The Problem of Evil

by Shafer Parker

Some of you who follow the “doins” here at Faith Beyond Belief are probably aware already we’ve scheduled a couple of “Worldview Weekends” in June, with more to come (for more info on these introductory weekends click here). So I thought this week I’d share with you why I believe the Worldview Course, written by FBB founder Jojo Ruba, is so important, why every serious Christian ought to be exposed to its teachings, and why, if you’ve already taken the course I think you have a duty to encourage your friends to take it for themselves.

In my experience, objections to Christianity generally come from one of two angles. Either they suggest that science has somehow disproved its central claims, or else they raise the everlasting problem of evil. Our Worldview Course has excellent answers to both, but today I want to focus on session 7, the Problem of Evil.

You don’t have to study much history to recognize that every generation produces a new crop of atheist philosophers who believe that merely pointing out the existence of evil in the world constitutes a coup de grace against the idea of God. Three hundred years before Christ Epicurus wrote, “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

If there is no God, the continued existence of good is harder to explain than the existence of evil.

Today’s “New Atheist” Daniel Dennett says much the same thing as Epicurus—if not so succinctly. “The idea that God is a worthy recipient of our gratitude for the blessings of life but should not be held accountable for the disasters is a transparently disingenuous innovation of the theologians…The Problem of Evil, capital letters and all, is the central enigma confronting theists. There is no solution. Isn't that obvious? All the holy texts and interpretations that contrive ways of getting around the problem read like the fine print in a fraudulent contract—and for the same reason: they are desperate attempts to conceal the implications of the double standard they have invented.”

So, is that it? Is the argument over before it has even begun? Not hardly. One of the reasons I love the Worldview Course so much is that it gives excellent and brief answers to Dennett’s fulminations. Spend a few moments memorizing these pithy responses to his pseudo-logic and you’ll never be stumped again when someone raises the problem of evil.

Evil Only Exists if God Exists

Let’s begin with what seems an obvious point, yet one Dennett and his fellow travellers apparently missed. (Pt. 1) “Evil only exists if God exists.” The problem atheists never face is that you can have pure goodness, but you can never have pure evil; just as adultery is a perversion of love, and murder is a perversion of justice, all forms of evil only exist as perversions of good things. For evil to even exist there must first be a good God Who made all things good. All temptations to do evil are temptations to pursue something good, but in the wrong way or for the wrong reasons. Food is good, unless you want to eat too much. Hard work is good, until the worker becomes a workaholic and neglects his family. Rest is good, until the lazy person does nothing but rest. I could go on, but you get the point. I’ll close this section with a quote from C. S. Lewis: “[E]vil is a parasite, not an original thing. The powers which enable evil to carry on are powers given it by goodness.” In other words, if God had not made a truly good world, evil would have had nothing with which to work

Evil Exists Because of Free Will?

Ask a philosopher what distinguishes humanity from the animals and sooner or later the discussion will get around to free will, or free agency. It seems obvious that self-conscious human beings make free choices in a way not given to the rest of the animal kingdom. In fact, free will is a core attribute of humanity and none of us would be happy without it. But have you ever thought (pt. 2) that “Evil exists because of free will?” For free will to be truly free, we have to be able to choose evil as well as good, and therein lies the great risk that God took when he decided to create us. Nevertheless, it was a risk He was willing to take. The great philosopher of our times, Alvin Plantinga, has written: “It is possible that God, even being omnipotent, could not create a world with free creatures who never choose evil. Furthermore, it is possible that God, even being omni-benevolent, would desire to create a world with contains evil if moral goodness requires free moral creatures.” When Plantinga first published this statement, he got a lot of push back. But the tide has turned, and today, even atheist philosophers such as J. L. Mackie have admitted that his argument is logically consistent and unassailable.

Evil Exists as a Natural Consequence of Humanity’s Choices & Evil is an Opportunity for People to Do Good

(Pt. 3) automatically follows: “Evil exists as a natural consequence of humanity’s choices.” And if that were the whole story life would be too horrible to contemplate. Here’s the upside: (Pt.4) “Evil is an opportunity for people to do good.” We may be impressed by powerful tyrants and wealthy robber barons who seem to conquer and rule with impunity. But we truly love those men and women, who in the face of evil step up to do great good. I’m talking about William Wilberforce, who fought to end the slave trade in England, Corrie Ten Boom, who with her father and sister hid many Jews during the holocaust, and who preached the gospel of God’s forgiveness in Christ to the Germans after the war.

Despite All the Evil, There is Good

In every era there are lesser known people who continue to step up and do good in the face of evil, such as Aki Ra, a Cambodian child soldier who saw the evil of the Khmer Rouge and began to clear and defuse landmines in his country with nothing but a Leatherman multi-tool and a stick. As he did his work, he and his wife (now deceased) ended up adopting 29 children who were abandoned because landmines took their parents. As you can see from these examples (Pt 5): “Despite all the evil, there is good.” If there is no God, the continued existence of good is harder to explain than the existence of evil. Why should anyone be good? Only because there is a good God, and because every human being is made in His image. No matter how marred by indwelling sin, we are still made in God’s image, and that means there is a deep longing for good, and for doing good, in every one of us.

Evil is Necessary to Help Transform Fallen People to be More like Christ

But in our fallen state all of us fall prey to the evil inside. That’s why Christ came from heaven to live and to die for us, and then to rise from the dead in order to be able to grant life-transforming grace to all who believe in Him. And that’s why we say (Pt. 6), “Evil is necessary to help transform fallen people to be more like Christ.” For the Christian, the presence of evil becomes less like an overwhelming destructive force and more like an obstacle course to be run for the purpose of spiritual exercise. You see, God’s main goal is not to help us feel good, but to help us be good. Learning to trust Him and obey Him in the face of evil is how we become stronger in the new life Christ gives us.

Evil is an Opportunity for God to Show His Mercy and Grace

Finally, (Pt. 7), “Evil is an opportunity for God to show His mercy and grace.” The greatest evil ever perpetrated on planet earth was the torture and crucifixion endured by Jesus of Nazareth, the only truly good man who ever lived. Think of the contrast between Jesus’ suffering and death and His words from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” There is much more to Christ’s suffering and death than the demonstrated difference between man’s hatred of God and His love for sinful man. Nevertheless, without the cross, God’s forgiveness would seem shallow, even facile. But with the cross in view, God’s mercy becomes even greater when we hear the Bible say, “While we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son.” Only at this point can we begin to appreciate the greatness of God’s love and grace, and, shockingly, we have the existence of evil to thank for that.


God’s Ways are Always Old Ways—and They Still Work

By Ian McKerracher

Last week we had a travelling evangelist for a week of meetings at our church. That, in itself, is not rare; it can happen 3 or 4 times a year (at Edmonton’s People’s Church anyways). But this evangelist changed my life. To explain why, I have to give you a part of the history at my church, and how it impacted me. People’s Church has a history and DNA known in the city of Edmonton for being cutting edge in worship, prayer, and evangelism. I want to focus on the last one for this particular blog.

Ultimately, I came to believe that the time for cold-call stranger evangelism had passed in North America. It was a change easy to justify, given the enormous changes in our culture.

I first came to People’s Church some four decades ago. WOW—time flies when you are having fun! I was desperately in need of God, stumbling into the sanctuary as a raw sinner, seeking relief from the rough world. Through a personal experience of faith in Christ I was soon born again, but I was what today would be called a baby Christian. Nevertheless, I was expected to immediately get involved in ministry, an expectation for which I am so thankful today.

Here’s the timeline. I found my way into the church for a Saturday night service, was baptized at the end of the next day’s morning service, and by Friday it was expected that I go out street witnessing with the rest of the church. I was surprised, at first, but with a little reflection it made perfect sense to me.

Being thrown into the deep end so quickly meant it was ingrained into me that my salvation wasn’t about me. It was about God cleaning me up, setting me in the place where he wanted me to be, and by the Holy Spirit providing the tools for me to get a job done, working alongside Him to build the Kingdom of God. That is a significantly larger story than me going to Heaven when I die.

Time passed, and the wild-west days of the 70s were replaced by the weird 80s, and my church’s street witnessing was replaced by other ways to get out the Word. I was still at People’s Church but did not realize how much we were changing. We thought that we were becoming more sophisticated, but really, we just stopped doing most of the evangelism that characterized our outreach in the early days. A church-split in the early 90s impacted us even more, and evangelism was brought down to a whisper; an act done regularly by only a few, mostly pursuing a relational model of sharing the faith.

Tommie Zito.jpg

Ultimately, I came to believe that the time for cold-call stranger evangelism had passed in North America. It was a change easy to justify, given the enormous changes in our culture, including a great mistrust for strangers that was growing around people’s hearts. My efforts became confined to speaking in somewhat off-hand ways to people I had some sort of relationship with—family, friends, and co-workers.

But everything changed this past week. Tommie Zito, an evangelist of whom I had never heard, came to Edmonton. I found it strange that the evangelist and the 15 team members he brought with him from the U.S. were asking for nothing more than billets, food, and an offering in the string of evening services for himself and the ministry.

Using People’s Church as a base of operations for a week set the pattern. After a short explanation of street evangelism methods, members of the team would pair up with volunteers from the seven churches involved and go talk to people on the street, in the mall, or waiting for a bus—wherever we could find them. A script was supplied that included a hodge-podge of various gospel appeals I had learned over the past 40 years, including three steps of what is commonly called The Roman Road to salvation, and finally a prayer for salvation. In other words, there was nothing special about the methods we were encouraged to use. The big difference was, as in my spiritual youth, Tommie demanded we go out and do something Christian—actually talk to people.

The challenge, for me, was to see if cold-call evangelism still worked. I held little hope of success but was prepared to put it to the test in this readymade experiment I was offered. Over the course of the week, the team recorded almost 700 people praying a prayer of repentance and faith, as well as giving a contact number or e-mail. Happily, I found out how wrong I was to doubt. Ladies and gentlemen, I’m here to tell you that street evangelism still works. I saw it working with my own eyes.

Now, I am not naïve. It is clear to me that the 700 who prayed will not translate into 700 lifelong conversions. Frankly, I’m still aware of how rare it is to hit one out of the park (Make a lifelong disciple of Christ) during these kinds of endeavors. But among the 16 names I was given, I found six people wanting to get more information, and some were even ready to come to the church and attend a next-step meeting. I’m committed to the follow-up, knowing the conversations there will be wonderful—for the most part. Look at that! Being wrong can be a lot of fun!

Le projet de loi 21 et ses problèmes

Le projet de loi 21 et ses problèmes

Par Ricardo Fortuné – Coordonnateur au Québec et représentant pour Toujours Prêts (Faith Beyond Belief)

La « laïcité », à proprement parler, c’est tout simplement l’idéologie qui prône la neutralité religieuse de l’État. Le terme « secularism » qui est souvent employé pour le traduire en anglais, n’incarne pas l’essence de ce qui est exprimé en français. En principe, elle est basée sur la neutralité religieuse la séparation l’Église et de l’État, le respect des droits et libertés religieuses de tous et chacun et l’égalité de traitement des citoyens (Milot, 2008, pp. 17-21). Mais dans les faits, cette laïcité s’est exprimée par la sécularisation des institutions gouvernementales et l’émancipation de la mainmise que l’Église catholique exerçait sur eux. Initialement, ces mesures semblaient avoir réglé la question religieuse au Québec, mais la crise des accommodements raisonnables de 2007 a incité la population à se questionner sur l’étendue des moyens qu’un gouvernement laïque devrait prendre pour accommoder les gens de diverses religions.


Jusqu’alors, la définition de la laïcité ne s’appliquait qu’aux institutions publiques. Cependant, le projet de loi 21 du Premier Ministre Legault qui a été déposé le 28 mars dernier, étire cette définition de la laïcité de l’État afin qu’elle puisse s'étendre au code vestimentaire de ses fonctionnaires, ne visant plus ainsi uniquement la structure gouvernementale, mais aussi les individus qui la composent. Cette loi, qui doit être votée cet été, viserait à affirmer la laïcité de l’État et à interdire aux employés de l’État en position d’autorité, de porter des signes religieux ostentatoires. Certains voient en cette loi, la finalité du processus de laïcisation du Québec et son aboutissement logique (Beaudoin, 2019). Mais pour beaucoup (OIRD, 2019), il s’agit d’une ruse que le gouvernement emploie pour masquer sa xénophobie et son intolérance envers la religion. Cette polarisation a lieu parce jusqu’à présent le gouvernement n’a pas fait beaucoup d’efforts pour modérer le débat et a fermé la porte à tout dialogue sur ce sujet tandis que beaucoup de questions restent sans réponse. Se contentant du fait qu’il aurait l’appui de 65% de la population, M. Legault semble mépriser la grogne de cette minorité insatisfaite de son projet de loi. Aurait-il oublié qu’il est le premier ministre de 100% des Québécois et non seulement du deux tiers d’entre eux. Un État impartial se doit de veiller au respect des droits et libertés de tous, et non seulement de la majorité (Milot, 2008, p. 20). Il est d’autant plus navrant de constater qu’il n’y aurait que ceux qui sont sympathiques au projet de loi 21 qui ont été invités à le commenter. Aucun chrétiens ou autres groupes religieux importants ne participera aux discussions (Gloutnay, 2019).

quebec-legislature.jpg

Le projet de loi ne présente pas de solution explicite pour résoudre le problème d’accommodements raisonnables en dehors de la sphère publique, tandis que c’est celui-ci qui a initié toute cette discussion. Comment ce projet de loi va-t-il empêcher un élève de confession musulmane de demander d’être exempter d’examens lors du ramadan ou un étudiant sikh de porter le kirpan? Auront-ils encore le droit de recevoir des accommodements raisonnables, puisqu’ils ne sont pas des employés de l’État en position d’autorité? Le fait que cette question soit sans réponse précise semble suggérer que ces accommodements raisonnables n’étaient peut-être pas un problème aussi important que les médias l’ont dépeint. Il indique aussi fortement que le gouvernement avait d’autres motifs pour entreprendre un projet de loi aussi radical.

Pourquoi la laïcité de l’état devrait se traduire par le retrait des signes religieux des employés de l’État? Le projet de loi 21 ne répond pas à cette question qui est pourtant cruciale. Il incombe au gouvernement de la CAQ de démontrer que ces signes religieux sont un problème pour la neutralité de l’État, comme le soulevait également Sol Zanetti, porte-parole de Québec solidaire en matière de laïcité (Plante, 2019) . Il a été affirmé par ‘Les Intellectuels pour la laïcité’ (2010) que « La neutralité de l'État s'exprime par la neutralité de l'image donnée par ses représentants et ses agents… ». Sans fournir d’argumentaire pour légitimer cette assertion, elle semble avoir simplement été prise pour acquise par un grand nombre de journalistes et d’intellectuels. Cette assertion est tout simplement fallacieuse. Du fait que l’État soit neutre, ne s’ensuit pas que l’image de chacun de ses représentants doit être neutre. Il s’ensuivrait plutôt que les actions de l’État ne peuvent pas être motivés par des motifs religieux.

Dans une démocratie, c’est à l’État de refléter l’image de la population, et non l’inverse.

Dans une démocratie, c’est à l’État de refléter l’image de la population, et non l’inverse. Les élus et fonctionnaires sont issus de la population et sont au service de celle-ci. Ainsi, s’il y a diversité de positions religieuses ou non-religieuses, de genres et d’ethnicités, au sein de la population, il s’ensuivrait que dans un État neutre, cette même diversité soit présente au sein des employés qui composent l’État. La CAQ, qui comprend très bien ce principe, c’est efforcé d’avoir un gouvernement paritaire à ses débuts, faisant ainsi écho à ce principe de représentation équitable.

En mettant des restrictions sur l’apparence vestimentaire de ses employés, l’État perd sa neutralité. Il se fait juge de ce qui est une expression légitime de la religion sans fournir un argumentaire pour justifier sa position. De plus, qui peut objectivement définir ce qu’est une apparence neutre? Une femme non voilée affiche-t-elle une apparence neutre ou antireligieuse? La réponse sera différente si on l’aborde d’une perspective nord-américaine ou iranienne. La vraie neutralité dont parle la laïcité, vise à ne pas favoriser ni gêner une position plutôt qu’une autre (Milot, 2008, p. 19) et la séparation de l’Église et de l’État ne veut pas exclusivement dire que la religion ne doit pas s’ingérer dans la politique. Au sens historique, elle a toujours voulu dire que la politique ne doit pas s’ingérer dans les affaires religieuses.

L’énoncé du rassemblement pour la laïcité et le projet de loi 21, omettent tous les deux l’aspect de ne pas gêner la religion dans leur conception de la laïcité. Ils semblent vouloir dire qu’aucune religion n’est favorisée puisqu’elles sont toutes punies de manière égale. Être pour la laïcité, a toujours voulu dire être tolérant envers toutes les religions. Mais le projet de loi 21 semble être intolérant envers toutes.

…aucune religion n’est favorisée puisqu’elles sont toutes punies de manière égale

L’aspect le plus controversé de cette loi, c’est qu’elle enfreint clairement la chartes des droits et libertés canadiennes et la charte des droits et libertés de la personne. Le gouvernement Legault est au courant de ce problème puisqu’il prévoit modifier la seconde dans son projet de loi et invoquer la clause dérogatoire pour imposer celui-ci. Cela lui permettrait de faire passer la loi sans qu’elle puisse être contestée devant les tribunaux pendant au moins cinq ans. L’emploie de cette manœuvre politique indigne bien des Québécois qui y voient un manque d’égard de la CAQ pour la démocratie. Ce moyen qui semble extrême, mais à tout le moins légal, n’est généralement pas employé comme une carte blanche pour faire passer des lois que l’on sait à la base être anticonstitutionnel. La CAQ lance ainsi le message qu’il n’entend pas débattre de cette question, ni prêter l’oreille aux détracteurs de son projet de loi.

Le but de la laïcité est de favoriser la cohésion sociale dans une société multiculturelle, afin que chacun puisse y vivre leur liberté religieuse et de conscience en étant traité de manière équitable. « En ne favorisant aucune religion et en protégeant la liberté de conscience, l’État laïque se trouve à garantir le pluralisme religieux et sociétal. » (Les Intellectuels pour la laïcité , 2010). L’ironie de ce projet de loi, c’est qu’au nom de la liberté religieuse il brime la liberté religieuse. Au nom de la liberté de conscience, il brime la liberté de conscience. Au nom de l’égalité, il crée une inégalité. Due à ces incohérences internes, le projet de loi 21 est invalidé et devrait être abrogé.

Bibliographie

Beaudoin, L. (2019, Avril 08). Laïcité et progressisme. Le Devoirhttps://www.ledevoir.com/opinion/chroniques/551662/laicite-et-progressisme.

Bombardier, D. (2019, Février 27). Balado: À haute voix. Les Québecois et la religion, première partie. Qub radio.

Gloutnay, F. (2019, Avril 24). Laïcité: aucun groupe religieux invité en commission parlementaire. Présence, information religieusehttp://presence-info.ca/article/politique/laicite-aucun-groupe-religieux-invite-en-commission-parlementaire?fbclid=IwAR3v1ymk-NLjfU6d5kYX7IGEH34_i1xUlT6ZbuBBUQmj9e84mJMQzJHF4mA.

Les Intellectuels pour la laïcité . (2010). Énoncé du Rassemblement pour la laïcité.

Milot, M. (2008). La laïcité. Novalis.

OIRD. (2019). Laïcité: 250 universitaires contre le projet de loi 21. Le Devoirhttps://www.ledevoir.com/opinion/idees/551547/laicite-250-universitaires-contre-le-projet-de-loi-21.

Plante, C. (2019, Avril 15). Laïcité: la CAQ doit démontrer que le port de signes religieux pose problème, selon QS. Le Devoirhttps://www.ledevoir.com/politique/quebec/552215/laicite-la-caq-doit-demontrer-qu-il-y-a-un-probleme-selon-qs.

Bill 21 Must be Destroyed

Ceterum censeo Bill 21 esse delendam: Furthermore, I consider that Bill 21 must be destroyed (with apologies to Cato the Elder)

Editor’s note: When Albertans speak of Quebec it is mostly to register frustration over blocked pipe lines or the inequities of federal equalization payments. But socially, Quebec really is different from the rest of Canada. In a time when political correctness has a vice grip on the West, governments in la Belle Province have several times introduced bills that, if approved, would have prevented religious minorities from openly wearing faith symbols while engaged in public service. The concept of maintaining religious neutrality by banning the public wearing of religious symbols is so popular that last year the present government of Quebec ran, and won, on a promise to finally implement such a law. Most Canadians think Quebec’s approach to state neutrality is, at the very least, wrongheaded. But if pressed, they might have trouble explaining why. In the following article, Faith Beyond Belief’s Quebec coordinator Ricardo Fortune explains the unintended consequences that will result from passage of Quebec’s Bill 21, including that it constitutes a direct attack on essential Charter rights, the very thing our Constitution was designed to prevent. 

By Ricardo Fortuné—FBB Québec Coordinator, Apologist, Speaker

The English term “secularism”, often employed to translate the French word “laïcité”, does not properly communicate the essence of what the French word means to Quebecers. Simply put, the secularism Quebecers are referring to is an ideology that extols the religious neutrality of the state. In principle, such secularism is supposedly based on the principles of religious neutrality, separation of church and state, respect for religious liberties, and the equal treatment of citizens (Milot, 2008, pp. 17-21). But in practice, the secularisation of Quebec has expressed itself in a vigorous emancipation from the power once exercised over public life by the Roman Catholic Church. Initially it seemed the embrace of laicity had solved the tension between state and religion, but the 2007 crisis that was prompted by the “reasonable accommodations problem” has caused many to wonder to what extent the government must go to accommodate people of various religions.

quebec-legislature.jpg

Up to now the principle of secularism has only been applied to government institutions. However, if Bill 21 passes this summer, secularism will be extended to the dress code of provincial employees. The bill seeks to affirm the secularity of the state, and also forbid government employees who are in position of authority to wear ostentatious religious symbols. Some see in this bill the final concretisation of the secularization process (Beaudoin, 2019). But for many, it is a government smokescreen intended to hide its xenophobia and religious intolerance (OIRD, 2019). This polarisation occurs because the government has made little effort to moderate public debate and has, in fact, shut down any dialogue while leaving many questions unanswered. Satisfied that 65% of the population supports his bill, Prime Minister Legault disregards the irritated minority. Has he forgotten that he is the prime minister of 100% of Quebecers, not just the roughly two-thirds majority who support him, or that a truly impartial state must watch over the liberties of all (Milot, 2008, p. 20)? Even worse, only those sympathetic to the bill have been invited to comment, meaning no Christian group or other religious organizations will participate in the discussions (Gloutnay, 2019).

In a democracy, the power belongs to the people; therefore, it is the state that must reflect the image of the population, not the other way around.

Yet despite the government’s efforts to ram Bill 21 through the legislative process, it clearly fails to solve the chronic problem of “reasonable accommodation” for Quebec’s religious minorities. For example, it appears that the bill will not prevent a Muslim student from requesting to be exempted from exams during Ramadan or stop a Sikh student from wearing his kirpan in school. These kinds of requests will continue to be accommodated, since the bill only targets the employees of the state in positions of authority. These are strong indications that “reasonable accommodations” concerns were probably not as problematic as the media had depicted. They also hint strongly that the government had other motivations to promulgate such a radical law.

Why should the secularism of the state manifest itself in the dress code of the government’s staff? Bill 21 does not give an answer to this central question. Nevertheless, the ruling Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) should be required to demonstrate how wearing these religious symbols is inconsistent with the idea of religious neutrality (Plante, 2019). It has been asserted by “Les intellectuels pour la laïcité” that “the neutrality of the state expresses itself by the neutrality of the image [presented by] its representatives and agents…” (2010, pp. 1, translated by me). Strangely enough, the veracity of this claim, which has not been proven or demonstrated, has simply been assumed by many intellectuals and journalists.

Arguably, the state should be neutral, but it does not follow from this that its employees must look neutral, but rather that the state’s actions cannot be religiously motivated. In a democracy, the power belongs to the people; therefore, it is the state that must reflect the image of the population, not the other way around. Government staff is drawn from the people and is for the service of the people. Hence, if there is a diversity of religious or non-religious positions, genders, and ethnicities within a population, it follows that the same diversity should be found amongst the employees who serve them. This idea of equitable representation is well understood by Prime Minister Legault, since he went out of his way to create a ministerial council that would include an equitable number of males and females.

Bill 21 . . . seem[s] to be saying that no religion is favored since they are all equally hindered.

By restricting what state-employed staff can wear, the government loses its neutrality. It makes itself a judge of what is a legitimate expression of religion without giving any justification for it. Furthermore, who can objectively define a neutral appearance? Does a woman without a veil look neutral or anti-religious? Your answer will be different depending on whether you approach this question from a North American perspective or an Iranian one. The real neutrality to which secularism aspires aims to refrain from favoring or hindering one position over another (Milot, 2008, p. 19). Moreover, the separation of Church and state does not exclusively mean that religion should not interfere with the affairs of the state. 

Historically, separation of church and state meant that the state should not interfere with the affairs of the church. Both “Les intellectuels pour la laïcité” and Bill 21, omit the aspect of not hindering religion in their conception of secularism. They seem to be saying that no religion is favored since they are all equally hindered. Previously, to favor secularism meant to be tolerant toward all religions, not intolerant, as Bill 21 seems to be.

The most controversial aspect of this bill is that it clearly contravenes the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. Aware of this, the CAQ plans to modify the latter and use the “notwithstanding clause” to avoid repercussions from the former. These actions would allow it to proclaim and enforce the law while preventing any court challenges for five years. To many Quebecers this manoeuvre communicates a total disregard for democracy. Nevertheless, what the government is doing directly contradicts the spirit of the law, even if it is within the letter of the law. Its use of the federal constitution’s notwithstanding clause amounts to a frank and shameless admission that the CAQ has no desire to debate the issue or hear what opponents have to say.

Traditionally the goal of secularism was to promote social cohesion in a multicultural society by allowing individuals to enjoy freedom of conscience and religion in a way equitable for all. “In refraining from favoring any religion and in protecting freedom of conscience, a secular state is guaranteeing religious and societal plurality.”  (Les Intellectuels pour la laïcité , 2010). The irony of Bill 21 is that in the name of religious freedom, it undermines religious freedom. In the name of freedom of conscience, it undermines freedom of conscience. In the name of equality, it creates inequality. Due to these inconsistencies, Bill 21 refutes itself and should not become law.

Bibliography

Beaudoin, L. (2019, Avril 08). Laïcité et progressisme. Le Devoirhttps://www.ledevoir.com/opinion/chroniques/551662/laicite-et-progressisme.

Bombardier, D. (2019, Février 27). Balado: À haute voix. Les Québecois et la religion, première partie. Qub radio.

Gloutnay, F. (2019, Avril 24). Laïcité: aucun groupe religieux invité en commission parlementaire. Présence, information religieusehttp://presence-info.ca/article/politique/laicite-aucun-groupe-religieux-invite-en-commission-parlementaire?fbclid=IwAR3v1ymk-NLjfU6d5kYX7IGEH34_i1xUlT6ZbuBBUQmj9e84mJMQzJHF4mA.

Les Intellectuels pour la laïcité . (2010). Énoncé du Rassemblement pour la laïcité.

Milot, M. (2008). La laïcité. Novalis.

OIRD. (2019). Laïcité: 250 universitaires contre le projet de loi 21. Le Devoirhttps://www.ledevoir.com/opinion/idees/551547/laicite-250-universitaires-contre-le-projet-de-loi-21.

Plante, C. (2019, Avril 15). Laïcité: la CAQ doit démontrer que le port de signes religieux pose problème, selon QS. Le Devoirhttps://www.ledevoir.com/politique/quebec/552215/laicite-la-caq-doit-demontrer-qu-il-y-a-un-probleme-selon-qs.

Why Atheism is Inherently Irrational

By Ron Galloway

New Atheists, as well as atheists in general, habitually declare that atheism is based on facts and reason, while insisting that belief in God is based solely on faith and is thereby the enemy of reason.1 It’s as if they never knew that a great host of Christian thinkers long ago refuted the idea that belief in God is the enemy of reason.2 Thanks to those earlier Christian philosophers, I don’t have to re-invent the wheel. Instead, I shall illustrate why atheism is always the product of an irrational, blind faith.

How can atheism be so easily dismissed? The answer has to do with the nature of reason itself. Any claim truly grounded in reason must contain one essential ingredient. And what is that? Experience.

Let me explain. David Hume, the famous opponent of miracles, understood that any attempt at reason apart from experience is no more than an irrational leap. But Hume made a mistake when he argued it would be irrational to embrace miracles as real, simply because he had never experienced the miraculous.3 He was not wrong about the relationship of reason to experience, but he erred by relying too much on isolated individual experience as his basis for refuting miracles. He had no answer to the immense impact of the collective experiential testimony of the New Testament where miracles were concerned, and the witness of the early Christian community to the resurrection and post-resurrection appearances of Jesus.4

Despite Hume’s attempt to limit reason and truth to individual experience, the very nature of collective witness and testimony is eminently rational. This is confirmed and made obvious by the role of collective or group witness, or even individual witness, in a court of law.5

The rationality of a collective witness is something we all experience daily. I have never been to New York, but it is perfectly rational for me to believe in New York based on the experience of others who have been there.

However, it would be completely irrational to believe in New York if no one ever went there and no one ever witnessed to its existence. This little example makes very clear how irrational any claim is that has no basis in either individual or collective experience. If no one ever experienced New York then belief in the Big Apple would not only be irrational but also a mere wish projection, such as found in Sigmund Freuds’ writings. Projection, according to Freud, is no more than an irrational wish.6

Atheism is inherently irrational, a kind of Freudian wish, a fantasy projection for people who prefer irrationality to belief in an intelligent creator.

This scenario about a New York never experienced by anyone illustrates why atheism is completely irrational. The great irony is that atheism is beyond individual or collective experience. Atheists believe that lifeless matter brought intelligent life into being. Yet no one in human history has experienced an event of this sort, either individually or in plurality. For this reason atheism is inherently irrational, a kind of Freudian wish, a fantasy projection for people who prefer irrationality to belief in an intelligent creator.

Of course, it is true that there are many things we believe in that people do not directly or collectively experience. But to be rational these things must be based on deductions grounded in experience.

For example, I do not directly experience the shape of atoms or the countless reactions going on in outer space. But all such phenomena presuppose a causation of some kind that can be detected (experienced) and thus added to the sum of human understanding. This is the case whether we are speaking of the atom or the force of gravity. Both are inherently rational because they are based on a causal deduction based on human experience. No one can see an atom with the naked eye, but we can detect its presence and thus deduce the structure of atoms. Nor can gravity be detected by any normal means, yet its effects are everywhere seen.

The entire realm of Spirit involves this same kind of thing. For example, when a demon-possessed child speaks in a language he or she has never heard, coupled with extreme profanity totally uncharacteristic of the child, this squares with the common attributes of demon possession.7 But none of these examples are outside of experience. What is totally outside all human experience is the atheistic notion that non-intelligent matter brought about intelligent being. This is not only irrational, but contrary to what every one regularly experiences. For our individual and collective experience of matter is not that it decides what to do with intelligent beings, but that it is controlled by intelligence, whether we’re speaking of the simple act of picking up a cup or the more complex work of programming a computer.

Of course, what we call matter is more like mind stuff when it is seen in the light of physics. Indeed, that was the conclusion of thinkers such as Einstein, Alfred North Whitehead, and Heisenberg, along with the rest of those who belonged to what was called the Oxford movement.8 It is supremely important to note that none of these careful thinkers ever concluded that unintelligent matter developed into intelligent being.

Why, then, do some scientists and biologists, such as Richard Dawkins, imagine that through “hard” scientific work they will be able to show that lifeless matter brought intelligence into being? Whether scientists of this persuasion are aware of it or not, they are attempting to bring life from non-life, not because they are driven by rationality, but because they have an irrational desire to avoid dealing with a being higher than themselves. Their desire must be an irrational desire because no scientist has ever experienced anything that would rationally suggest lifeless matter as the source for intelligence.

In their search to understand the basic building blocks of existence, scientists are not encountering greater and greater simplicity, but rather more and more complexity and precision. This naturally leads rationally thinking human beings to search for an intelligence behind the complexity. This is why famous atheist Anthony Flew finally conceded that the complexity of laws and processes in the universe require a lawmaker.  As far as we know, Flew never became a Christian, but as an old man he finally admitted the irrationality of atheism and the rationality of faith in a higher being.

This same irrationality is why atheism comes up with notions such as the idea that good and evil are fictional, and that there is no such thing as right or wrong. Statements of this kind simply fly in the face of the world’s collective experience. Try as we might, we cannot dismiss from our laws, our courts, or our individual lives the sense of good and evil, right and wrong. These must have been embedded in human understanding by an intelligent designer. This is the only possible explanation as to why Marxists and other atheists often cry out against injustice. They cannot get away from pontificating about right and wrong, even when they deny existence to both. Such obvious irrationality mystifies the casual observer, but I stand on solid ground when I say it stems from their initial irrationality of wishing that lifeless matter could bring intelligence into being.  

A New York never experienced by anyone, and a universe in which non-intelligence brings intelligence into being, are bedfellows.


1 The New Atheism, in particular, does this. The basic assumption is stated by Richard Dawkins in countless YouTube Videos. Rather than depending on the God hypothesis, the argument goes, let’s work hard and show we do not need God. But if one examines Dawkins’ assumptions, he is living in the realm of Freud’s projections, i.e., wish fulfillment. Let me state it in a way that does not conceal the implications of his position. It is as if Dawkins said, “If we just work hard maybe my wish will come true. We will be able to find that lifeless matter created intelligent being.” See Dawkins’ work The God Illusion.
2 Contemporary thinkers such as William Lane Craig, John Warwick Montgomery, Larry Hurtado, Irving Hexham, Leon Morris, FF. Bruce, Bruce Metzger, Mortimer J. Adler, and a great many others could be listed. But as long ago as the middle ages a school of Christian thought called “Scholasticism” grounded every claim on careful reasoning. Unfortunately, due to contemporary misrepresentations of Medieval Christianity, the myth still flourishes that for Christians faith and reason have always been in opposition. Any who wish to examine the real history of Christian thought can look to the writings of Kenneth Scott LaTourette, the brilliant Church Historian. See also the excellent history of Christian thought by Otto Heick.
3 See David Hume’s “Inquiry Concerning Human Nature” as well as his “Dialogues on Religion”. These works elucidate what Hume meant by reason.
4 In a work titled “Incredible About Turns” I examine this rock-solid evidence for the resurrection. See the archives of faithbeyondbelief.ca.
5 See John Warwick Montgomery’s treatment of reason and the conclusion of jurisprudence itself that the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is “beyond any reasonable doubt” (youtube.com/watch?v=ew_BHUA_UXM). For further videos on the same subject search for John Warwick Montgomery and the Resurrection.
6 For Freud and the notion of projections see his Future of an Illusion. Here Freud argues that religion is an illusion based on his theory of wish fulfillment, but Freud’s charge of wish fulfilment more fitly describes him, not religion.
7 The most credible and powerful work on demon possession I have ever encountered was written by Father Malachi, a Catholic Scholar. It is a heavily documented account of a number of individuals who were demon possessed. The work is called Hostage to the Devil. I challenge any atheist to read it and remain an atheist.
8 See David Foster’s The Philosophical Scientists, viii-x, 2-6,7-31. Here Foster discusses the “Cambridge Club”

Investigating Easter

by Shafer Parker, FBB Staff Apologist

As some of you may know, I was a pastor before I came to work for FBB, and what follows is the heart of an Easter sermon I preached in 2016. The text was from John’s gospel, chapter 20, verses 1-10. For brevity’s sake I will not print the text here. Nevertheless, I suggest you read the passage first.

Intro.

When I was a teenager my dad got in his old work car at about 11 p.m. to go to work. He hadn’t driven very far when all of sudden he felt something cold and hard press against the back of his head. His first thought was that a desperate criminal must have hidden in the back seat and was now pressing a gun to his skull. He tried to think what to do and even considered deliberately wrecking the car in order to surprise the murderer. But when nothing happened he slowly turned around and looked behind him, only to realize that earlier he had placed an axe behind the front seat with the axe head on the car floor and the handle leaning against the back seat. It was balanced in such a way that when he braked for an intersection the handle rocked forward and rested against the back of his head.

So to recap, my dad’s first impression was, “A murderer is holding a gun to my head.” But further investigation showed him it was something completely different.

Something like that happened with Mary Magdalene. She came to Jesus’ tomb and saw the stone removed. Something had gone wrong, that was certain, but unlike the other women who were with her (see Mark 16:1ff), she didn’t investigate any further. Instead, she leapt to a false conclusion. She ran and told the disciples that the Lord’s body had been taken from the tomb and “we don’t know where they have put him.”

Peter and John went to the tomb, but instead of standing on the outside Peter, followed by John, went inside and investigated. From what they saw they correctly concluded that Jesus had risen from the dead. John adds that they believed in the resurrection on the evidence, even though they still did not understand that the Old Testament taught the resurrection. Nor had they seen the risen Lord.

You may remember that in the gospel of John, Jesus criticized Thomas for declaring that he would not believe without visual and tactile proof that Christ’s dead body had been raised back to life (John 20:25). Jesus provided the proof Thomas demanded, but he then promised a special blessing to “those who believe without seeing” (John 20:29). Obviously the group that is specially blessed for having believed without seeing the risen Lord would include all 21st-century Christians. But what you may not have noticed until now is that Peter and John fit into the same category. Unlike us, they were privileged to spend many hours in Jesus’ presence after the resurrection. But like us, they believed in Jesus’ resurrection before they saw His risen body.

Peter and John saw plenty of evidence for Jesus’ resurrection that first Easter morning. First, there was the material evidence, including the stone rolled back from the doorway, the empty tomb itself, the folded and separated face cloth (sudarium), the linen shroud still stretched out where the body had lain (the sindone, Matt. 27:59), and the strips of cloth (othonion) that were traditionally used for binding a dead body’s hands and feet, as well as enclosing the myrrh and aloes that were part of Jesus’ burial preparation (John 19:39-40).

Evidence to Produce Faith

The evidence listed above logically demanded a miracle to explain it. Consider the options facing Peter and John. If the body had been stolen by those who hated the Lord, they would either have carried him away wrapped in all the coverings, or else they could have just ripped everything away and tossed it anywhere. If you’ve ever watched a detective show on TV then you know what a house looks like when thieves have trashed it—like a bomb has gone off inside. The tomb would have been the same.

But a skeptic may ask, “What if it was the disciples who stole the body?” Well, as John admits in today’s text, they didn’t even believe in resurrection. Stealing Jesus’ body to fake a resurrection was the last thing on their minds. Okay, but what if Joseph and Nicodemus, or someone else had decided to fake a resurrection? What if people who loved Jesus had stolen the body without telling the disciples? Well, even if they had done, they still loved Jesus. They would never have deliberately treated His body to the indignity of being stripped naked before moving it. Remember, the linen cloths were still in place, undisturbed, as though they had once wrapped a body that had simply passed through them.

So let me say it again, all the evidence observed by Peter and John pointed to a miraculous resurrection; in other words, in an instant the evidence took these disciples from no hope to belief in the fact of resurrection, the fact that Jesus of Nazareth, who died on the cross, had miraculously risen from death to life! John saw—not Jesus, but the evidence of the empty tomb—and he believed!

Investigation as a Christian Virtue

If you read a little further in John 20 you will find that Jesus soon presents himself to Mary and she too becomes a believer. But it is clear that she missed out on a blessing by not going into the tomb like Peter and John and investigating the matter for herself. Had she done so her sorrowing heart would have been immediately made glad.

So let me now reveal the purpose of this message. I want to challenge you to be more like Peter and John, in this instance, and less like Mary Magdalene. This Easter I’m challenging everyone who reads this to shuffle off your spiritual apathy and mental carelessness and rise to the challenge of diligently investigating everything that can possibly be known about the one human being who actually conquered death! If you do that your life will be blessed forever!

Think about it. The Internet is simply lousy with false promises: How to get a flat stomach in two weeks. How my sister-in-law is making $1,600 an hour and you can too. How to boost your energy. How to conquer joint pain. The secret to eliminate gall stones and kidney stones naturally. The secret to keeping your friends from talking about their gall bladders. Five secrets your millionaire neighbour isn’t telling you. Learn this one trick to look 35 again, and so on. The thing is, we know the people behind these ads are making money because if they weren’t they wouldn’t stay in business. Their promises are too good to be true; nevertheless, somebody keeps buying what they’re selling.

Here is the promise God makes to everyone. Regardless of how you proceed, if you sincerely investigate Him you will never be disappointed. Peter and John were not disappointed when they investigated Jesus’ tomb, and you won’t be disappointed either, no matter what you investigate about God.

God invites us to study His divine nature and character because He knows that only good things will be found there, things that will bless our lives forever. Listen to these words from the Passion Translation’s version of the book of Proverbs, chapter 2, “My child, will you treasure my wisdom? Then, and only then, will you acquire it. And only if you accept my advice and hide it within will you succeed. 2 So train your heart to listen when I speak and open your spirit wide to expand your discernment—then pass it on to your sons and daughters. 3 Yes, cry out for comprehension and intercede for insight. 4 For if you keep seeking it like a man would seek for sterling silver, searching in hidden places for cherished treasure, 5 then you will discover the fear of the Lord and find the true knowledge of God. 6 Wisdom is a gift from a generous God, and every word he speaks is full of revelation and becomes a fountain of understanding within you.”

Conclusion

Remember Mary Magdalene; You cannot adequately understand anything about God if all He gets from you is a glance. During this Easter season, commit to the risen Lord that you will dig deep in understanding Him and His ways. If you do this, and stick to it, endless blessings are bound to follow.


No Place to Stand: A Look at the Shifting Sands of Mormon Ethics and Theology

Author’s note: I wrote the following column in January of this year, but for various reasons it did not get published. Nevertheless, I think it is worth reading. As I will demonstrate at the end, although I am not a prophet, recent events mean it comes as close to out-and-out prophecy as anything I’ve ever written.

Last week the Huffington Post ran an article by Katy Anderson with the Headline: How Attending My First Gay Wedding Changed Me as a Practicing Mormon. Anderson reports how her previous opposition to same-sex relationships disappeared when she saw her sister was “happier and healthier than she ha[d] ever been.” But Anderson didn’t stop there. She went on to philosophize that her sister’s joy was about more than marrying her girlfriend; she had become “someone who [was] finally living her truth.”

God’s teachings … about sex and marriage do not change with the culture or the times.

Anderson’s relativistic subjectivism is well exposed in an article by John Ellis on pjmedia.com. He argues that “living [according to subjective] truth” is destructive to society, and evidence that North Americans no longer recognize any transcendent authority. The result is the ongoing dissolution of society, of course, but Ellis also points out that men and women who live by such subjective standards will someday stand before holy God, facing judgment with no defense for their rebellion against His objective, unchanging truth.

Ellis has much more to say on this theme, but I want to take the story of Anderson’s change of views regarding homosexuality in a different direction. Many people do not realize that as a Mormon she was already pre-disposed to base her views—on sexuality and everything else—on feelings and changing circumstances.

From its beginning Mormonism has always been willing to modify its doctrines in order to maintain credibility with the prevailing culture. For example, in 1890 when adherence to polygamy risked the future existence of Mormonism, Mormon president Wilfred Woodruff announced the LDS church’s abandonment of their supposedly sacred tradition. Just like that, he ended a practice that Mormon founder Joseph Smith had once declared  a “divine prophecy” in the strongest terms possible (“For behold, I [God) reveal unto you a new and everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory….”). Strangely enough, Woodruff’s decision to end the practice did not come as new revelation. In fact, Smith’s original “revelation” is still listed in the church’s official Doctrine and Covenants, and in these days of relaxed attitudes toward all things sexual, polygamy is returning among mainstream Mormons.

Another modern revelation in June 1978 reversed the stand Joseph Smith had taken toward black men. Early Mormonism’s racism was so awful that I find it difficult to report on it. In The Way to Perfection Smith wrote: “Not only was Cain called upon to suffer [for killing Abel], but because of his wickedness he became the father of an inferior race… Millions of souls have come into this world cursed with a black skin and have been denied the privilege of Priesthood and the fulness of the blessing of the Gospel. These are the descendants of Cain.” This was the firm, unshakeable truth of the LDS Church, until the Mormons realized it was making evangelism difficult in Africa and South America. That’s when president Spencer W. Kimball went to his prayer closet and came back with the new revelation that “all of our brethren who are worthy may receive the priesthood.” Kimball didn’t say it explicitly, but this was his way of welcoming black people all the way inside. Again, let it be noted that when Katy Anderson changed her mind about same-sex relationships she was following a well-worn path laid out for her by her church.

I am not a prophet, but I will go so far as to say it is very possible that if our culture continues to applaud same-sex marriage, the leaders of the Mormon church may well end up following Ms. Anderson into a full embrace of the LGBTQ agenda. And why not? They have no unchanging, eternal Word of God. Instead, their doctrine flows from the inventive minds of Joseph Smith’s successors, men who have repeatedly proven themselves ready to place political expediency above all.

True Christianity is different. As Ellis says in his article: “We don’t get to decide what’s true. True religion is not a democracy.” No, it isn’t, but God’s sovereignty by itself is not enough. We must remember that our God is fundamentally good. In a world where “anything goes” sexually it is important for Christians to remember that God’s teachings in the Bible about sex and marriage do not change with the culture or the times. Why not? Because He made us and He loves us, and He alone knows the best way for His people to live.

Postscript: As I said at the beginning, I am not a prophet in the Biblical sense. Nevertheless, considering what I wrote in January, the following headline from yesterday (April 4, 2019) is enough to give me goosebumps: “Same-Sex Marriage Isn’t Apostasy, LDS Church Decides.” To read the article, go here. Apparently, the god of the Mormons is a real hipster, ever ready to change with the times.

The Bible Keeps Its Promises—Two Boys In the Temple

Two Boys In the Temple

I Samuel 3:1-21

Not only did Hannah’s life foreshadow Mary’s, Hannah’s son Samuel foreshadowed the life of Mary’s son Jesus. About a thousand years before Christ was born, Samuel was a young boy performing menial tasks for Israel’s High Priest Eli. The thing is, neither Samuel nor any of his superiors thought him special — until God spoke to him, that is. Then he was seen as both humble and wise beyond his years. The same was true of Jesus when he first visited the temple in Jerusalem during his twelfth year. “After three days [Jesus’ parents] found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers” (Luke 2:46-47). Christmas is often thought to be mostly for children, and Samuel and Jesus make it clear we are never too young to take seriously a life of faith and discipleship, as this older children’s hymn makes clear.

“I will early seek the Saviour, I will learn of Him each day
I will follow in His footsteps, I will walk the narrow way.
I will hasten where He bids me, I am not too young to go
In the pathway where He leadeth, Not too young His will to know.”

Parting thought: The parallels between Samuel and Jesus remind us the Bible is very much like a classical symphony. Themes are introduced; variations on those themes come and go, but finally all the themes come together in a thundering finish. The theme of the young boy in the temple, introduced in the life of Samuel and repeated in the life of Christ, is just one more proof that when God introduces a theme (promise), He will not stop until it is played in full.



The Bible Keeps Its Promises—In God All Women Are Highly Favoured

In God All Women Are Highly Favoured

…and she said to him, “Pardon me, my lord. As surely as you live, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the Lord.

~ 1 Sam 1:26

I Samuel 1:21-28

In today’s reading let’s revisit Hannah, mother of the prophet Samuel. She was not in Christ’s bloodline, but rather a woman whose life prefigured Mary in many ways. Like Mary, Hannah’s motherhood was also miraculous (see I Sam. 1:20). Also, like Mary, Hannah composed a great hymn of praise, a Magnificat, that testified to her personal faith (compare I Sam. 2:1-10 with Luke 1:46-55). And finally, like Mary’s son Jesus, Hannah’s son Samuel was dedicated to God long before he was born (I Sam. 1:11, 24-28). There’s even the possibility that Mary and Hannah shared a name. Remember, when the angel Gabriel visited Mary he said, “Greetings, you who are highly favoured!” Some scholars have noted that this is very possibly a new name, or title given to Mary, summed up in the single Greek word charis. But here’s where it gets interesting. Behind the Greek word charis is the Aramaic name “Anna,” and behind Anna is the Hebrew Hannah. It is very possible that Gabriel, acting on God’s authority, renamed Mary to give her the same name as Hannah. Parting thought: Who knew God’s promise to Eve in Genesis 3:15 would involve so many women? The Bible is unique among the world’s ancient books in presenting men and women working side by side as complementary servants of God.


The Bible Keeps Its Promises—Many Miraculous Births

Many Miraculous Births

Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear?

~ Gen 17:17

I Samuel 1:9-20

We know that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was born, meaning the Messiah’s birth was totally miraculous. But let’s use this passage to remind ourselves of the many miraculous and unusual births amongst Christ’s ancestors. We’ve already learned that Abraham and Sarah were too old to have children (Gen. 17:17), yet Isaac was born anyway. Isaac’s wife Rebekah was also barren until Isaac prayed for her (Gen. 25:21). Then there was Rahab, who lived in Jericho and miraculously escaped being killed when her city was destroyed (Josh. 6:23). She became one of David’s great grandmothers, and thus part of the bloodline of Christ (compare Ruth 4:21 with Matt. 1:5). And we must not forget Ruth, a widow from the despised tribe of Moab who also went on to become a grandmother to David and an ancestor to Christ (compare Ruth 4:22 with Matt. 1:5). Today’s reading is a little different, in that Hannah was not one of Jesus’ ancestors. Nevertheless, the fact that she was barren until God blessed her with a son is highly significant. The son she received became Israel’s first prophet (I Sam. 4:1). That should remind us of another woman, Mary’s cousin Elizabeth (Luke 1:7), who remained barren into old age before giving birth to John, Israel’s last prophet, the forerunner and announcer of the Messiah (compare Isaiah 40:3 with John 1:23). Parting Thought: If miraculous births point to God’s life-giving power, then how much more does the birth of Christ testify to the amazing promise of salvation first made to humans back in the Garden of Eden.