III Predestination, prophecy, free will, and prayer
Does God know the future? If so, how? Does the Bible teach predestination? Does God give us prophecies about the future? Does that mean that everything that happens is predetermined? If so, are we responsible? Is God fair to punish us for our choices? Do we really have free will? If the Bible teaches both predestination and free will, is that contradictory? And if God knows everything and the future is already determined, why pray?
The Bible does clearly teach both God’s foreknowledge and our responsibility, so the problem is whether they can fit together. Let’s choose to consider this. Briefly, the answer is that in nearly every verse that refers to God’s choice of individuals for salvation and service, it also refers to God’s foreknowledge. God has predestined that He will accept those who choose to believe and serve Him. He knows who will so choose.
The important question is how God knows our future. Many Christians try to explain it by saying that God knows everything about the present, therefore He can predict the future. But if this is correct, then our future choices are determined by the present, and we have no free will, so this answer cannot be correct. A better answer is that God is outside of time. It is only since Einstein’s theory of relativity was published in the early 20th century that we can partially understand this. Hugh Ross has written a book on the subject. Time is part of what God created; He is not within time like we are, moving from one moment to the next as if chained on a conveyor belt. He sees our past, present, and future, including our choices. But they still are our choices; we are not just computers executing a prearranged program. Very rarely God chooses to tell us a little of what He sees in our future; that is called prophecy (ch. 6, III, G).
This is beyond our ability to fully comprehend. Perhaps the nearest example which we can understand is the way 3 dimensions transcend 2 dimensions. There have been some interesting science fiction stories about people who live in 2 dimensions and cannot comprehend 3 dimensions.
If God told us very much about the future, it would cause some complicated logical problems, which are studied in many science fiction stories. Knowing about the future can change it, and interfere with the usual order of cause and effect.
God has a plan, and He is certain to accomplish His plan. We cannot stop Him. Our only choice is what role we will play in His plan. In the Bible, God is constantly urging us to repent and obey Him, and telling us we are responsible for our choice, so it must really be a choice (see the earlier section on those who never hear about Jesus).
We do not have as many choices as we think we do. We are very much influenced by the past. But we at least have a choice in our response to God’s love. God sees our heart, and judges us only for things in which we really made a choice. This is comforting to us, because God cannot misunderstand us the way people often do. But it is also frightening, because we cannot deceive God about our thoughts and motives the way we often deceive people.
We can choose our actions, but we cannot choose the consequences of our actions. Many people mistakenly hope they can choose one action but another consequence.
Now to discuss prayer briefly. If we believe that the purpose of prayer is to inform God of things we need, or change His mind and actions to suit our wishes, then it seems to be futile. But this is not its purpose.
Prayer is not only asking for things. It is communication with God. Prayer is not our way of changing God, but God’s way of changing us. God is our Father, and He enjoys having His children communicate their thoughts and feelings to Him. It develops our relationship with Him. There are many things God wishes to give us, but we are not ready for them until we understand and care enough to ask for them. We are not waiting for God; He is waiting for us. When we ask for something and see God do it, it develops our faith in Him. Of course, often His answer is “No.” Then we must trust His wisdom, and believe His choice is better than our own in the long run.
Many of our requests involve difficulty or danger, asking God to help and protect us, or thanking God for rescuing, healing, and comforting us. But Christians’ thinking is often unclear and oversimplified about such things, and skeptics ask some very good questions: “If God is able to help and protect us, why didn’t He simply prevent the problem in the first place? Why does He allow us to suffer for a while, and then rescue, heal, or comfort us?” Again, the answer is that His goal is not our immediate comfort but our eternal relationship with Him, and such experiences remind us of our need to know and depend on Him. If we never experienced difficulties, we could easily take our comfort, success, and security for granted, get comfortable in this life, and forget about God and heaven. We must admit that is often what happens when life goes smoothly for a while. Therefore in the long run it is best for us when something happens that wakes us out of this fairy-tale slumber.
This leads to the following section.
IV Evil and suffering
This is not a problem for most other religions. Some simply deny the existence of both good and evil; all is neutral, amoral. Some assume a dualistic eternal equality of good and evil. Only the Bible seems contradictory on this subject. But most people who raise this issue are not simply observing an apparent contradiction in Biblical teaching. They positively assert that evil and suffering are bad, and they consider its existence as conclusive grounds for complaint against the God of the Bible. But he/she must actually implicitly believe the Bible in order to raise this question. If the Bible is false, and there is no God, then how can we even define evil, or justice? Against whom should we complain? And why should we care?
The problem is this: “If the Bible is true, in saying that God is loving, just, and all-powerful, then why do we have pain, sadness, and injustice?” Many people have stumbled over this problem. Archibald MacLeish (an atheist) said, “If God is God, He is not good. If God is good, He is not God.” Rabbi Harold Kushner (a Jew) wrote the famous book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, 1981, describing some of his own tragic experiences. He fought in Vietnam, and his son died of a strange disease that made him become old far prematurely. He concludes that God is good but not all-powerful; God is doing His best, but He makes mistakes and is limited. Albert Einstein was convinced of the existence of an intelligent Creator, but he could not accept the God of the Bible because he could not resolve the problem of evil and suffering. He experienced that firsthand, as a Jew in Europe and specifically in Germany during the rise of Hitler’s Nazis, which necessitated his emigration to the US.
Many books have been written on this subject, which can only be briefly summarized here. Two books that I found helpful were C. S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain, and A. E. Wilder-Smith’s The Paradox of Pain. (see book list at the end of ch. 5)
The fact that this is a problem for Biblical faith is actually a positive situation. Only if it is a problem is there hope for a solution. The Bible realistically acknowledges evil and suffering as such, yet does not accept it in hopeless resignation. Our suffering can be seen as having a purpose, but only a passing one that will end in the defeat of allevil. This is a great comfort while we are enduring suffering, and it is found only in the Bible.
A This question has at least three sub-questions:
1 What is the origin of evil? Did God create it? If so, it is His fault. If not, is it eternal and equal with God? Did God create germs, weeds, damaging insects and animals, etc? If God forgives us, why are there consequences when we sin? Why do we feel pain?These are good questions, just like those discussed in earlier sections. And, just as in dealing with those questions, we can ask them but we must be careful to ask with a humble attitude. People in the Bible asked these questions: Psalm 37, 73, the entire Book of Job, etc.
2 If God knew we would sin and suffer, why did He create us? Why did He put the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden? Why did He let the serpent enter the Garden to tempt them?
3 Why doesn’t the almighty God do something to stop evil and suffering (especially mine!)? Why doesn’t God force us all to love, trust, and obey Him?
1 The origin of evilGod created the world and human nature good; Genesis 1 says several times “God saw that it was good.” Evil is the choice not to love God, but to be separated from Him. Evil is not equal with God, or independent from Him. An evil nature is the absence of God and good, the same as darkness is the absence of light. Such an internal nature produces external evil actions and circumstances.
This is a damaged world, and it is Satan and we, not God, who damaged it. We would not look at a medieval European cathedral after it was bombed in WW II and blame the architect for designing it that way. In fact, the damage probably shows some things about how well it was designed that were not visible before. Of course, like all analogies this one is not entirely valid, because the architect is long since dead and gone, but the Bible says God is still alive and in charge. So even if He did not do the damage, He allowed it, in fact created the damagers. So this analogy is relevant but not a final answer.
What the analogy means is that the origin of evil is the free will which God gives to angels and humans. In order to be truly free, there must be a possibility of other choices besides loving, trusting, and obeying God. We have chosen those other possibilities, and evil and suffering are the consequences. Point 2 discusses the question of why God created us this way.
Sinful acts in general are doing something that is not wrong in itself, but at the wrong time and place, for wrong reasons. In I Timothy 4:4, 5 Paul says, “For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.” The problem is that we often do things which we feel God forbids, but we do them anyway, so obviously we cannot do them with thanksgiving and prayer, and this makes them sinful. Romans 14:23b, “whatever is not from faith is sin,” was written about eating, which is obviously not sinful in itself, but the motive and circumstances can make it sinful. For example, it could be said that the very first sin in the Garden of Eden was Eve’s (and Adam’s) failure to say grace before they ate the forbidden fruit! The fruit itself was not evil, but the circumstances under which they ate it were. So of course they could not thank God for it. If God put it there, we can assume that sooner or later it would have had a beneficial purpose, if they had been willing to wait. But they did not wait, so they and we have not yet found out what its good purpose was.
A monkey wrench is a valuable, sometimes essential, tool when used appropriately. But when tossed carelessly, it becomes the proverbial monkey wrench in the works. People take many of God’s good monkey wrenches and toss them recklessly into the works of this world, and then blame God when it doesn’t work (Proverbs 19:3).
An important question, though, is that so much suffering seems to be some people bearing the consequences of someone else’s wrong choices. One person’s monkey wrench goes into many people’s works. This in itself seems unjust, but on the other hand we have all committed sins for which we have not yet suffered any apparent consequences. This aspect of justice is discussed further under section 3.
It is even more difficult to understand impersonal suffering, like earthquakes and disease, especially for small children. It does not seem like this has anything to do with human sin and wrong choices. But even here there is a connection. If from Creation onward humans had remained close to God and learned from Him, we would know much more about the environment, nutrition, immunity, sanitation, etc. We have not listened to most of what He has told us, so we cannot complain that He has not told us more.
Germs, weeds, etc. all have a purpose in some places; they become a problem when they are put in the wrong places. Even earthquakes, typhoons, floods, forest fires, and volcano eruptions have many beneficial effects in the earth’s total ecological system. Most of our suffering is caused by ignorance, mismanagement, greed, and lack of love for others. For example, with a better government and economy we would build earthquake-resistant buildings. We would have a clean environment that does not damage our health and spread diseases. Most flooding is caused by our damage to the environment, and damage and suffering in floods is often the result of poor construction, preparation, and warning.
This brings up another common misunderstanding, which is the assumption that all our troubles are an act of punishment by God. If He loves us, and forgives us when we repent, why are there still such painful results? The question contains its own answer: sin has results, or natural consequences. Forgiveness and consequences are two separate things. Forgiveness removes our separation from relationship with God, and permits us to go to heaven to be with God, but it does not overrule the laws of cause and effect in this life. Sinning and being forgiven is not the same as not having sinned at all. When we sin, we hurt ourselves, others, and God. We lose time that will never return, time that could have been spent benefiting ourselves, others, and God. We lose some of the blessings God would have given us. In some ways there can be restitution and restoration, but in many ways there cannot. What is done cannot be undone.
The Bible does also teach that God punishes persistent sin, and disciplines His children for their good. He would not be loving and just if He did not. The above comments are of course not meant to deny these facts, only to point out that this is not the only principle operating in our experience.
Even if we lived in a perfect world we would still have a sense of pain. It is a necessary protection. A few people are born without a sense of pain, and every moment they are in great danger because they could unknowingly do themselves great injury. The problem in our present world is not pain, but is unnecessary and incurable pain, which seems meaningless.
People often ask particularly about homosexual behavior and AIDS. Homosexuality is clearly disobeying God’s instructions (Rom. 1:26, 27; Lev. 18:22; 20:13), and His plan for heterosexual marriage, so it is not surprising that it results in many problems, including diseases, including the AIDS virus. I doubt God specifically invented these diseases to punish people, though He has a right to do so! I think it probably happens naturally. For example, it seems that the ancestor of the AIDS virus once had a positive function in one type of animal, but through human misbehavior it was transferred into the human body, and perhaps made some natural modifications in that new environment. This blind, mechanical phenomenon resulted in AIDS. It is another instance of God-ordained things causing problems when they get into the wrong places.
We must explain that sex itself is not sin. Some Catholic theologians have said that Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden was actually sexual activity, but the Bible does not even suggest this. Many Christian scholars have soundly refuted the Catholic position, especially the Puritans in England. As has already been commented elsewhere, the Puritans were not puritanical. As was just said, the problem is sex in the wrong situation. God’s plan is heterosexual marriage, and sex is an important part of marriage, one of God’s blessings. Extra-marital sex is called “adultery” in the Bible. Such behavior violates God’s plan, and of course causes problems to those involved and many others.
The Bible also does not say sexual sin is the worst
sin, but that it is the only sin that directly damages our own body (I
Cor. 6:18). All disobedience is sin, and every person has some weak areas
where he is easily tempted. For different people it is different areas:
lying, stealing, anger, overeating, gossiping,... No one should consider
another sin worse than his own. We are all sinners, all have the problem
of temptation, all need God’s help, and all can receive His help and deliverance
from the control of our habitual sins, including homosexuals. They are
no worse than others, but no better either. They are not just living in
a legitimate alternative lifestyles or minority group, any more than murderers,
burglars, and gossipers are. We all suffer consequences for our sin, and
should care for each other’s suffering, while we still call the behavior
sin. AIDS patients need our love and God’s love, just as much as people
suffering the consequences of lying, stealing, overeating, gossiping, and
so on. God can forgive them if they repent, but they still will die if
AIDS remains incurable. We support research to find that cure. But society’s
limited resources must be carefully allocated among a large number of needs,
and others must not be neglected for the sake of this one.
Many topics raised in this section are further and more positively discussed in ch. 6, IV.
2 Why did God create us and the world this way? Why was there the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden? Why test Adam and Eve’s obedience? Why let the serpent into the Garden to tempt them?We cannot completely understand our situation, much less understand other choices that might be possible for God, still less understand why He chose this one. So most questions on this subject are left unanswered, at least in this life. What kind of answer do we expect? Review the comments on the proper attitude at the beginning of this chapter.
We often choose to endure difficulties to reach a goal that we feel is worth the price: study, marriage, children, dentist, surgery, exercise, etc. The Bible promises that if we accept our sufferings and cooperate with God in them, He will produce a good result in the end, and when we see it we will agree it is far more than worth the suffering. The Bible tells us little about heaven, partly as a test of our faith but probably mostly because it is beyond our comprehension and vocabulary, unlike anything we have yet experienced. It is like describing a sunset to a man born blind. We must buy heaven sight unseen, on the basis of the reputation of the manufacturer, and the price is trusting submission to the process it takes to get there. For now we must be content to understand evil and suffering only slightly more than a dog understands a vaccination shot or surgery, or animals in a movie understand the movie. It is of course a far more complex situation than that, so don’t take that analogy more seriously than it is meant to be. But some dogs seem able to trust their master far more than we trust our God.
We must believe that if there is a better way to reach the objective, God would have chosen it. God’s final goal for us is the best possible world. This present world is definitely not the best of all possible worlds. But we must believe that it is the best way to get to that world, probably the only way. See Romans 8:18, 28.
We cannot blame God for Adam and Eve’s sin. God gave them a perfect place to live, and talked to them every day. If these were not enough reasons to love and trust God, what would be? We do not know why God chose this way, the forbidden fruit and the serpent, to test their obedience to Him, or even why He tested them at all. We can only guess why it might be reasonable, for instance saying that there is not really a choice if there is no alternative.
After they sinned, Adam blamed God and Eve, and Eve blamed the serpent, but God punished each one for his or her own actions and bad influence on others. We cannot blame God or others for our sins.
3 Why doesn’t God do something?We may feel that God is remote, unconcerned and uninvolved with our suffering, but in fact He Himself is the greatest sufferer. Hebrews 2:18; 4:15. He loves us and is hurt when He sees us suffer. He came to the earth Himself as Jesus Christ, and died to pay the penalty for our sins. Romans 8:32; Isaiah 53. Yet we can’t help feeling like saying “Where is God?” when we see children abused, ethnic violence, etc. It is a legitimate question, and numerous Bible writers asked it without being rebuked, including Job, and the writers of Psalms 37 and 73.
What do we want God to do? If God removed all evil from the world at 12:00 tonight, where would we be at 12:01? We should be thankful that God has not carried out His justice yet; if He did we would all be in hell already. We deserve more suffering than we have, not less. The question is not why some people suffer, but why some do not. As discussed in sec. II, B, no one is good. The questions is not why bad things happen to good people, but why good things happen to bad people. Ask God for mercy, not justice! Lamentations 3:22.
This point must be stated softly and gently. I do not for a moment minimize the suffering of crime victims, refugees, disease victims, and so on. Nor do I minimize the injustice of the human element involved in much of the suffering on this planet. But neither can we overestimate the inequity of suffering; no one is immune. We must remind ourselves that no one is immune from pain and grief, not even those who are outwardly healthy, prosperous, physically secure, and more or less at peace with those they love. Everyone has disappointments, offenses, and trials. But this is scant comfort, except that misery perhaps likes company.
The same people who insist that God should immediately eliminate or prevent evil in one case, often object when He does exactly that in another case, such as destroying the ancient Canaanites (ch. 6, III, D, 5).
God has prevented and protected us from far more evil and suffering than we know about. If He did not, we would have all destroyed ourselves and each other long ago, either accidentally or deliberately.
God only allows suffering which He can use for our benefit, if we accept it and cooperate with Him. But this does not mean that God chooses or causes all our suffering. It means that suffering, failure, and even death are not necessarily a punishment from God, or an indication that He is angry with us. This is related to the problem of guilt, discusses in ch. 6, IV.
This does not mean that we should cause others to suffer more so that they can benefit more. Those who do wrong and cause suffering to themselves and others are still responsible, even if others are enabled by the grace of God to benefit in some ways from it. We are all saved because Judas betrayed Jesus, but Judas gets no credit from that fact. This is one of the mysteries of God’s sovereignty. The Bible is not like fatalistic religions that say all suffering is predetermined and unchangeable and therefore we should not try to interfere. Nor is the Bible neutral about suffering and evil. God commands us to do all we can to reduce the suffering of others. Only God has the skill to bring good from evil. Only a surgeon has the skill to use a knife to heal our bodies. If I use a knife on you, you had better have your affairs in order and your grave bought and paid for. The outcome will certainly be fatal. In fact, even if a surgeon does it, the outcome is not certainly good.
This also does not mean we should get ourselves in trouble so that God can salvage us. In Christian circles we often almost idolize those who can tell a story of making a total mess of their lives with crime, drugs, debauchery, and so on, until God in His grace rescued them. This can tempt the rest of us, like myself who never got into such a mess, to envy such people, or at least envy the attention they get, and even the ministry they have precisely as a result of their past. But such envy is both wrong and mistaken; we must believe that God would have had something still better for them if they had not gone so far astray. And it is a greater work of God’s grace, though not as much publicized, that He kept us from such serious trouble in the first place. This is another part of “what God has done” that for now we do not notice, or even know much about. It will be interesting to see who and what is made most conspicuous in heaven.
If suffering can be beneficial, don’t waste your suffering by just complaining about it. Accept it, and cooperate with God’s purpose for allowing it. What benefits can it bring? We can:
repent, Job 36:8-10; Psalm 107:10-14, 17; 119:71; Haggai 2:17; Romans 2:4; II Peter 3:9; Revelation 16:9-11God does not ignore evil. God is now waiting in order to give more people more time to repent and believe. Romans 2:4; II Peter 3:9. He sees and records all that happens, and He promises that one day Jesus Christ will return to the earth as ruler. Everyone who ever lived will be brought back to life, there will be a final judgment, and then elimination of all evil and suffering for those who choose to live with Him. He has also prepared a special place for those who choose not to live with Him. Where will you be?
stop sinning, I Peter 4:1,2
learn obedience, Hebrews 5:7-9
become mature, Matthew 10:24; Romans 5:3-5; Philippians 1:29; 3:7-11; Hebrews 12:5-11; James 1:2-4; I Peter 2:19, 21
prepare to help others, II Corinthians 1:4-6; Hebrews 2:18
prepare for glory, Romans 8:17; II Corinthians 4:16, 17; James 1:12; I Peter 4:12, 13, 19; 5:6, 7
refine our faith, I Peter 1:7
develop humility, II Corinthians 12:7
increase our fruitfulness, John 15:2; Philippians 1:13, 19
finish Christ’s work of redeeming the church, Col. 1:24
show God’s glory, John 9:2, 3; 11:4; II Corinthians 12:9
demonstrate love and obedience to God, following Jesus’ example, John 14:31
If we choose to believe that God is not good, in order to solve the problem of evil, then we have the problem of goodness to answer: Why is there so much beauty, love, and happiness in the world? In particular, why do evil people seem to experience so much of this world’s pleasure and goodness? Is that fair? Where do personality, logic, ethics, humor, and talent come from? Romans 1:18-20; 2:4. If we only blame God for suffering that occurs in good people , but do not thank Him for good, or wonder about the pleasure of evil people, are we being fair?
Isn’t there another way?
“Why doesn’t God force us to love, trust, and obey Him, and thus prevent all these problems?” This purports to point out a contradiction in the belief that God is almighty yet doesn’t force us to act and think as He wishes. But in fact the contradiction is in the question. Omnipotence cannot contradict itself. God’s goal is to receive our love, trust, and obedience, and this can only be done by our choice; force does not allow love or choice. God can easily create robots if He only wants some work done, but that is not what He wants. Even God cannot create robots that can love Him.
There is another aspect to this restriction on God’s actions. As mentioned in connection with God’s holiness and justice, sec. II, A, there are hints in the Bible that God has obligated Himself to demonstrate something to other created beings besides ourselves. The Book of Job is the classic example, where Satan’s insinuations against Job’s motives must be answered. And in Eph. 3:10 Paul says that through the church God is revealing His manifold wisdom to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms. And there are other such hints. For now we must be content with understanding very little of this; we probably comprehend only slightly more than a dog understands a dog show, or a bird understands the Audubon Society. Don’t take that analogy too far, and take offense at it; anyway, who knows how much a dog understands?
Some people object to this, because they feel God is using us as helpless pawns, building His own pride at the expense of our suffering. This is of course a distortion of the Biblical outlook. We can expect that we ourselves will share in the benefits, and will consider it a privilege to have been a part of the demonstration, if it can be called that. Allowing a difficulty and then overcoming it can in some cases show God’s power more than preventing it would, though as was already stated this choice is reserved for God, not us. Also as already stated, God Himself has been subjected to the greatest difficulty, in grieving with us in our pain and above all in experiencing pain Himself in Christ’s death by crucifixion. And that is also the supreme example of greater glory in the end, because it led to the resurrection.
A pastor I knew had a rather impertinent comeback to one such logical question. A common one is “Can God create a rock so big He can’t move it?” Apparently some people take this question seriously as a reductio ad absurdum proving that the concept of an almighty God is fatally flawed. This pastor’s response to that question was “He created your head!” Think about that.
If we are looking for a contradiction, it can be found in the skeptics’ implied assertion that almighty God cannot create beings with a genuine free will. This is undeniably a profound matter, but it cannot be proved to be impossible.
This still does not fully explain all suffering. At most this is half an answer. This can only help us accept it, but not understand it. We cannot explain why a particular problem happens to a particular person. Why should we believe the Bible, and trust the God of the Bible, in spite of these unanswered questions? The rest of this course is an answer to this question. We see many evidences of God’s love, wisdom, and power in creation, in the Bible, in Jesus’ death and resurrection for us, and in our lives. Is this enough reason to trust Him, and be willing to accept some things that we do not understand now? If it is not enough, what would be?
This is basically the response God gave to Job, in ch. 38 to 42. Nowhere did God ever explain to Job why what happened happened. Somebody eventually was told, perhaps Job himself, or we would not have the book of Job, but the writing of the book is not explained within it. Job was left speechless and repentant for his complaints by a reminder of who God is, not by an explanation of his sufferings. God’s wisdom and power are so far beyond ours that it is ludicrous for us to presume to criticize Him.
Although this is not a complete answer on the logical level, it is a practical one. It avoids the opposite errors of both escape and fatalism, to one of which all other philosophies and religions lead. It gives a purpose for suffering, while still calling it evil and promising it will one day end.
V The Trinity
This seems to be a major contradiction in Christianity. Is it monotheistic or not? It clearly teaches that there is one God (Deut. 6:4 is one of the best-known references; see also Isaiah chapters 40 to 50), but it also teaches about God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. This is one of Islam’s greatest objections to Christianity. However, it must be noted that Christianity is so complex that Moslems are understandably confused about precisely what the Bible itself does teach. Many Moslems have the impression that the Trinity consists of the Father, Son, and Mary! Unitarians and Jehovah’s Witnesses insist there can only be one God and reject the three-ness. Mormonism insists on the separateness of the three and accepts only a unity of purpose.
Many theological terms have been developed to try to explain this, but it is simply inexplicable. Any way of stating it that seems to explain it must be wrong. Christians have made many unsatisfactory attempts. Some compare it to the three dimensions of space, which are distinguishable yet all necessary to form space. Some compare it to the three phases of water, solid, liquid, and gas. There may indeed be some theological significance in these and many of the other three’s that turn up in nature, but it is easy to stretch this point. What about all the two’s in nature? and four’s, and so on.
Many heresies consist of an overemphasis on one part of this truth, either denying the full deity of the Son and Holy Spirit, or denying the full unity of God and thus becoming polytheistic.
The word “Trinity” does not occur in the Bible; it is a theological term invented to describe the concept. The word itself is a contradiction, a combination of the words “tri-“ meaning three, and “unity” meaning one. The concept is a summary of the teaching of the Bible as a whole, which clearly teaches both that there is one God and that there are three persons. In the Bible, each one of the three Persons of the Trinity is clearly ascribed characteristics of deity, and it is also clearly taught that there is one God. The three persons are clearly seen in the New Testament, and indirectly hinted at in the Old Testament, beginning from the first chapter of Genesis where the Spirit of God was involved in creation, and God said “Let us make man in our image.” See a theology textbook for the extensive Biblical basis for these teachings.
Some people, including Mormons, point to clear instances of separate action of the three, such as at Jesus’ baptism, where the Father speaks from heaven and the Spirit descends on Jesus. Similarly, there are numerous incidents in the gospels in which Jesus is recorded as praying to the Father. These are cited as proof that the doctrine of the unity of the Trinity is false, based on something out of Greek philosophy instead of Biblical teaching. This is nonsense. As stated in the previous paragraph, the very meaning of the term “Trinity” is an assertion of both one-ness and three-ness, not a denial of either.
Skeptics simply consider this unreasonable, a contradiction, a proof that the Bible and Christianity are wrong. Believers consider it to be not against reason but beyond reason. It is talking about the nature of God Himself, and we should expect Him to be beyond our complete comprehension.
My approach is not to try to explain the Trinity, but to give several more examples of seemingly contradictory truth that is beyond our full comprehension, yet we accept it. For example, our own nature consists of body, soul, and spirit, though there is considerable discussion and difficulty in distinguishing soul and spirit, and even theological controversy about whether they are distinguishable (dipartite versus tripartite viewpoints). The connection between the brain and the mind is an unsolvable mystery. It cannot be proved that all our thoughts and emotions are not merely the product of a vastly complex organic computer network. To ask for such a proof is to try to use logic to answer a question that goes beyond logic, which is illogical. If we are in fact created beings, we should not expect to be able to fully understand ourselves, let alone our Creator. We can at least say that our feelings of personhood and meaning seem to tell us we are more than a complex machine (see ch. 5, V, A).
Even non-living things defy our understanding. The 20th century has seen the discovery of quantum mechanics, with its uncertainty principle and wave-particle duality. The philosophical implications of this are still being debated. What is matter and energy? We cannot really say; we can only describe how it behaves under various circumstances, and we can only describe it by comparison with objects in our everyday experience, like waves and baseballs. We find that sometimes light must be compared to a wave, but sometimes it must be compared to a particle. An electron seems like a particle usually, but some of its behavior can only be described in terms of a wave. We cannot say it “is” a wave or a particle. It simply is an electron and is always behaving in consistency with its nature. Any apparent inconsistency is only an illusion due to our incomplete comprehension of its nature.
Similarly, in describing God we sometimes must describe Him by comparison with a single person, and sometimes by comparison with a group of three persons. He is one and He is three. Both are true. If a mere electron requires multiple explanations due to our limited understanding, it is no wonder when the Creator of the universe cannot be contained in a single simple description. This is not a fatal contradiction in the Bible’s teaching. On the contrary, it is a unique feature that sets the Bible apart from all other religions, and is a strong clue that it did not come from human imagination and speculation alone.
There are of course endless other logical questions that could be raised, but we must stop somewhere. These seem to be the most common and important ones. I hope that the questions discussed here have at least been resolved sufficiently that they need not be a barrier to anyone’s faith in God and the Bible.
On to the next chapter! This book is supposed to be primarily about science. Logic is at best a closely related subject.