himself as a sacrifice for our sins. It also means that it was God’s will for Jesus Christ to be brutally flogged, nailed to a cross and hung up to die. And while he was on the cross, God the Father poured out his wrath upon him as the just punishment for the sins of his chosen people.

Marc Roby: That doesn’t conform very well to any modern idea of love.

Dr. Spencer: No, it doesn’t. But it does conform to God’s perfect idea of what love is, and that’s all that really matters. We have talked over and over about God’s simplicity …

Marc Roby: The idea that his attributes all work together.

Dr. Spencer: Right. So, in the case of John 3:16 we have to realize that God’s love is a just love. By which I mean that his love does not somehow trump his justice. His love for his people, because it must be a just love, does not allow him to simply wink at and excuse their sin, their sins must be paid for, otherwise God would no longer be just. The problem is that we are not capable of atoning for our sins, the required price is too high.

Marc Roby: That reminds me of Psalm 49, where it says that “No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him—the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough—that he should live on forever and not see decay.” (Psalm 49:7-9)

Dr. Spencer: And, of course, when the psalmist says that “no payment is ever enough”, he is speaking about payments that could be made by mortals like us. But, praise God, in his infinite wisdom and love he devised a plan to redeem the people he loves. And that plan required his eternal Son to become incarnate as Jesus of Nazareth, and then give his life as an atoning sacrifice to pay for the sins of his chosen people. Jesus Christ himself told us in Mark 10:45 that “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” And in Romans 3:25-26 the apostle Paul tells us that “God presented him [referring to Christ] as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”

Marc Roby: That truly is an amazing passage to demonstrate God’s justice, love and wisdom all working together. He sent Jesus Christ to pay for our sins so that, as Paul says, he can “be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”

Dr. Spencer: It is one of the most wonderful examples of God’s simplicity. His plan allows him to “be just”, as Paul puts it, because justice is satisfied. Our sins are paid for. And yet, his plan also allows him to justify those who have faith in Jesus, which means that he declares us to be legally just because our penalty has been paid by another. And so, in that context, John 3:16 makes perfect sense, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Marc Roby: And praise God for his amazing, wise and just love.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we absolutely must praise him. And this is the core of the gospel message. There is a legal transaction taking place, or you could think of it as an accounting transaction. It is often called the double transaction, or the double imputation. Our faith unites us with Jesus Christ so that God puts our sins into Christ’s account and then places Christ’s perfect righteousness into our account. As a result, when Christ died on the cross, our sins were paid for. And, even more, when God looks at us, he sees the perfect righteousness of Christ.

This whole transaction is described by the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:21, which says that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Marc Roby: That is indescribable grace and mercy shown to us.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is. And it is good. Getting back to our discussion of the goodness of God, the whole plan of salvation, like everything else God is or does, is good. People may not like it, they may find the idea of a sacrifice of atonement to be offensive, but it is good! We need to adjust our thinking to agree with God, not the other way around. In Isaiah 55:8 we read, “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD.”

Marc Roby: I think there is a question that we should address in relation to this idea that God defines what is good and then, based on that definition, we say that God himself is good. There is a circularity to that reasoning that will disturb many people.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, there is. We noted the same kind of circularity in Session 71 when we discussed God’s truthfulness, and we looked at it in more depth way back in Session 4 where I argued that circular reasoning is inescapable when you’re dealing with the ultimate standard for truth.

John Frame points out the same thing in his book The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God. In discussing defending the Christian worldview he writes that “no system can avoid circularity, because all systems … – non-Christian as well as Christian – are based on presuppositions that control their epistemologies, argumentation, and use of evidence. Thus a rationalist can prove the primacy of reason only by using a rational argument.”[4]

Marc Roby: That is a clear presentation of the problem. Ultimate standards can only be defended by referring to themselves.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. But Frame goes further. He notes that “Circularity in a system is properly justified only at one point: in an argument for the ultimate criterion of the system.”[5] And he then goes on to argue that using a circular argument to defend your ultimate standard in no way commits you to allowing circular arguments to be used at other points.

Marc Roby: That is an important observation.

Dr. Spencer: It is. And he also deals specifically with the circularity in the argument for God being good in his book The Doctrine of God. He begins by noting that the problem exists for many of God’s attributes. And he then writes that “When we ascribe an attribute to God and also make him the standard for identifying and evaluating that quality, the two statements generate a kind of circularity.”[6] But, as we just noted, this problem exists for all ultimate standards.

Then, in reference to God’s goodness in particular, he writes that “We believe that God is good, then, because God tells us that he is good. So the circularity is present. But it is a broad circularity, not a narrow one. It is a circularity loaded with content, full of evidence, and richly persuasive. We are literally surrounded by evidence of God’s goodness.”[7]

Marc Roby: I like that statement. And it reminds me of what Grudem said about God’s truthfulness, that God “has implanted in our minds a reflection of his own idea of what the true God must be, and this enables us to recognize him as God.” It seems that Frame is arguing something similar here. God has created us with a sense of what is good so that when we look at all that God is and has done, we recognize it as good.

Dr. Spencer: I think that is exactly what Frame is getting at. But, of course, we need the proper perspective, meaning a biblical perspective, in dealing with some of the things that God has done. For example, you need the right perspective to see that it was good for God to allow sin and the suffering it brings to enter into his creation.

It has been argued that the existence of sin and suffering prove that God must either not be good, or not able to prevent evil, in other words, not be omnipotent. But that argument assumes an unbiblical idea that the purpose of creation should be to maximize our pleasure in this life.

Marc Roby: Can you explain how a biblical perspective helps to reconcile God’s goodness and omnipotence with the presence of sin and suffering?

Dr. Spencer: The biblical perspective provides two key pieces of information to help understand how the presence of sin and suffering can be good. The first thing you need to understand is that human beings are made for eternity. When you take an eternal perspective, you realize that if you endure painful trials for 100 years, it is of no great consequence after you been in heaven for 10,000 years, let alone an eternity.

Marc Roby: That’s a very hard thing for us to grasp. What is the second key thing you need to know?

Dr. Spencer: That God’s ultimate purpose in creation is the manifestation of his own glory. We discussed this in Session 67 in relation to God’s wisdom, but it is absolutely critical here. Allowing sin into this world allows God to display his own judgment, mercy, justice and love to a fuller degree than would have been possible otherwise. In other words, God allowed sin into his creation for his greater glory. So, when you put that together with an eternal perspective, it helps to resolve the apparent contradiction between God being good and omnipotent and yet allowing sin into his creation.

Marc Roby: That perspective certainly helps. But we are out of time for today. So I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We would appreciate hearing from you.

[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 197

[2] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[3] Grudem, opt. cit., pg. 197

[4] John Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, P&R Publishing Company, 1987, pg. 130

[5] Ibid

[6] John Frame, The Doctrine of God, P&R Publishing Company, 2002, pg. 405

[7] Ibid, pg. 409

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine God’s communicable attribute of truthfulness.

Before we begin I’d like to let our listeners know that we have added a new feature to the website for this podcast. At the top of the transcript for every session, including all previous sessions, is a link to a pdf file for the session. You are free to download, save and share these files with others. In addition, if you go to the Archive link at the top of the home page for whatdoesthewordsay.org, you will also find links to pdf versions of three indexes. An index of references, an index of topics, and an index of Scriptures. These are updated with each new podcast. And now, let’s get back to our topic.

Dr. Spencer, we finished last time by noting that God is truth in all three of the meanings of that term; that is, metaphysical, propositional and ethical. What do you want to look at today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to discuss the topic of ethical truth a little more. Remember that ethics refers to the set of moral rules that govern how we live. In my experience, most people seem to agree with the idea that morality is absolute. They may say that morality can be different in different cultures, but then they will strongly denounce and even work to change practices they disagree with, even practices in other countries with completely different cultures.

So, for example, I doubt that very many women in the United States would have said that it was just a matter of culture and not a problem when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan and prevented women from working, attending school, or being in public places without a male family member.

Marc Roby: I’m quite sure you are right about that. Women, and most men as well, would agree that such rules are a violation of basic human rights.

Dr. Spencer: I think they would. So, independent of the politically correct postmodern notion that truth and morality are social constructs and vary from culture to culture, we see that most people prove by their actions that they firmly believe in moral absolutes. This is especially true when you discuss hot-button issues like abortion, homosexuality, same-sex marriage and so on.

The problem, as I demonstrated by talking about slavery last time and Hitler in the session before that, is that without God, there is no absolute authority anyone can point to as a basis for these moral absolutes. Therefore, if atheism were true, morality would be determined solely by the group with the power to enact and enforce the laws in a given time and place and we would have no basis for saying that the laws put in place by the Taliban were wrong.

Marc Roby: And, even within one culture, laws change over time.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, they do. Is that because what is moral changes over time? I think most people would say it does not. But, when you and I were young, it was illegal to be a practicing homosexual in this country, it was illegal to get an abortion, and it was out of the question for same-sex couples to get married. And yet, a large percentage of our population, including some who call themselves Christians, now approve of such practices and they are legal. In fact, if you disagree with these practices, the so-called progressives will call you hateful and send you to sensitivity training to try and correct your socially aberrant views.

Marc Roby: It is really difficult to believe how much has changed since the 1950’s.

Dr. Spencer: It is unbelievable how much they have changed. But, independent of what any of our listeners may think about such changes, I challenge them, as I did when we talked about slavery, to explain – without reference to God – on what logical basis someone could say that we are right now and the people were wrong 60 years ago? Or that the people were right 60 years ago and we are wrong now?

Marc Roby: I don’t think that’s possible without reference to God.

Dr. Spencer: And that is my point. Without God, it isn’t possible. In fact man, because he is a creature, has no authority to decide for himself what is right or wrong. God alone has the authority to tell us what is sin and what is pleasing to him, and he has done that in the Bible. And, not only has God clearly told us what behavior he approves, he has clearly warned us of the penalty for disobedience. The moral laws are no different than any other laws in the sense that there is a penalty to be paid for violating them.

Marc Roby: But, there is a huge difference between God’s enforcement of his laws and the state’s enforcement of our civil laws.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, there is. In fact, there are at least three major differences I can think of.

Marc Roby: What are those?

Dr. Spencer: The first is that God does not always enforce his laws immediately, or even in this life. For his own purposes he sometimes allows people to do wicked things without being justly punished in this life. Of course the state also fails to punish people sometimes, but only because the state is incapable of perfectly enforcing its laws.

But, even though God may choose to not enforce his laws immediately, the second major difference I see is that God does, ultimately, enforce his laws absolutely perfectly. He has perfect knowledge of everything and everyone, including our thoughts and motives and he is absolutely sovereign, so no violation of his law will ever go unpunished. Every single sin ever committed will receive the punishment that justice demands. Either we will be punished for our sins or, if we have accepted God’s gracious offer of forgiveness based on the atoning sacrifice of Christ, Jesus will have borne the penalty for our sins on the cross.

Marc Roby: Which is absolutely amazing grace. What is the third difference you see in God’s enforcement of his laws versus the state’s enforcement of its laws?

Dr. Spencer: God’s penalty for disobedience is far more severe than the greatest penalty man can mete out. People don’t like the doctrine of hell, but it is a clear teaching of the Bible. If you are a Christian, you really have no option but to believe that hell exists. You don’t have to take my word for it, read your Bible. Jesus Christ himself spoke of eternal hell more than anyone else. You have to do exegetical backflips, or simply not believe God’s Word, to not believe in eternal hell.

Marc Roby: But, of course, different sins will not all receive the same punishment.

Dr. Spencer: No, they won’t. The Bible indicates that there are different levels of punishment in hell. But no matter the level of punishment, hell is a terrible place, and it is eternal, with no hope of escape.

Marc Roby: Which is, of course, one of the main reasons many people reject the doctrine; it seems completely unfair to punish people eternally.

Dr. Spencer: Well, I don’t personally like the doctrine either. But God didn’t ask me, and he isn’t going to, and, more to the point, what I think doesn’t matter. I am a sinner and don’t fully grasp God’s holiness and the depth of sin. What does matter is that we grasp the fact that even the smallest sin you can imagine is motivated by a rebellious heart, and that rebellion is against the infinite, almighty, all holy, perfectly just Creator, so it deserves eternal punishment. Not only that, but people in hell do not repent and seek God’s forgiveness. Without his saving grace they cannot do so. Therefore, they continue to hate him and rail against him in their hearts, which increases their guilt every day.

Marc Roby: Hell is an unpleasant topic to say the least, but I think we have said enough about God being the one who has authority to establish moral law, that he will, ultimately, judge everyone, and that we will all either receive mercy based on the merit of Jesus Christ, or be eternally punished for our sin.

So, we have now established that God is truth in all three biblical senses of the term: he is metaphysical truth because he is the genuine God, he is epistemological, or propositional, truth because all that he says is perfectly true, and he is ethical truth because he establishes and enforces the moral law. What else do you want to say about God’s truthfulness?

Dr. Spencer: It is important to point out that God’s moral law is not arbitrary. It is based on God’s own character, it is a reflection of his perfect character. And we are made in God’s image and are made for fellowship with him. So, obeying God’s moral law is what is best for us. A Christian should delight in God’s moral law, even if it goes against what the person has believed all of his or her life prior to becoming a Christian. Romans 12:2 commands us, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” [1]

Marc Roby: And our minds are renewed by meditating on God’s Word and submitting to it as our ultimate authority.

Dr. Spencer: That’s exactly right. Our minds are very important. Christianity is not all about feeling. Feelings are there of course, and they are important. But our emotions are not to rule us in any way. Our minds – which really means our spirits – are to rule us, and our minds are to be submitted fully to the Word of God. In 2 Corinthians 10:5 the apostle Paul tell us, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” Therefore, it doesn’t matter what I think about homosexuality for example, nor does it matter what society says. God says it is sin. And unrepentant sinners will go to hell. Therefore, the only loving thing for me to do with a homosexual is to tell that person of God’s law and of the consequences for violating that law, and then to tell him or her that Jesus Christ has provided a way to be saved.

Marc Roby: But, that salvation requires true biblical repentance.

Dr. Spencer: Yes it does, and true biblical repentance requires forsaking our sin and walking in holiness. It does not, praise God, require perfection or none of us would be saved. But when we sin, we must repent and ask for forgiveness and, as Paul said in Acts 26:20, prove our repentance by our deeds.

Marc Roby: And praise God that he has made salvation possible. Do you want to say anything else about God’s truthfulness?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, I have a three more short points make. First, in examining God’s truthfulness, we again see God’s simplicity.

Marc Roby: We should remind our listeners that by God’s simplicity we mean the fact that his attributes cannot be thought of separately, they all work together.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s right. And with regard to God’s truthfulness, we have argued that he is truth in the propositional sense precisely because he has the power necessary to make what he thinks is true actually be true. And, even more than that, when you look at the different possible meanings of the word true, you see that God’s truthfulness also includes his perfect knowledge in knowing what it means to be the only true God, his faithfulness in always keeping his word, his unchangeableness in not changing his word, his moral perfection in establishing and enforcing the moral law and so on.

Marc Roby: It is clear that his attributes all work together. And it makes me remember Question 4 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which we have mentioned before. The answer to that question says, “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” But, you said you had three more points to make, what is the second?

Dr. Spencer: The second point I want to make is that God’s truthfulness was what Satan challenged when he first tempted Eve. We read about this in Genesis Chapter 3. The serpent came to Eve and asked, in Verse 1, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” Of course, that is not what God had said. God had said that they could eat of any tree in the garden with the sole exception of one tree. But, as James Boice points out in his commentary on Genesis, Satan’s question was meant “to suggest that God is not benevolent and that His word cannot be trusted.”[2]

Marc Roby: Now, we must say that Eve didn’t completely accept Satan’s suggestion. She answered, in Verses 2 and 3, that “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, you’re right, she didn’t accept Satan’s lie completely, but notice that his lie had already borne some fruit; she added to God’s word by saying “you must not touch it”. God had not said that. He had said that the day you eat of it you will die, not that you will die if you touch it. In any event, Satan then goes on to directly contradict God. He says, in Verse 4, “You will not surely die”. And then he gives his false explanation for God’s prohibition. He says, in Verse 5, “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” John Murray explains that at this point, Satan “accuses God of deliberate falsehood and deception. God has perpetrated a lie, he avers, because he is jealous of his own selfish and exclusive possession of the knowledge of good and evil!”[3]

Marc Roby: And, sadly, Eve believed Satan. We read in the first part of Verse 6 that “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.”

Dr. Spencer: That is the sad truth. Paul writes about this in 1 Timothy 2:14. He wrote that “Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.” But Adam is a different story. He was not deceived, his sin was far worse for at least two reasons. First, it was worse because he was the one put in charge by God and he was the representative for the human race. Greater responsibility always implies greater culpability. And secondly, he sinned out of pure rebellion against God as James Boice notes.[4] This is why Scripture always lays the blame for the fall on Adam, not on Eve. In Romans 5:12 we read that “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned” and Verse 14 clearly tells us that one man is Adam.

Marc Roby: Paul also tells us this in 1 Corinthians 15:22 where he says that “in Adam all die”.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s right. But, let’s get back to the point I wanted to make about God’s truthfulness, which is simply this; it is an absolutely essential aspect of the being of God. If God were not truthful, then having his infallible word would be of no real value. How would we be able to tell which parts where true and which were lies? And his threats and promises would have no value either, how would we know that they were true? Now, it must be said that God’s other attributes are essential too. For example, if he were not omnipotent we couldn’t be sure that he had the power to keep his threats and promises. But his truthfulness somehow seems to more directly impinge on his holiness, justice, goodness and so on.

That is why Satan didn’t question God’s power to bring death, nor did he question God’s knowledge about the tree, instead he directly questioned God’s truthfulness. A God who is not truthful is no god, he is a devil.

Marc Roby: Jesus Christ himself said to the Jews, as we read in John 8:44, “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

Dr. Spencer: And, a little earlier in the same discourse he had said that “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)

Marc Roby: I see your point. Truth is an essential characteristic of the true and living God and is essential for salvation. Lies destroy, truth saves.

Dr. Spencer: We see that even in more mundane matters. If you go to see the doctor and he determines that you have cancer, that isn’t something you want to hear. But if he lies and says you’re fine, you’ll die. If he tells you the truth, then perhaps it can be treated and you may live.

Marc Roby: Very well. You said you had three points to make, what is the third?

Dr. Spencer: It is that because truth is so important, and lies are the “native language” of the devil, we, as Christians must be zealous to know and speak truth. John Murray, in his Principles of Conduct, wrote, “This is why all untruth or falsehood is wrong; it is a contradiction of that which God is.”[5]

Marc Roby: Being truthful is not a common characteristic in this day and age.

Dr. Spencer: No, it isn’t. But a Christian must be. That does not mean that we have to tell everyone all of the truth all of the time of course, but when we do say something, we must seek to convey truth.

Marc Roby: I notice you didn’t simply say that when we do say something it must be true, you said we must seek to convey truth. I assume you have a reason for the more complex statement?

Dr. Spencer: I do. You can tell something that is completely true with the intent of leading people to believe something that isn’t true. But, when you do that, you are lying. The classical biblical example is Abraham telling people that Sarah was his sister. That statement was true, but he said it to make them think that she wasn’t his wife. In other words, it is the best possible kind of lie! If you’re caught, you can always say that what you said was true, even though your purpose was to deceive.

Marc Roby: Alright. Are we done discussing God’s truthfulness?

Dr. Spencer: I think so.

Marc Roby: Then let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We are out of time for today.

 

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] James M. Boice, Genesis: An Expositional Commentary, Zondervan, 1982, Vol. I, pg. 134

[3] John Murray, The Principles of Conduct, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1957, pg. 126

[4] Boice, op. cit., pg. 136

[5] Murray, op. cit., pg. 125

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine God’s communicable attribute of truthfulness.

Dr. Spencer, at the end of our previous session you made a shift that I didn’t notice at the time. We had been talking about moral laws and the idea that if God doesn’t exist, might, in a human sense, does make right. You then said that “at the end of the day truth really does depend on power because it depends on authority.” So, you switched from talking about what is right, to talking about what is true. Can you explain that shift?

Dr. Spencer: I did make a jump there in order to get to the conclusion before we ran out of time and, in hindsight, the jump was too large. So, let’s go back and fill in the blanks so to speak to make it clear how I got to that conclusion.

Marc Roby: OK, please do.

Dr. Spencer: We had finished briefly discussing different theories of truth and had then pointed out that our worldview has a pervasive influence on what we believe to be true. It is therefore, extremely important that our worldview be correct. But, our worldview is not something most of us consciously develop or even think about, so you had asked for an example of how we can test whether or not our own worldview is true.

Marc Roby: Yes, I recall that.

Dr. Spencer: And I responded by saying that we can test whether some of the fundamental tenets of our worldview are true or not. Our worldview comprises a set of beliefs about the world we live in, things we believe to be true. And those beliefs can be examined by realizing that we can draw conclusions based on them, in other words things that should be true if the underlying beliefs are true, and then we can check those conclusions to see if they’re right. And I gave the example that if an atheistic worldview is correct, then there can be no absolute morality.

Marc Roby: And I think we established that conclusion reasonably well.

Dr. Spencer: I do too, although I may want to come back to that topic later. But, getting back to our example, if an atheist believes in absolute morality, and in my experience most do, even if they won’t say so, his worldview is inconsistent. I argued that absolute morality only exists because God has the authority and power to establish and enforce moral law. But I skipped over making the connection that God’s authority and power do not end with his being able to establish the moral law. In fact, he has the authority and power to determine everything that exists in this universe and is absolute sovereign over everything that happens in the universe, so that whatever he thinks is true, is necessarily true.

Marc Roby: And that is what is meant by saying that truth is, ultimately, a person, it is God.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s right. Of course, truth is also a property of a statement, but ultimately, a statement is true if it corresponds to what God thinks is true. Wayne Grudem, in his Systematic Theology, defines God’s attribute of truthfulness this way: “God’s truthfulness means that he is the true God, and that all his knowledge and words are both true and the final standard of truth.”[1]

Marc Roby: Grudem uses the word “true” in two different ways in that definition, doesn’t he? To say that God is “the true God” is a different usage of the word than to say that his words are true.

Dr. Spencer: You’re right. John Frame, in his book The Doctrine of God, discusses three different meanings of the word truth as it is used in the Bible.[2] And all three meanings are important because God is truth in all three senses of the term. The first of these three meanings is called the metaphysical.

Marc Roby: Metaphysics refers to the branch of philosophy that studies the fundamental causes and nature of things.

Dr. Spencer: Mm-Hmm. In talking about the truth as being a person last time, we quoted what is perhaps the most famous verse in this regard, John 14:6, in which Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” [3] Jesus was using the word truth in its metaphysical sense there. We sometimes use the word that way in our normal speech as well. For example, you might hear someone be described as a true outdoorsman. Which means that the person corresponds to the ideal picture of what an outdoorsman should be.

Marc Roby: Of course, my picture of an ideal outdoorsman might be different than yours.

Dr. Spencer: That is certainly possible. And that brings up an interesting point relating to the truthfulness of God. In John 17:3, the great high priestly prayer of Jesus, he is praying to his Father in heaven and says, “this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” When Jesus says the Father is “the only true God” he is using the term in its metaphysical sense, but we have to deal with the same question you raised; whose idea of the true God must the Father conform to in order to be the true God? Many people throughout history have rejected the true God because the God of the Bible doesn’t fit their personal idea of what God should be like. For example, many reject God because in their view he shouldn’t allow any suffering in this world.

Marc Roby: In fact, many people at the time of Jesus rejected him because they were looking for a political Messiah who would deliver them from their bondage to the Romans.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s true. In fact, Jesus spoke about the fact that people rejected him for not living up to their expectations for the Messiah. In Luke 7:31-35 he says, “To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other: ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not cry.’ For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.”’ But wisdom is proved right by all her children.”

Jesus was making the point that the people who rejected John for being too ascetic and Jesus for not upholding the Jewish traditions of the time were just like children who were upset with others who wouldn’t join in one game by dancing, or in another one by crying. But, we don’t get to choose the game! God is sovereign, not us.

Marc Roby: And, as Jesus said, “wisdom is proved right by all her children.”

Dr. Spencer: Precisely. And what he meant was that the fruit produced by the ministry of John the Baptist, which was serious repentance, and the fruit produced by Jesus’ own ministry, which was salvation for sinners, would prove them to be true. And so, when people today refuse to accept the God of the Bible because the God they want would never allow suffering into this world, or would never send people to hell, they are being just like the Jews of Jesus’ day. Therefore, we must again ask, in the high priestly prayer of John 17, when Jesus said that the Father is “the only true God”, whose idea of the true God must the Father conform to in order to be the true God?

Marc Roby: Well, I would assume that, since Jesus is the one praying, it would be his idea of the true God that he has in mind.

Dr. Spencer: And I would agree with you. But Grudem points out an interesting and unavoidable circularity here. He says, correctly, “that it is God himself who has the only perfect idea of what the true God should be like. And he himself is the true God because in his being and character he perfectly conforms to his own idea of what the true God should be. In addition, he has implanted in our minds a reflection of his own idea of what the true God must be, and this enables us to recognize him as God.”[4]

Marc Roby: And, I might add, he has also revealed to us in his Word what it means to be the true God. I am thinking, for example, of places like Isaiah 41:22-23, where God mocks the idols of the people saying, “Bring in your idols to tell us what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their final outcome. Or declare to us the things to come, tell us what the future holds, so we may know that you are gods.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is a good passage. According to God, a true God should be able to tell us what the future holds.

In addition, the Bible tells us that a true God should also be the one who created all things. Over and over again in the Old Testament God reminds his people that he is the one who created the heavens and the earth. For example, in Isaiah 45:18 we read, “For this is what the LORD says— he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited— he says: ‘I am the LORD, and there is no other.’”

Marc Roby: There is only one Creator, and he alone is the true and living God.

Dr. Spencer: And, as Grudem pointed out, God “implanted in our minds a reflection of his own idea of what the true God must be, and this enables us to recognize him as God.” So, when God points out that he alone is the Creator, the Lord of history, the Savior of his people, and the Judge of all, it resonates with our inner sense of what it means to be God and, if we have been born again, we recognize it as true.

So, when we read that God is the true God, the metaphysical use of the term truth here means that we recognize God, as he reveals himself to us in his Word, to correspond in his fundamental nature, to what it means to be God. But we also see that he is the one who defines what it means to be God, so we need to jettison any unbiblical notions of God from our thinking. There is no external standard to which God must conform. He is the standard.

Marc Roby: I think we all need to meditate for a while on God’s description of what the true God should be and his revelation of himself as that true God.

Dr. Spencer: These ideas definitely warrant some careful thought. And let me add one more quick point related to the metaphysical meaning of truth. In John 1:17 the apostle says that “the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

John Murray makes an important point about this verse in his book Principles of Conduct. He wrote that “We should bear in mind that ‘the true’ in the usage of John is not so much the true in contrast with the false, or the real in contrast with the fictitious. It is the absolute as contrasted with the relative, the ultimate as contrasted with the derived, the eternal as contrasted with the temporal, the permanent as contrasted with the temporary, the complete in contrast with the partial, the substantial in contrast with the shadowy. … What John is contrasting here is the partial, incomplete character of the Mosaic dispensation with the completeness and fulness of the revelation of grace and truth in Jesus Christ.”[5]

Marc Roby: That statement gives us even more to meditate on. In the meantime, you said that Frame lists three meanings of the word truth as it is used in the Bible. What is the second meaning?

Dr. Spencer: The second is epistemological, or propositional truth, which is, as Frame points out, “a property of language, rather than reality.”[6] In other words, if I say that I was born in California, the proposition is either true or false. That is the predominant sense in which we were using the term in our last session when we discussed theories of truth. A statement is true if it corresponds to reality as far as that can be determined, and if it is also consistent with all other statements we know to be true.

Marc Roby: And God is also truth in this propositional sense. For example, we are told in Hebrews 6:18 that “it is impossible for God to lie”.

Dr. Spencer: We also read in 1 Samuel 15:29 that “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind”. That is why Grudem’s definition says, “all his knowledge and words are” true. And this is the point I was making last time. Since God is the Creator and the sovereign Lord of history, he controls this universe both in terms of its underlying nature and in terms of what happens to it over time. Therefore, whatever God thinks is true, is necessarily true as we have said. Grudem says, “since God knows all things infinitely well, we can say that the standard of true knowledge is conformity to God’s knowledge. If we think the same thing God thinks about anything in the universe, we are thinking truthfully about it.”[7]

Marc Roby: In other words, God is not only true, he is the standard of truth. Grudem’s definition also says that God’s knowledge and words are “the final standard of truth.”

Dr. Spencer: And Grudem explains that statement further. He says that “God’s words are not simply true in the sense that they conform to some standard of truthfulness outside of God. Rather, they are truth itself; they are the final standard and definition of truth.”

Marc Roby: We talked about ultimate standards of truth way back in Session 4 and you pointed out that there really are only two possibilities; either human reason or divine revelation.

Dr. Spencer: Those are the only two options. But we also pointed out that even though human reason is not the ultimate standard of truth for a Christian, it is necessary. It is a gift from God and without it we can’t understand his revelation to us. But, we must use our reason in a subservient role. It cannot stand in judgment over God’s revelation, it must be used to understand that revelation correctly.

Marc Roby: And that applies to general revelation as well as to the Bible.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it does. We must be careful to never let human reason be the ultimate standard for truth, even when we are doing science. Francis Bacon, often considered the father of empirical science, is famous for his statement about God’s two books; the book of nature and the book of the Bible. But, as Christians, we must place the Bible above nature because it is God’s infallible word to us. We can use our understanding of nature to help understand the Bible correctly, but we can never let what we think we know from nature overrule the Bible. So, for example, the idea that all life emerged from non-life by some natural process is unacceptable because it clearly contradicts the Bible. Of course, as I pointed out in Session 1, I don’t think that idea has much scientific merit either, it is the result of an atheistic worldview.

Marc Roby: Which again points out the importance of our worldview. But, let me bring us back to our topic of God’s truthfulness. You said that Frame discussed three biblical meanings of the word truth and we’ve covered two of them, the metaphysical and the propositional meanings. What then is the third?

Dr. Spencer: The third meaning is the ethical. The three meanings are, of course, all related. Frame says that “Metaphysical truth is genuineness; epistemological truth faithfully represents what is genuine; ethical truth is faithfulness in all areas of life.”[8]

So, with regard to metaphysical truth we quoted John 17:3, which called God the Father “the only true God”, and which speaks of his being the genuine article, to use a colloquial expression. Then with regard to epistemological, or propositional, truth you quoted Hebrews 6:18, which says that “it is impossible for God to lie” and that tells us that God faithfully represents what is genuine. Then, finally, ethical truth, as Frame says, is “faithfulness in all areas of life.”

Marc Roby: And ethics refers to the moral rules that govern our behavior.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. And God is ethical truth in at least two ways. First, Jesus Christ, who is God incarnate and, as we are told in John 1:18, makes the Father known to us, walked in perfect obedience to God’s commands. He himself declared in John 8:29 that he always did what pleased the Father. And, secondly, God is ethical truth in the sense that he alone has authority to tell us what is right and what is sin. In other words, he alone has authority to give us the moral rules that govern our behavior. Without God’s authority to do that, we are left with moral relativism and morality must be defined by human reason and is, therefore, changeable.

Marc Roby: Yes, I liked what you said in our previous session; that if someone is a logically consistent atheist, he must agree with the premise that might makes right.

Dr. Spencer: I did say that, yes. And I was deliberately being provocative. I certainly did not mean, for example, that any individual who has sufficient might to take something from another is morally right to do so. But, as I noted, if there is no God, we have a serious problem trying to defend any set of laws as being inherently right.

For example, in 1830 it was legal in some states in this country to own a slave. But now it is illegal everywhere in this country. Was there a change in some underlying law of morality? No, there was a Civil War and the 13th Amendment to our Constitution was passed. Now I certainly hope, and expect, that our listeners will all agree slavery as it existed in this country prior to the 13th Amendment was morally wrong. But there is a very serious question that we should all ask ourselves; namely, “On what basis can we make the statement that slavery is wrong?” What makes us right and the people who were in favor of it in 1830 wrong?

Marc Roby: That is a question most people would find unsettling to even ask.

Dr. Spencer: I realize that, but it is an important question. We all tend to think that we are morally superior to people we disagree with. And, if we are part of a group that has the power at the moment, we may even feel somewhat smugly justified in feeling that way. But the question stands. Other than the fact that the majority view is in our favor and the north was able to win the Civil War, what makes us right and the people in favor of slavery in 1830 wrong?

Marc Roby: Yes, I see your point, although I’m sure it will make a lot of people uncomfortable.

Dr. Spencer: It does make us uncomfortable. When we find ourselves objecting to the statement that “might makes right”, and even self-proclaimed atheists typically do so, we are implicitly saying that there is some higher authority or standard for right conduct. But where does that standard come from?

Marc Roby: Obviously I would say it comes from God.

Dr. Spencer: Of course. And I would agree. But if someone claims to not believe in God, how can they answer the question?

Marc Roby: I don’t think they can. And we are out of time, so I think we will need to finish this discussion next time. Let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org; we’d love to hear from you.

[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 195

[2] John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God, P&R Publishing Company, 2002, pg. 475

[3] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[4] Grudem, op.cit., pg. 195

[5] John Murray, The Principles of Conduct, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1957, pg. 123

[6] Frame, op. cit., pg. 477

[7] Grudem, op. cit., pg. 195

[8] Frame, op. cit., pg. 478

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Marc Roby:  Today’s podcast is again a special session. It’s the second part of an interview with Professor Henry Schaefer III.  Professor Schaefer received his Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical Physics from MIT and his PhD in the same area from Stanford University. He is currently the Graham Perdue Professor of Chemistry and the Director of the Center for Computational Quantum Chemistry at the University of Georgia. He is also one of the world’s most highly accomplished and regarded physical chemists. He has over 1600 publications and it has been reported that he has been nominated for a Nobel prize five times. He has won so many awards and has given so many talks all over the world that it would be silly to even begin to list them.

But the most important thing about Prof. Schaefer, is that he is a Bible-believing Christian and unashamedly speaks of Christ wherever he goes. Before we begin I would like to point out that Dr. Schaefer has written an excellent book called, Science and Christianity: Conflict or Coherence?, which is in its second edition. Dr. Spencer was able to interview Prof. Schaefer on Wednesday afternoon, October 3, 2018, prior to Schaefer giving his lecture at the University of California in Davis.

Dr. Spencer: This is Dr. Spencer, and I’m here with Professor Henry Schaefer and I welcome our listeners back for the second half of our interview.  Professor Schaefer, have you had any particular discoveries or observations in your career that really bolstered your faith as a Christian?

Prof. Schaefer: Yeah, just one.  We have been interested in the structures and properties of small molecules for a long time, going back to the work on CH2, the methylene molecule, that made me a household word in a small number of households. But one of the most exciting molecules is Si2H2, which is a molecule which is similar in many ways to acetylene, which is a linear molecule, structure HCCH all in a line and we were able to show that Si2H2, the silicon analogy of acetylene, has many different structures, some of which are truly unique.  And that was an aha moment, and it was of course very satisfying when experiments came back five or six years later and showed that all of our predictions of quantum mechanics were true.

Dr. Spencer: That’s pretty amazing.

Prof. Schaefer: That was very gratifying.

Dr. Spencer: So, it shows Schrödinger’s equation was right.

Prof. Schaefer: Schrödinger was right, yeah.

Dr. Spencer: Alrighty. I have a question that is sort of related to science, but not really directly really, in a sense, and that is, do you think that science is an objective discipline, at the end of the day. I mean, clearly individual scientists are not objective fully. They’re observers and they bring their own worldview to the work that they’re doing, so it affects the way they see the evidence and it affects the questions they might ask and so forth. But what about science collectively, when you think about the way it works with people trying to work, do build on what other people have done, and so forth?  Do you think on the whole that it’s an objective discipline?

Prof. Schaefer: Well, scientists have many failures. This is indisputable. The hope is that as time goes by, these failures will be corrected, and we’ll get on a more clear path toward the truth.  Sometimes this takes a long time, sometimes this takes a long time, and so, yeah. I mean, we hope science is self-correcting. I think that in the broadest sense it’s true, but it sure takes a long time to get corrected sometimes.

Dr. Spencer: That’s certainly true. Now you’ve been teaching a course at the University of Georgia on Science and Christianity, a freshman seminar kind of class. What do you find to be the most common misconception young people have about Christianity?

Prof. Schaefer: It’s that science has disproved God.

Dr. Spencer: Alright, have they said why they think science has disproved God, or is this just a general idea that they have floating in their head?

Prof. Schaefer: We’re about halfway through the semester now, and I asked the students on the first day of class, “How many have heard somebody say that science has disproved God?” They all raised their hands, all seventeen students, they all raised their hands.

Dr. Spencer: Interesting.

Prof. Schaefer: So, it’s out there.

Dr. Spencer: But then can they explain that at all, if you asked them how or why?

Prof. Schaefer: Some teacher told me so.  My parents told me so.  I heard of a famous scientist who said this.  That’s the kind of answers you get.

Dr. Spencer: Alright, that’s pretty amazing.

Prof. Schaefer: Most of them don’t buy it, just for the record.  They’ve heard it, but they don’t buy it.

Dr. Spencer: Well, that’s encouraging.

Prof. Schaefer: It is encouraging.

Dr. Spencer: And we know from Romans 1, that they’re suppressing the truth anyway, so…

Prof. Schaefer: Yes.

Dr. Spencer: I have another question that’s really off-base, but it is scientific in a sense.  What do you think of the strong view of artificial intelligence? I don’t know if you’ve read the book from the eighties, Gödel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter or not, but the whole idea that if computers get sufficiently complicated and the software gets sufficiently sophisticated with enough layers of self-referential ability and everything that it will develop all of the characteristics of intelligent beings like you and me?

Prof. Schaefer: Yeah, a person in my field, Christopher Longuet-Higgins, went from quantum mechanics to artificial intelligence, and he made this most remarkable statement, that artificial intelligence will never account for natural stupidity.  There’s nothing in artificial intelligence that hasn’t been programmed by some human being, so it can only do what we tell it to do, so I’m not frightened by artificial intelligence.  My whole life is using computers to solve equations, so no, I don’t see that coming.  I mean, artificial intelligence is okay.  I mean, we find patterns, this is what artificial intelligence is all about, we find patterns in nature and sometimes, using the computer, they make sense a lot faster than just looking at, you know, if we could, billions and billions and billions of pieces of data.  So it’s useful, but it only does what it’s been told.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. Do you have any thoughts or comments you’d like to share about the current climate on college campuses with regard to free speech?  For example, you give talks all over the world about faith, and you were telling me a little bit earlier about some troubles you had years ago in India with a talk, so what do you think about the current climate, what needs to be done there, or…?

Prof. Schaefer: It varies from campus to campus.  You know, at my campus, the University of Georgia, I think it’s true that most anything goes, most anything can be said.  That doesn’t mean you won’t run into a lot of controversy. There’s a certain number of our students, and it’s a small minority, who don’t mind being, how shall I say this, violent.  And this is sad when you see this, at my university or any other.  And one hopes that universities would take a strong stand against this.  The University of Chicago has taken a very strong stand against this, there are no safe spaces at the University of Chicago.  If you don’t want to be challenged in your ideas, please don’t come.  I wish more of our prominent universities would make statements like that.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. What do you think about the changes that have occurred over the last, well, even 150 years, in the definition of science.  I mean, 150 years ago, theology was considered the queen of the sciences, and for most of the last 150 years the definition of science if you look in old dictionaries has something to do with some sort of a systematic way of looking for knowledge, but in the past 50 years a lot of prominent organizations for science education and so forth, I think in response to us learning a whole lot more about the nature of life and the complexity of life, have started to argue that the definition of science should include a limitation that you are looking for a natural cause for all events, or all things.  What do you think?  That seems to me to be damaging the very core of science.

Prof. Schaefer: Yeah, I don’t agree with that, I think we need to follow the evidence wherever it leads.  And sometimes it leads in the direction of a sovereign God of the universe.  If you exclude that, your worldview is going to be incomplete, in my opinion.

Dr. Spencer: Um-hmm.  The big bang theory, and the mass of evidence that has been gathered in the support of it, has convinced most scientists that this universe had a beginning, and it also supports the creation narrative in the Bible.  Is there any specific finding in your field that you think points to the existence of God in a similarly compelling way?

Prof. Schaefer: Chemists are very impressed by the beauty of their molecules.  Not all molecules have gorgeous symmetry, but many do, and even, I would say that in some cases, new discoveries of molecular structures, like C60, buckyball, Buckminsterfullerene.  When a lot of people saw that for the first time, it kind of took their breath away. So you know, something of that beauty, and that was never known.  When does chemistry begin, Robert Boyle, and wow, more than 500 years, and to see that somebody’s made it, they can put it in a bottle, you can scratch it, you can rub it. You can’t eat it. But for many chemists I think that was an inspiring experience, and it just naturally raises the question, how many other things like this are out there that we don’t have a clue about?  And that I think provides some motivation for people to try to keep making new things and understanding the things we already have.

Dr. Spencer: Well, mentioning Boyle is interesting too, because I’ve read a biography of him, and talk about an amazing Christian, I mean, the man taught himself biblical Hebrew and Greek, and if I remember right I think even Aramaic, so that he could read the entire Bible in the original languages.

Prof. Schaefer: Yeah, he was what we now call polymath.

Dr. Spencer: Yeah.

Prof. Schaefer: It’s harder to be a polymath these days because there’s an awful lot of knowledge out there to absorb, so I don’t know if we’re ever going to have another polymath.  There’s just too much…the range of things from high-energy physics to molecular biology is so huge that it’s really pretty hard to know everything.  Even in my own field of quantum chemistry things have changed so much.  I used to read all the journals and I would say that I have to depend a lot more on my students to tell me what’s important. There are still some really good ones that I read pretty much cover to cover, but for the others I depend on others to tell me what’s really exciting out there.

Dr. Spencer: Now you worked with Professor Phillip Johnson at UC Berkeley and he’s considered by many to be the father of the intelligent design movement.  What do you think about intelligent design?

Prof. Schaefer: Yeah, well, intelligent design.  I mean, I know most of these people. Quite a few of them are my friends.  Phillip Johnson, law professor at Berkeley really got this whole thing started with his book, “Darwin on Trial”, and Phil didn’t know too much science, but he sensed in his own mind that the evolutionary picture was not satisfying, and he recruited a whole bunch of very bright younger people to take up the cause, like Mike Behe, Bill Dembski, Steve Meyer, so all these people are my friends.  I’m not exactly on their team. I agree with them about a lot of things. But to me, much more important than the idea of an intelligent designer, is who is the intelligent designer? For to me, it’s more important to know that Jesus Christ is the designer of our universe, he’s the one who crafted the whole thing, than the brute fact that there was a designer.  So we’re a bit in disagreement on these things, but I respect what they have to say, I read their stuff, I enjoy it.  I think they’ve created a discussion about these things, which I think is wholesome, whether they’re exactly right about it or not. I think that it does service to science.

Dr. Spencer: I think, you know, Cornelius Van Til with his presuppositional apologetics would say that the place for evidential apologetics like that is in making an unbeliever be uncomfortable in their worldview. And so, I assume you’ve read Signature in the Cell by Stephen Meyer?

Prof. Schaefer: I haven’t read the whole thing.

Dr. Spencer: Yeah and you go through those numbers and you look at, if I remember the numbers correctly, the minimum complexity cell that biologists think would be viable would have 250 proteins or something, and if you assume those are typically 150 amino acids long, and you say how likely is it to get 250 proteins of that length by random combinations of amino acids, and you come up with a number like 1 in 1041,000 power or something, which is completely absurd, obviously, at some level.

Prof. Schaefer: I think Steve Meyer has become the leader of the intelligent design movement, he’s a very, very bright guy, and it’s interesting to read his stuff.  These guys, Dembski, Behe, Meyer, they’re brave, I mean they’ve got almost the entire biological community up in arms against them. So they’ve taken a lot of hits.

Dr. Spencer: I think, often though, and I think I’ve read something of yours where you would agree with this statement, that the reason unbelievers are sometimes hostile, is because they know in fact God exists, as Romans 1 says, and so, really underneath their hostility is not a hostility toward you or what you’re saying so much as it is a hostility toward a God that they know someday is going to judge them.

Prof. Schaefer: Yeah, that is sometimes true. Yeah, that definitely is sometimes true.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is, and I think with that we’re out of time for the day, so I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions or comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, and we would appreciate hearing from you.

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Marc Roby: Today’s podcast is a special session. It’s our great pleasure to be able to interview Prof. Henry Schaefer III. Prof. Schaefer received his Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical Physics from MIT and his PhD in the same area from Stanford University. He is currently the Graham Perdue Professor of Chemistry and the Director of the Center for Computational Quantum Chemistry at the University of Georgia. He is also one of the world’s most highly accomplished and regarded physical chemists. He has over 1600 publications and it has been reported that he has been nominated for a Nobel prize five times. He has won so many awards and has given so many talks all over the world that it would be silly to even begin to list them.

But the most important thing about Prof. Schaefer, is that he is a Bible-believing Christian and unashamedly speaks of Christ wherever he goes. Before we begin I would like to point out that Dr. Schaefer has written an excellent book called, Science and Christianity: Conflict or Coherence?, which is in its second edition. Dr. Spencer was able to interview Prof. Schaefer on Wednesday afternoon, October 3, 2018, prior to Schaefer giving a lecture at the University of California in Davis.

Dr. Spencer: Well, Professor Schaefer, it’s a pleasure to have you as a guest on What Does the Word Say? And thank you for agreeing to do the interview.

Prof. Schaefer: Thank you, good to be here.

Dr. Spencer: I’d like to begin with a few questions just to let our listeners know a little bit more about you. So, you were born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, but attended public schools in New York and California before graduating from High School in Grand Rapids. So, why did you move so much?

Prof. Schaefer: Well, my dad worked for the largest company in Grand Rapids, called American Seating Company.  School seats, stadium seats, auditorium seats. And they just kept moving around until they got far enough up in the food chain in Grand Rapids. They stayed there for the rest of his career.

Dr. Spencer: Alrighty.  And right at the moment you are a professor obviously working in quantum chemistry.  So, how would you explain what you do for a living to someone who doesn’t have much of a science background?

Prof. Schaefer: Quantum chemistry is chemistry without test tubes. Odorless chemistry.  We use the equations of quantum mechanics to make predictions of all manner of things that experimentalists are either too cowardly to do, or just impossible.  So, we try to guide real chemists using the computer.

Dr. Spencer: Alright, can you explain for somebody who is not in science what quantum mechanics is all about a little bit?

Prof. Schaefer: Well, quantum mechanics begins in 1926 with a series of papers by Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger in which he carried out in a mathematical way the idea that waves and particles are related. Particle behavior can be described in a wavelike manner and wavelike things can described in a particle like manner.  So, these equations go way back to 1926, probably the most important year in the history of modern physics.

Dr. Spencer: Alrighty.  Were you raised in a Christian home?

Prof. Schaefer: No, I was not, I was raised in a loving home by parents that were concerned about me from my birth until the month they both died in 1988.

Dr. Spencer:  They both died in the same month?

Prof. Schaefer: My mom died of a heart attack, and my dad had Alzheimer’s, or something like it, and he died of a broken heart a week later.

Dr. Spencer: O my goodness, that’s a terrible thing to go through. How old were you?

Prof. Schaefer: I was forty-three.

Dr. Spencer:  Forty-tree.

Prof. Schaefer: Yeah.

Dr. Spencer: Now in one of your writings, though, you say that the Jesus you knew in childhood was a well-intentioned infinitely tolerant person who laid down some simple moral rules, so if you weren’t raised in a Christian home, did you go to church with friends, or how did you learn about Jesus?

Prof. Schaefer: My parents went to church, we went to the Episcopal Church.

Dr. Spencer: Okay.

Prof. Schaefer: Yeah, we went to church, but there wasn’t too much about Jesus.

Dr. Spencer: Alright.

Prof. Schaefer: It was, if you wanted to be prominent in Grand Rapids, being a member of Grace Episcopal Church was a very good thing.

Dr. Spencer: Alright.

Prof. Schaefer: Gerald Ford, President of the United States, became president, he and my dad were best friends growing up.  Neither one came from wealthy families, and Gerry was a member of Grace Episcopal Church, and if you wanted to get into the Kent Country Club, the most prestigious place in the county, it would be good to be a member of Grace Episcopal Church.

Dr. Spencer: That’s interesting. Well then, how did you become a Christian?

Prof. Schaefer: Well, it’s … as with many, it’s a long story, it began at age 17 when I started to think seriously about things, and it ended, that lost stage of my life ended … well, it began to end just as I completed my PhD at Stanford University, but it really didn’t happen until about four years later, when I was a young professor at the University of California at Berkeley.  So, a lot took place, God was trying to get my attention for a long, long time and as is always the case, he got it.

Dr. Spencer: He doesn’t miss, does he?

Prof. Schaefer: Right.

Dr. Spencer: Was there any particular event that precipitated your coming to Christ or just…?

Prof. Schaefer: Well, four years before I became a Christian I began to think about the historical evidence for the resurrection of Christ, and after about three years of that I decided that not only is the resurrection true, but it is one of the best attested facts in all of ancient history, and then there was another year to kind of get things together before I received Christ into my life.

Dr. Spencer: Alright. Now you and your wife went through the terrible experience of having a baby die of SIDS.  Can you explain how your faith helped you get through that period?

Prof. Schaefer: Yeah, this was in 1979, and we had not been Christians for too long, December 9, 1979, and this was a stage in my life when I was trying to become famous.  I had a very nice offer from the University of Texas, an endowed Chair and an institute that was going to be started just for me and so I was spending about half the time in Texas and half the time in Berkeley, and being paid half a salary by both, and went to church on a Sunday morning, December 9, and got back to my office, instead of just staying in a hotel, and my wife called me and told me that our son Pierre had died.  So, it was the hardest thing I’ve been through yet.

Dr. Spencer: And how did your faith help with that, do you think, in terms of coping with it?

Prof. Schaefer: Well, I would say that neither Kären nor I ever felt any anger toward God, you know, we were far enough along that we understood that all things work for good for those who love Christ, so we knew good things were coming, and we were surrounded by Christian friends at that point.  We’d been in Berkeley for, yeah… So, I was in Texas, our son died in California, so I hurried back, and we were just…I was met at the airport by a dozen people, all of whom we loved, and taken back to the house, and they just watched over us for quite a few days.

Dr. Spencer: Okay.  Well, do you have a favorite book of the Bible or a favorite verse, and why?

Prof. Schaefer: 1 John 5:13:

Dr. Spencer: Okay.  Which says?

Prof. Schaefer: These things have I written, that you may know that you have eternal life, you that believe in the name of the Son of God.  That verse was a significant part of my becoming a Christian. I was actually leading a Bible study of some high school kids at a Lutheran church, even though I wasn’t a Christian. And I knew I didn’t know much about the Bible, but I had been reading a chapter in the Bible since I was 17 years old, but I didn’t know much.  But I knew that a lot of these youngsters, we probably had 15 high school kids in that class, several of them were Christians.  So, we’d get to a passage and if I wasn’t quite sure what it meant, I would ask them, the students, what do you think this means?  Somebody would always have a good answer, and went back home with my wife Kären, and we looked at the verse together, and said, you know it looks like you can know you’re going to heaven if you believe in Jesus Christ.  And it wasn’t more than a day after that that I realized that I was going to heaven.  Now I can’t tell you when, that might have happened some time before that, but that was the point at which I was cognizant that I had become a Christian.

Dr. Spencer: Well, and of course, it sounds like the church you were in … I seem to remember the last time you were here, you said something about the main requirement for being a leader of a youth group was that you had a Suburban?

Prof. Schaefer: We had a brand new bright red Chevrolet Suburban, and there were no rules about seatbelts, we could put twenty-five kids into that Suburban and take them wherever they wanted to go.

Dr. Spencer: That’s sort of a lamentable comment about the state of the church, isn’t it?

Prof. Schaefer: Well, that’s why we were chosen by the pastor, he saw the car in the parking lot.

Dr. Spencer: Alright. And so you wrote at one point, also, you said that, unlike the childhood Jesus you knew that was this infinitely tolerant person you found out that the Jesus described in the pages of the New Testament is a little less tolerant.

Prof. Schaefer: Yes, yes, yeah, he’s certainly all-loving, all-perfect, but he demands fidelity from his people.

Dr. Spencer: And holy living.

Prof. Schaefer: Yep.

Dr. Spencer: We are called to holy life. Alright, well, let’s move to something a little bit more along the lines of science here. We live at an amazing time in history, I think, anyway.  We’ve learned so much in the last 150 years, both biblical archaeology confirming many of the details of the Bible, and then in terms of science, we know so much more, about the complexity of the origin of life, and also about the origin of the universe, that I think it is simply intellectually untenable to be an atheist.  Do you agree with that?

Prof. Schaefer: Intellectually untenable…I would almost agree with that.

Dr. Spencer: Alright.

Prof. Schaefer:  I think there is good evidence for the existence of God.  I don’t think it comes to proof, certainly not mathematical proof, but I think there is very good evidence.

Dr. Spencer: Alright. What would you say is the best evidence?

Prof. Schaefer: I’d say the best evidence is the comprehensibility of the universe, why things make sense, why one can use mathematical physics to understand so many things, why the universe makes sense rather than nonsense.  I would say that’s what I would put up at the top of the list.

Dr. Spencer:  I know you’ve taught a number of times before about the history of science, and of course there is this mistaken idea out there that originated back in the 1800’s that there was warfare between science and Christianity, which is not really true.

Prof. Schaefer: Right.

Dr. Spencer: And you’ve spoken a lot about that.

Prof. Schaefer: You’ll hear a little bit about that tonight.

Dr. Spencer: Right, alright. And the origin of science coming from sort of a Christian worldview.  Why do you think that is, what do you think is the main reason that science was mostly continuously and steadily developed in a Christian society?

Prof. Schaefer: A number of reasons.  I don’t want to take too long on them because your listeners should get my book Science and Christianity because it goes through a bunch of these reasons in great detail. One can argue that science might have developed in the absence of the Christian faith of its founders, but in fact it never did.  It never did.  There were moments, certainly there were moments, in science where persons of other philosophies made progress, but they weren’t continuous. The most striking example I know is that of the famous observatory in Istanbul, the Galata Observatory.  Now this is contemporary with Tycho Brahe who had this amazing observatory in the West and discovered all sorts of things. Tycho Brahe, and you may have heard of him as the guy who had a gold nose.  He lost his nose in a duel as a youth and he had a gold nose, and of course his body was dug up many, many times by people looking for his gold nose, but I’m not even sure the gold nose was buried with him.  But anyway, he made revolutionary advances.  The Galata Observatory was completed and within just a few days it was burned, it was razed to the ground by a mob instigated by the local Muslim leader. Now something like that could happen anywhere, due to any religion. But the point is, it was another, goodness sakes, 300 years before a major observatory was constructed in the Middle East.  So there really was an inability to go forward with science.  So that’s a part of it, I would say.

Dr. Spencer: Alrighty. Well, as someone who’s thought deeply about the structure of nature and also as a Bible-believing Christian, I’m curious what you think about the origin of consciousness and volition.

Prof. Schaefer: I think the honest answer is not very much.  I mean, these are tough, tough subjects. I mean, I don’t think it makes any sense other than a belief in the sovereign God of the universe.  You know, to argue how this happened. This is complicated. We are talking chemistry. This is remarkably complicated. The idea that it just happened seems pretty improbable to me.

Dr. Spencer: How has being a Christian impacted your work as a scientist?

Prof. Schaefer: It certainly gives me a greater appreciation for science.  The idea that, which has struck me a number of times, when you find something really new, and you look at it, and you ponder it a bit, and you say, wow, so that’s how God did it.  And that’s a special feeling. That’s a very special feeling. Yeah.

Dr. Spencer:  Yeah, it’s always amazing when you get to learn more about God, isn’t it, whether it’s from the book of nature or the book of God’s word. And I think this is a good place to take a short break, so let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org.  We’d love to hear from you.

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine God’s communicable attributes.  Dr. Spencer, we finished with God’s wisdom last time, so are we moving on to the next attribute examined by Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we are. The next attribute he examines is God’s truthfulness.[1] Which immediately brings to mind Jesus’ statement in John 14:6 that “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”[2]

Marc Roby: It also brings to mind Pilate’s famous question, “What is truth?” (John 18:38)

Dr. Spencer: You had to bring that up, didn’t you?

Marc Roby: Well, it is a question that is extremely relevant in this day and age.

Dr. Spencer: I have to admit that. In a 2001 poll, Barna found that only 22% of Americans believed in absolute truth.[3] Then, in a 2016 poll, he found that only 59% of professing Christians believed that moral truth is absolute and that only 15% of people listing no religion thought so.[4] These results seem inconsistent to me, and there are others out there that vary widely too, but all of them show a very disturbing pattern that many, if not most, people in the United States reject the idea of absolute truth, at least with respect to morality. So, it is certainly well worth taking some time to discuss what truth is.

Marc Roby: I agree. So, how would you define truth?

Dr. Spencer: As with many questions there is a short answer and there is a very long answer. Let me begin with brief summary of the very long answer. But first, let me preface my comments with a disclaimer. I’m not going to try and give a detailed, exhaustive or precise presentation, I’m just going to give the general flavor of the arguments because it will lead us to an important conclusion.

Marc Roby: OK, your disclaimer is duly noted.

Dr. Spencer: The question of how we define truth is, not surprisingly, one that philosophers have spent a considerable amount of time on. There are three major theories I’d like to look at. The correspondence theory of truth, the coherence theory of truth and the pragmatic theory of truth. There is significant overlap among them as we will see, but virtually all other theories boil down to some version or combination of these three. Now, when I say that I have to add that I am simply ignoring so-called theories of truth that deny the existence of absolute truth.

Marc Roby: You mean like the idea that all truth is relative?

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. All the postmodern ideas that deny the existence of absolute truth are complete failures of human reasoning. Let me quote from The Great Ideas, which is a summary analysis of the great books of the western world. It summarizes the arguments against any view that is skeptical about the existence of real truth claims. It says that “Across the centuries the arguments against the skeptic seem to be the same. If the skeptic does not mind contradicting himself when he tries to defend the truth of the proposition that all propositions are equally true or false, he can perhaps be challenged by the fact that he does not act according to his view. If all opinions are equally true or false, then why, Aristotle asks, does not the denier of truth walk ‘into a well or over a precipice’ instead of avoiding such things.”[5]

Marc Roby: That’s a great quote. I think it is extremely important to point out that the idea that there is no such thing as absolute truth is self-contradictory and, frankly, silly.

Dr. Spencer: It certainly is. If there is no such thing as absolute truth, then that statement itself is also not an absolute truth, which means that absolute truth can exist. Or, as the Great Ideas put it, if someone says that all propositions are equally true or false, then that proposition itself is also equally true or false, which negates it.

That is why I’m not going to spend any time dealing with these postmodern ideas. And it is also why I find the poll results I noted at the beginning so disturbing; our educational system has failed in a massive way if a majority, or even a large percentage, of people in this country do not believe in absolute truth. As I noted before, that is a complete failure of human reasoning, it is irrationality.

Marc Roby: Very well, let’s get back then to the correspondence, coherence and pragmatic theories that you mentioned. Can you give a brief synopsis of these three?

Dr. Spencer: Certainly. The pragmatic theory of truth simply says that whatever works is true. But that obviously begs the question of what you mean by saying that something works.

Marc Roby: It seems to me that it would be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to give a completely general description of what you mean by saying that something works.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. And, in fact, that idea can lead you far astray. For example, if I were to define what works by saying that a given statement is true if it gets me out of some difficult situation, then I’m in serious trouble in terms of defining truth, because a lie will often work to get me out of some difficult situation. Therefore, I would be saying that a lie is true.

Marc Roby: That is, unfortunately, true.

Dr. Spencer: Nice pun. In one sense the pragmatic theory is the least important of the three precisely because it is difficult to define what you mean by saying that something works. On the other hand, both the coherence and correspondence theories could be thought of as versions of the pragmatic theory with specific definitions for what it means for something to work. So, if I look at it that way, I could say that the pragmatic theory is the only theory of truth.

Marc Roby: OK, so what are these other two theories then?

Dr. Spencer: According the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the coherence theory says the truth of a given proposition “consists in its coherence with some specified set of propositions.”[6] Of course, that leaves us with the problem of defining this set of propositions, or statements. But, at the very least, we can certainly say that whatever set of propositions we consider to be true the statements should all be consistent, or coherent, with one other.

Now I must say that I don’t see how this theory can stand by itself. You need to say what the “specified set of propositions” is, and there is no guidance provided by this theory as to how you guarantee those propositions are true. You can imagine concocting a set of propositions that are entirely self-consistent, that is, coherent, and yet are false.

Marc Roby: In other words, that theory is missing any notion that our ideas have to, at least in some way, correspond to the physical world.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And that leads us to the correspondence theory of truth; which says that whatever corresponds to reality is true. Personally, I think that at the end of the day a good definition of truth has to have a combination of correspondence and coherence. Certainly, any statement we make that can be tested must correspond to reality to be called true, but it also seems that all of the statements you believe to be true must be consistent, in other words, they must cohere.

To give a couple of examples, if I tell you that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, you can easily test to see whether or not what I have said is true. But, if I tell you that murder is wrong, how do you check to see if that corresponds to reality?

Marc Roby: I don’t think there is any observation or test I could make to answer that question.

Dr. Spencer: I don’t think there is. But I am quite confident that it is true that murder is wrong. And, as a Christian, I would defend that statement by saying that God tells us it is wrong.

Marc Roby: But that statement obviously begs the question of how you can know that God exists and that he tells the truth.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it does. In previous sessions we have discussed the fact that the Bible claims to be the infallible word of God. And we have given a large amount of extra-biblical evidence to corroborate that claim. We have also shown in other ways that the biblical worldview is coherent and corresponds to reality. In fact, I would say that the biblical worldview is the only worldview that is completely consistent and in accord with reality. But let’s put off that discussion for another time.

Marc Roby: That sounds reasonable, we could obviously spend far more time than we want to right now discussing that.

Dr. Spencer: We certainly could. The study of how we know what we know and how we can determine if our beliefs are rationally justified is called epistemology. It is a very important field and we will get into it in more detail in a later session. But the question Pilate asked, “What is truth?” is often used to avoid a meaningful discussion. In fact, in one sense the question is a waste of time.

Marc Roby: Now hold on a minute, you just offended the philosophers in our audience. How can you make such a statement?

Dr. Spencer: I first said that such inquiries are very important, so hopefully the philosophers will forgive me. But when I said that the question is, in one sense, a waste of time, what I meant is very easily illustrated.

Suppose someone throws a rock through my living-room window and I run outside and find a five-year-old boy in the front yard playing with rocks. If I ask him, “Did you throw the rock that just came through my window?” Do you think he knows the difference between telling me the truth or a lie?

Marc Roby: Well, any normal five-year-old certainly would.

Dr. Spencer: And that is precisely my point. On a very practical day-to-day level we all understand what truth is. It is that which corresponds to reality. If he had, in fact, thrown the rock that went through my window he and I both understand it would be a lie for him to say he had not done so. And we also both know that he would be telling the truth if he admitted that he had done so. Now, we must grant that it can be far more difficult to deal with the meaning of truth when we get to some other topics, but most of the time it is obvious.

Marc Roby: I see your point. And so I assume this is also the short answer to the question that you noted at the start; that the truth is that which corresponds to reality.

Dr. Spencer: That is the short answer, yes.

Marc Roby: Have you said all that you want to for now in response to the question, “What is truth?”

Dr. Spencer: Not quite. There is an incredibly important related point to discuss here, and that is the subject of worldview. I used that word a minute ago without definition because most people have a reasonable idea of what it means, but I think Phil Johnson, who is a retired law professor from UC Berkeley, gives a wonderful definition. In his forward to Nancy Pearcey’s book Total Truth he wrote that “Understanding worldview is a bit like trying to see the lens of one’s own eye. We do not ordinarily see our own worldview, but we see everything else by looking through it. Put simply, our worldview is the window by which we view the world, and decide, often subconsciously, what is real and important, or unreal and unimportant.”[7]

Marc Roby: That is a great definition, and it explains why our worldview is so important, it affects everything we think.

Dr. Spencer: And because our worldview has such a pervasive influence on what we believe to be true, it is an important thing to examine. We should ask ourselves whether or not our worldview itself is true! Phil Johnson said it is a bit like the lens of our eye, and we know that if the lens is bad, our vision will be bad. We will not see things correctly.

Marc Roby: It seems as though our worldview is something which is formed mostly unconsciously though, so how could we examine it?

Dr. Spencer: We can test whether or not some of the fundamental tenets of our worldview are true or not.

Marc Roby: And so, we get back to the definition of truth.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we do.

Marc Roby: Can you give me an example of how we can test our worldview?

Dr. Spencer: I’d love to. Suppose, for example, that I am convinced that there is no God. In other words, my worldview is an atheistic worldview, matter and energy and the laws of physics are all that exist. If that worldview is true, then there are certain conclusions that simply must be true.

Marc Roby: Such as?

Dr. Spencer: Such as the conclusion that there cannot be any such thing as a moral absolute.

Marc Roby: Why do you say that?

Dr. Spencer: Because the laws of physics certainly do not contain any moral commands, they simply specify how matter and energy can interact. Moral laws require authority. If you tell me that I’m not allowed to take my neighbor’s car for example, I can ask, “Who says I can’t take my neighbor’s car?”

Marc Roby: I assume that your neighbor, for one, wouldn’t like it very much.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure that’s true, but suppose I’m much stronger than my neighbor and I take it anyway. Who is to say that is wrong? Obviously, our society has laws that say it is wrong, but why should I obey those laws?

Marc Roby: Well, because you’ll end up in jail if you don’t.

Dr. Spencer: And that makes my point nicely. The ultimate test of a moral law is whether or not someone has authority to enforce it. So, ultimately, without authority, there is no moral law. But, without God, the only authority that exists is raw human power. Either the power of an individual, or the power of some group.

Crudely speaking, our government is founded on the principle that the majority should decide the laws. So, the authority of the government is actually the authority of the majority, which is based, ultimately, on the power of the majority. But there is no moral law that says majority rule is right and a dictatorship is wrong for example. So, if I am an atheist, I cannot say that a dictatorship is immoral. I can say that I don’t like it, but I cannot be logically consistent and say that it is morally wrong. And now, let me take this argument to the final step. If I am an atheist, I am being logically inconsistent, in other words irrational, if I claim that what Hitler did in the holocaust was morally wrong.

Marc Roby: I’m sure that statement will raise a few hackles.

Dr. Spencer: I hope it does, because my point is to try and shock people into thinking carefully. If you don’t believe in God, you cannot rationally believe in moral absolutes. The conclusion is that morality is defined by whoever has the power to enforce the rules.

Marc Roby: In other words, might does make right.

Dr. Spencer: If you’re going to be a logically consistent atheist, yes, you have to say that. You can certainly say that you don’t like what Hitler did, and you think it was wrong and, by the way, I would certainly agree with you. But, if there were no God, Hitler, if he were still around to answer for himself, could simply say, “Who are you to tell me what is right or wrong?”

Marc Roby: Of course, World War II sort of answered that question. The ones who were telling Hitler what he was doing was wrong were the ones who defeated his armies and removed him from power.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. In other words, it is another example of might makes right in a human sense. But Hitler died and then he faced the only perfect judge of all men and received his final, eternal judgment.

Marc Roby: That is a sobering thought. You said at the beginning that discussing the meaning of truth would lead us to an important conclusion. Can you state that conclusion now?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, I can. The important conclusion is that at the end of the day truth really does depend on power because it depends on authority. The word authority comes, of course, from the word author, which means the person who creates something. We give the word authority a broader meaning based on power. For example, one dictionary I looked in says that authority is the power to give orders or make decisions. But, the greatest authority comes from being the one who creates something. If I author a book, I can make it say whatever I want it to say. And God is the author of the universe. He created it to be exactly the way he wanted it to be. And he sustains it and governs it to continue to be exactly the way he wants it to be. So, he has ultimate authority and, in a very real sense, he is truth. Whatever God thinks is true, is true because he has the power to make it be true.

Marc Roby: And so we get right back to John 14:6, which you quoted at the beginning, Jesus saying, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. Truth, in the ultimate sense, is not a property of a statement, it is a person. It is God.

Marc Roby: That seems like a great place to end, so let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions or comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We look forward to hearing from you.

[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 195

[2] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[3] See http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_poll5.htm

[4] See https://www.barna.com/research/the-end-of-absolutes-americas-new-moral-code/

[5] The Great Ideas, A Syntopicon of Great Books of the Western World, Vol. II, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1952, pg. 915

[6] See https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/truth-coherence/

[7] Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth; Liberating Christianity form its Cultural Captivity, Crossway Books, 2004, pg. 11

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine God’s communicable attributes.  Dr. Spencer, we were discussing God’s wisdom last time, what else would you like to say about it?

Dr. Spencer: I’d like to begin today by reading a quote from Charles Hodge’s Systematic Theology. He has a wonderful statement in his section on the wisdom of God.

Marc Roby: Please proceed.

Dr. Spencer: Hodge wrote, “As there is abundant evidence of design in the works of nature, so all the works of God declare his wisdom. They show, from the most minute to the greatest, the most wonderful adaptation of means to accomplish the high end of the good of his creatures and the manifestation of his own glory. So also, in the whole course of history, we see evidence of the controlling power of God making all things work together for the best interests of his people, and the promotion of his kingdom upon earth. It is, however, in the work of redemption that this divine attribute is specially revealed. It is by the Church, that God has determined to manifest, through all ages, to principalities and powers, his manifold wisdom.”[1]

Marc Roby: That is a great statement. And it points out clearly that it is the creation of the Church of Christ, God’s holy people, that is the pinnacle of God’s creative acts.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s right. This world will one day be destroyed and God will create a new heaven and a new earth. At that time, all of those who have not surrendered to Christ will be sent to eternal hell to make God’s perfect justice manifest, and all of those who have surrendered all to Christ will spend eternity with God in heaven. And all of this is for God’s glory.

Paul tells us this in Philippians 2:9-11, where we read about God exalting Jesus Christ because of his obedience in carrying out the work of redemption. Paul wrote, “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” [2]

Marc Roby: That does clearly show that God’s ultimate purpose for creation is his own glory.

Dr. Spencer: And the tremendous wisdom displayed by God in his ultimate goal and the means he is using to accomplish that goal should cause us to break into praise with the apostle Paul, who wrote in Romans 11:33-36, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?’ ‘Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?’ For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.”

Marc Roby: That is such a wonderful passage. We cannot know the mind of God completely, but he has revealed enough that we can stand in awe of his great wisdom and power. Even the great apostle Paul, who had such a deep understanding given to him as he wrote that magnificent letter to the church in Rome, even he is reduced to simple worship as he meditated on these things.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we should all be brought to a place of great worship as we consider God’s attributes. But I want to return to the statement by Hodge. He said that all of creation accomplishes, “the high end of the good of his creatures and the manifestation of his own glory.” So, he has added something here that is very important, especially to us! God’s ultimate purpose in creation is his own glory, but in making his glory manifest he simultaneously does that which is good for his creatures.

Marc Roby: Which includes you, me and all of our listeners.

Dr. Spencer: And all of the angels too. Notice that if the purpose of God’s creation is to make his glory manifest, we must ask, to whom is it made manifest? God knows himself perfectly, so it can’t be that he will somehow see his own glory more clearly. I think it would be biblical to say that God’s purpose in creation is the joy he derives from making creatures who are capable of having fellowship with him and then making his glory manifest to those creatures.

Marc Roby: Now, how would you back that statement up biblically?

Dr. Spencer: Well, first, remember that Hodge said, at the end of his statement about God’s wisdom, that it is “in the work of redemption that this divine attribute is specially revealed. It is by the Church, that God has determined to manifest, through all ages, to principalities and powers, his manifold wisdom.” Therefore, my first point in support of my contention is that the church is God’s treasure, it is what he delights in.

In the Old Testament we are told six times that God’s people are his “treasured possession”. For example, in Exodus 19:4-6 we read that when Moses went up onto Mount Sinai and spoke with God, God told him to say the people, “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

Marc Roby: That’s hard to fathom; that we could be God’s treasured possession. And in the New Testament the apostle Peter quoted from this verse. In 1 Peter 2:9 he writes, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s wonderful. The church consists of all born-again believers. In the Old Testament it is usually referred to as being synonymous with the nation of Israel, but the apostle Paul tells us in Romans 9:6 that “not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.”

Marc Roby: By which, of course, Paul means that not all people who are physically descended from Jacob, who was renamed Israel, are part of the true people called Israel.

Dr. Spencer: That is exactly what he means. Paul goes on to write, in Verses 7 and 8, “Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, ‘It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.’ In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.”

Marc Roby: That passage could again use some explanation.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. Paul is distinguishing between two groups of people among Abraham’s descendants. Those whom God has chosen to save, who are called “children of the promise”, and those whom God has chosen to pass over and treat with justice, who are called “the natural children”.

Marc Roby: You know, that shows how silly some modern ecumenical movements are when they speak about the children of Abraham, or the Abrahamic religions, and act as if we all worship the same God.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s right. But getting back to the point I was making, we must remember that when God promised Abraham and Sarah they would have an heir it didn’t happen for a long time. During that time, Sarah became impatient as she got well past the age of child bearing, so she determined to solve the problem herself.

Marc Roby: That’s usually not a good idea. When we stop trusting God and take matters into our own hands we usually mess things up.

Dr. Spencer: And she did mess things up quite badly. As was the custom at the time, she gave her young handmaiden Hagar to Abraham and he had a son with her, who was named Ishmael. But this was not God’s plan. And so, years later, God came and told Abraham he would have a son through Sarah, even though they were both past the age where people can normally have children, and God’s promise miraculously came true. Sarah conceived and bore Isaac. Paul wrote in Galatians 4:23 that Abraham’s “son by the slave woman was born in the ordinary way; but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a promise.” And then in Verse 28 of that chapter he wrote, “Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise.”

Marc Roby: Which establishes that salvation is not based on physical descent from Abraham or anyone else, it is based on God’s divine promise and his electing love.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it certainly is. And this group of people, the children of promise, having been chosen by God, are called his treasured possession. We are told in Psalm 149:4 that “the LORD takes delight in his people”. And, then again, in Zephaniah 3 the prophet tells the people about the salvation that God will ultimately bring about and in Verse 17 he says, “The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”

Marc Roby: That is almost impossible to imagine. God will delight in us? He will rejoice over us with singing?

Dr. Spencer: It is almost beyond belief. If God’s word didn’t tell it to us, I don’t think anyone could have expected so much. But in this life, we still sin and grieve the Holy Spirit and make God angry, so he disciplines us as a father disciplines a child we are told in Proverbs 3:12 and Hebrews 12:10. God is in the business of making us holy so that we can come into his presence. We are told in Hebrews 12:14 that “without holiness no one will see the Lord.” And in 1 Corinthians 1:2 the apostle Paul addresses his letter, “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy”. Paul also wrote in Ephesians 1:4 that God chose us in Christ “before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” But, we are not holy yet.

Marc Roby: I think that is abundantly obvious.

Dr. Spencer: It certainly is. And the process of making us holy began with Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross to pay for our sins. We are told in Hebrews 13:12 that Jesus “suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.” And in Hebrews 12:2 we are told, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” That is an amazing statement. Jesus went to the cross and endured the wrath of God on our behalf “for the joy set before him.”

Marc Roby: That joy must be something really wonderful.

Dr. Spencer: It certainly must be. In John 15:9-11 we read that Jesus told his disciples, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” Look at that last statement; Christ’s joy will be in us, we will have the same joy that he has.

Marc Roby: That is amazing. But that passage also equates obedience with love, which is not something most modern Churches would say.

Dr. Spencer: Churches might not say it, but Jesus did! And notice that joy comes from obedience, which comes from love. Getting back to Hebrews 12:2, when it said that Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before him, we should ask, “What is that joy?”

In his commentary on this passage, Pastor P.G. Mathew points out that this joy that was set before him had two aspects.[3]  One was the joy of pleasing the Father, which was a joy that he had throughout his life, even, I’m sure, on the cross. In other words, it was the joy that comes from obedience. And the other aspect was the coming joy of being restored to fellowship with the Father when his work was completed. But given what we read earlier, that God will delight in us and rejoice over us with singing, I think it is fair to add that this second aspect of Christ’s joy is fellowship with the Father and with his treasured possession, which is the church, it is us.

Marc Roby: Alright. You have been providing biblical support for the statement you made a few minutes ago, that “God’s purpose in creation is the joy he derives from making creatures who are capable of having fellowship with him and then making his glory manifest to those creatures.” You first showed that the church, in other words God’s chosen people, are his treasured possession. And you showed that God will delight in his people and derive joy from fellowship with them in heaven.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And let me tie it back in with the statement made by Hodge. With regard to God’s attribute of wisdom he wrote that “It is, however, in the work of redemption that this divine attribute is specially revealed. It is by the Church, that God has determined to manifest, through all ages, to principalities and powers, his manifold wisdom.” The work of redemption is God’s working in this world to create his church.

Marc Roby: So, we could reword Hodge’s statement a bit and say that God’s divine wisdom is most especially revealed in his work of creating the church.

Dr. Spencer: I think that’s a fair statement. And it is interesting to also note that no matter how long it is until Christ’s second coming, it will be a finite time. But the church, which consists of all of those people God has redeemed out of the world, will spend eternity in God’s presence in heaven, which is literally infinitely longer than however long this universe lasts. So, we can say that the whole purpose of this present universe and of all human history is simply to serve as the backdrop if you will to God’s work of creating the true church. This present world bears the same relationship to eternity that a caterpillar does to a butterfly.

Marc Roby: That’s incredible to think about and certainly is an amazing display of God’s wisdom.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is. And notice that Hodge said that by the Church, “God has determined to manifest, through all ages, to principalities and powers, his manifold wisdom.” And Hodge was right, the angels and demons are watching now and stand amazed at what God is doing. We are told in 1 Peter 1:12 that “Even angels long to look into these things.”

And the Old Testament tells us that the nations and the kings of the earth will see this great work. In Isaiah 62:1-4 the prophet declares, “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet, till her righteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch. The nations will see your righteousness, and all kings your glory; you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will bestow. You will be a crown of splendor in the LORD’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God. No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; for the LORD will take delight in you, and your land will be married.”

Marc Roby: A truly incredible prophecy. We will be a “crown of splendor in the LORD’s hand”. I can’t wait for that day. And Isaiah’s words remind me of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. In Ephesians 3:10-11 Paul wrote that God’s “intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a great passage to make the same point. The church is the ultimate expression of the wisdom of God.

Marc Roby: Do you have anything more to say about God’s wisdom?

Dr. Spencer: I want to close by pointing out that it is radically different from what this world considers wisdom. People are often offended by the gospel message. It disturbs them greatly that God would be wrathful against sin and that he would require a blood sacrifice to pay for it. But we must remember what the apostle Paul wrote in 1Corinthians 1:21-25, “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.”

Marc Roby: That is a humbling conclusion to the topic. But before we sign off, let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We’d love to hear from you.

[1] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1997, Vol. 1, pg. 401

[2] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[3] P.G. Mathew, Muscular Christianity, Grace and Glory Ministries, 2010, pg. 346

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