The Smell of Burning Flesh

The below item is part of my "Conversations" series.

A teenage Christian coming to her father with a question about the Bible

Isabella: It says in the Bible that God liked the smell that animal sacrifices gave off when they burned.* Why would God like that? Wouldn’t a burning animal smell disgusting?

Jack: Barbecue doesn’t smell bad, does it?

Isabella: No.

Jack: The law that said that the Hebrews had to burn their animal sacrifices was just God’s way of reminding people that we have to cook meat before we eat it. Lots of the rules in the Old Testament are really just reminders of how to live a healthy life.

Isabella: Jesus was the last sacrifice, right?

Jack: Yes. That sort of underlines my point — God didn’t require the body of Jesus to be burned after He died on the cross because burning isn’t really part of a sacrifice. It’s something you do to an animal before you eat it.

Isabella: If burning isn’t part of a sacrifice, then why was Abraham going to prepare a fire before sacrificing Isaac?

Jack: That’s a different matter entirely. It wasn’t the fire that was important to God, but the wood for the fire. Isaac carried the sticks for the sacrificial fire** just like Jesus carried his cross*** on the way to his own sacrifice.

Isabella: I thought that Simon carried the cross for Jesus?

Jack: Jesus carried the cross for a while and then Simon did.**** In the same way, Abraham carried the wood after Isaac did.***** The whole story of the binding of Isaac was a foreshadowing of the death of Jesus on the cross. God allowed Abraham to find a substitute for Isaac, just like God provided Jesus as a substitute sacrifice for our sins.

Isabella: Wow! Does everything in the Bible work together like that?

Jack: Yes, Love.

*Exodus 29:25, “And thou shalt receive them of their hands, and burn them upon the altar for a burnt offering, for a sweet savour before the Lord: it is an offering made by fire unto the Lord.” Leviticus 1:9, “You are to wash the internal organs and the legs with water, and the priest is to burn all of it on the altar. It is a burnt offering, a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord. ” Also in many other places in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers.

**Genesis 22:6: “And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together.”

***John 19:17: “And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha:”

****Luke 23:26: “And as they led him away, they laid hold upon one Simon, a Cyrenian, coming out of the country, and on him they laid the cross, that he might bear it after Jesus.” See also Matthew 27:31–32 and Mark 15:20–21.

*****Genesis 22:9: “And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood.”

 


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Posted on March 31, 2014 at 7:16 pm by ideclare · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Conversations

Does God Have Emotions?

The below item is part of my "Conversations" series.

A young boy and his father after church

Elijah: Reverend May said God brought that flood last week because He was mad about how Americans are voting. Why would God get mad if he already knew that was what people were going to do?

Frank: What does knowing the future have to do with getting mad?

Elijah: If I knew a tree would break if there was a big wind, I wouldn’t be mad at the tree if it broke during a storm. I wouldn’t even be surprised. I’d just see that I was right.

Frank: God isn’t like you and people aren’t like trees. God is like a dad being mad at his son when the son disappoints him. He can still be mad at the son’s behavior even if he knew ahead of time that his son was going to do the wrong thing.

Elijah: But how can God be disappointed in someone? To disappoint someone, don’t you have to do something they are hoping you won’t do? God already knows what people will do so He couldn’t hope they’d do otherwise, could he?

Frank: God doesn’t really get mad or disappointed or jealous in the human sense. We just use those words to try and relate to God and understand what He wants from us. Sometimes, though, things don’t turn out the way that God wishes they would and He reacts appropriately. I can make a cake and wish it would never go bad, but I know that someday it will. When it does, a part of me will be sad that I couldn’t make a cake that wouldn’t go bad.

Elijah: Why would God wish anything? Can’t He just make things the way He wants them?

Frank: Got can’t make incorruptible people because that would be denying them free will. God would love it if people never made bad choices, but we do and when we do it makes Him mad.

Elijah: Does God know for sure that the flood will make people vote better next time?

Frank: He would like it to.

Elijah: But he knew whether or not it would even before he sent the flood, didn’t he? If it wouldn’t work, why didn’t he just not do it?

Frank: God has to teach people lessons. He can’t force us to listen, but he still has to try and teach us.

Elijah: I’d still rather there wasn’t a flood.

Frank: I’m sure God wishes we hadn’t made him send it, too.

 


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Posted on March 28, 2014 at 7:16 pm by ideclare · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Conversations

Caring for His Followers

The below item is part of my "Conversations" series.

Two Christians on break having lunch in a food court

Aaron: If the shop closes, I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m barely making ends meet as it is and Kim is growing out of her clothes faster than you can believe.

Bailey: I know things are hard, but God won’t turn his back on you. In the Gospels God promises that he will always feed and clothe his believers.*

Aaron: That’s hard to believe sometimes. If it were true, I’d just quit my job and go look for a better one.

Bailey: God will always help you, but you’ve got to do your part. You can’t just sit back and expect God to do it all. You need to keep working as hard as you can and keep your faith strong. God will see you through.

Aaron: It’s hard to keep going when I spend so much time worrying. I can hardly sleep.

Bailey: Worry is a sign of lack of faith. If you truly trusted God, you could put your worry aside.

Aaron: Do you mean that if I worry too much it means I don’t have enough faith for God to promise to take care of me?

Bailey: Don’t even think about that. Just stop worrying and have faith. Everything will be fine.

*Matthew 6:31–32, “Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.”

 


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Posted on March 26, 2014 at 7:15 pm by ideclare · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Conversations

Free Will for God

The below item is part of my "Conversations" series.

Friends sitting on a couch in their apartment

Zachary: I’ll start this time. Smelly feet.

Yesenia: Feet first.

Zachary: First born.

Yesenia: Born Free.

Zachary: Free Willy.

Yesenia: Hey, do you think God has free will?

Zachary: Where did that come from?

Yesenia: I don’t know. Do you think He does?

Zachary: Obviously God would have to have free will. If He didn’t, he’d just be a force of nature or something. He wouldn’t be personal.

Yesenia: How can He have free will if He can’t choose what to do?

Zachary: God can do whatever He wants to.

Yesenia: If God’s all good, then He has to do what’s good, and if he’s omnipotent and omniscient, then He has to always make the optimally good choice. That means He doesn’t have any options to choose between.

Zachary: You’re assuming that there are never situations with two options that have equally good results.

Yesenia: How could there be? God knows the impact of his decisions all the way to the end of time. No two decisions could have exactly the same impact over eternity.

Zachary: It doesn’t matter anyway. God has free will because He has the ability to do anything and knows that He is making choices. He could choose to do evil if he wanted to.

Yesenia: But he wouldn’t want to — that’s the point. Since God can’t choose evil — or even sub-optimal good — he doesn’t have free will.

Zachary: Saying that God would never want to choose evil doesn’t mean He can’t choose evil. Those are different things. God has the ability to make an evil choice so he has free will. You have the ability to stab yourself in the eye, but the fact that you’d never do it doesn’t mean you don’t have free will.

Yesenia: But God doesn’t have the option to choose evil. If He did, He wouldn’t be all good anymore so He wouldn’t be God. I would never stab myself in the eye, but if I did it for some reason it wouldn’t change the nature of the universe or violate the rules of logic. If God chose to torture some babies because it looked funny, that would be — I don’t know what it would be because it’s impossible. God can’t make that choice.

Zachary: God wouldn’t make that choice.

Yesenia: It’s the same thing.

Zachary: No, it’s not.

Yesenia: You said “snot.”

Zachary: You’re an idiot. Okay, you start this time.

 


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Posted on March 24, 2014 at 7:14 pm by ideclare · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Conversations

Proof of the Trinity

The below item is part of my "Conversations" series.

An atheist and a Christian studying for a social studies exam

Katie: Did you know that the Hindu religion has three gods — Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva?

Leah: Pagans had all sorts of numbers of gods.

Katie: You’d say that having one god is best though, right?

Leah: It’s best because it’s true. But, technically, there needs to be three gods for things to be perfect.

Katie: Why? Isn’t one god who can do everything more perfect than one that needs help?

Leah: No, because there are things that a single god can’t do.

Katie: Like what?

Leah: Like love. The only way to have perfect, ultimate love is to love an equal.

Katie: What makes you think that? People can be in love if they aren’t perfect equals, and parents love their children even though they aren’t equal.

Leah: This is about ultimate love, not just love in general. God loves us even though we aren’t anything but specks compared to Him, but you can’t completely, perfectly love someone you are superior to in any way. If you aren’t equal, there’s always some feeling of superiority or inferiority that gets in the way.

Katie: If you say so.

Leah: Anyway, if God was all alone, He would be without equal and there could be no perfect love. There has to be an equal for God to love.

Katie: And like you said, that equal couldn’t be a son if the love was going to be perfect.

Leah: It’s different with God and Jesus. Jesus is God’s son, but they’re completely equal.

Katie: Doesn’t God send Jesus to Earth, and didn’t Jesus plead with God not to forsake him?*

Leah: Conflict makes a relationship more nuanced and treasured, even among equals. God isn’t superior to Jesus.

Katie: That still just gives us two gods.

Leah: The only thing that would make this perfect love better would be to have someone to share it with — another equal. That’s why it’s only logical that the one true God have three persons, so He can have and share perfect love.

Katie: Wouldn’t having a fourth perfect person to share it with make it even better?

Leah: No. Three is sufficient to have both love and shared love.

Katie: And all this is logically required, is it?

Leah: Isn’t it obvious after I explained it?

Katie: I’m just wondering if Jewish people would agree that their God has to be three people.

Leah: I’m sure they would if it was explained it to them.

Katie: Some time, when we have a chance, you should try that. I’ll watch.

*Matthew 27:46 “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

 


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Posted on March 21, 2014 at 7:14 pm by ideclare · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Conversations

Three in One

The below item is part of my "Conversations" series.

A Christian and a Jew on a bench in the park

Valerie: So, did you read that thing I gave you?

Tanner: I read it. I still don’t understand why you feel like you have to try so hard to convert me.

Valerie: I only want to make sure you know the whole truth because I’m concerned about you.

Tanner: That’s nice of you, but reading all that made me feel even more strongly that I could never be a Christian. I don’t even understand how you can call Christianity monotheistic when you basically have three gods.

Valerie: We’ve only got one god. God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are one god.

Tanner: How does that work? It sounds like three gods to me.

Valerie: It’s God who creates, Jesus who is begotten, and the Holy Spirit who proceeds.

Tanner: I don’t have any idea what that means. It sounds like a logic puzzle.

Valerie: It’s not hard. God is like water. You can use liquid water to drink, steam to warm things, or ice to cool things, but they are all still water.

Tanner: Then God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are just different names that you use to refer to God depending on what he’s doing? Wouldn’t that be like saying that Bob, Mr. Jones, the dentist, and my dad are four different people in one body?

Valerie: It’s not the same because the trinity is three distinct personalities even though they are one essence. Your dad and the dentist can’t operate independently because they are the same person.

Tanner: But it’s not like God can only do one thing at a time. He can do billions of things simultaneously. Water changes from one thing to another, but you’re saying that the three persons of the trinity exist at the same time.

Valerie: Then think of it like an egg. An egg has a shell, a white, and a yolk, but we still think of it as one thing.

Tanner: But if I showed you an egg yolk and said it was the same as an egg, you’d say I was wrong.

Valerie: You’re taking this too literally. God is one essence with three persons.

Tanner: Wait — I thought you said that Jesus was begotten?

Valerie: Right.

Tanner: Well, if God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are the same then they all have the same properties, so how could God have begotten Jesus if he didn’t create himself?

Valerie: God didn’t create Jesus; Jesus has been here since the beginning of time. It’s in the book of John.*

Tanner: Then how could Jesus be begotten of God?

Valerie: Saying that Jesus is begotten of God means that Jesus has the same nature as God, in the same way that any son has the same nature as his father. Although all of us are begotten of God, Jesus is the only begotten son because he is the only one that shares God’s nature. “Begotten” is being used to confirm that Jesus and God are one, not to imply that Jesus was created.

Tanner: How can Jesus be the only begotten son if the Holy Spirit also has God’s nature? Wouldn’t the Spirit also be begotten of God?

Valerie: The Holy Spirit isn’t God’s son.

Tanner: In a literal sense, Jesus isn’t God’s son, either. Not if they both have always existed.

Valerie: Jesus is God’s son because he was born of Mary.

Tanner: If Jesus is God’s son because he was born of Mary but he always existed, then did he only become the son of God after he was born on Earth?

Valerie: No; Jesus has a father-son relationship with God and has since the beginning of time.

Tanner: Then he isn’t God’s son because of Mary.

Valerie: Not only because of that.

Tanner: I’m just not seeing how it makes sense that God is three people but only counts as one God. I heard someone say that Christians pray to Jesus to have the Holy Spirit bring a message to God.

Valerie: I’m not sure if that’s true, but I’ve heard it.

Tanner: Well what sense does it make for Jesus or the Holy Spirit to bring a message to God if they’re all the same person? “Bringing a message” implies time passing, but as soon as one part of God knew the message, wouldn’t all the parts know it?

Valerie: Yes, but through the Holy Spirit.

Tanner: Let me try another way. God caused Mary to be pregnant, right?

Valerie: Through the Holy Spirit.

Tanner: There it is again! If God and the Holy Spirit are the same being, why even bother correcting me? Wouldn’t I be just as correct to say that Jesus got his mother pregnant?

Valerie: No. Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit are three separate individuals. They take separate actions and have separate identities and functions. They are one because they share the same essence, not because they are not individuals.

Tanner: If they’re individuals, then why isn’t Christianity a pagan religion?

Valerie: Because there’s only one God.

Tanner: I’m sorry, but you’re not making this any clearer to me than that tract you gave me did. The trinity thing seems like a massive problem with Christianity.

Valerie: It’s not a problem; it’s a solution.

Tanner: To what?

Valerie: To the Bible. When you read the Bible, it make sense only if you understand the nature of the trinity.

Tanner: Are you talking about the Jewish Bible or the New Testament?

Valerie: It’s in the Old Testament, too — they knew about the trinity but it’s hard to see because ancient Hebrew only had one word for God. Mostly, though, I’m talking about the New Testament, but the New Testament shines a light on the Old Testament.

Tanner: Then I think I’m going to have to stay Jewish. I can understand our text just fine without a light I can’t even understand.

*John 1:1–2, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God.”

 


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Posted on March 19, 2014 at 7:13 pm by ideclare · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Conversations

Curing Amputees

The below item is part of my "Conversations" series.

An atheist and a Christian on a public bus

Patricia: Wake up. We’re almost there.

Quincy: I’m not asleep. I was praying.

Patricia: Praying? Seriously? You’re praying on the bus?

Quincy: There’s nothing wrong with praying on a bus.

Patricia: It’s lame. You’re embarrassing me.

Quincy: It’s not lame. Prayer gets me through the day. I get everything I need by praying for it.

Patricia: Get real. Prayer is just meditation for religious people.

Quincy: You’re wrong. Prayer is powerful. It can change your life.

Patricia: Prayer doesn’t work and I can prove it.

Quincy: How?

Patricia: If God answers prayers and performs miracles, then why doesn’t He ever miraculously cure an amputee?

Quincy: How do you know he doesn’t? Maybe He does it all the time but you never hear about it? Do you have perfect knowledge of the status of every amputee in the world?

Patricia: Of course not, but hundreds of people claim to have been healed of difficult-to-verify conditions, and not a single one who was a verified amputee and had as much as a finger restored. Shouldn’t the ones with the most spectacular healings be making the most noise?

Quincy: There’s no reason to think that. Maybe the restoration of limbs is only granted to the most devout Christians and they don’t talk about it because they are so humble.

Patricia: They don’t give evidence that could convert thousands to Christianity because they are so humble?

Quincy: It would still be bragging, and that’s not Christian.

Patricia: So you’d say that those who go on television and talk about their prayers curing their cancer aren’t Christian?

Quincy: That’s not what I said. The point is that you can’t claim that God doesn’t restore amputees.

Patricia: Then I guess you also can’t say that God cures cancer victims.

Quincy: Why not? There are hundreds of examples — you said so yourself.

Patricia: Some of those people could have gone into remission spontaneously. And, particularly in this country, the vast majority of supposedly miraculous cancer cures I’ve heard about also had medical treatment, so it probably was the doctors who cured them.

Quincy: You can’t prove that it wasn’t God.

Patricia: I can’t prove it wasn’t secret radar waves from the President of Paraguay, either.

Quincy: That’s ridiculous.

Patricia: If I came up to you and said that some atheists have a rock-solid proof that God does not exist, but that they don’t tell anyone because they don’t want to look like braggarts or make religious people feel bad, would you agree to never again say that atheists can’t prove that God doesn’t exist?

Quincy: No, but that’s an entirely different situation. There’s no such thing as a proof that God doesn’t exist, and you’d have to show me that there was before I changed my mind. Besides, there’s no way that atheists would keep such a thing secret, unless it was because they were afraid they’d be shown to be wrong.

Patricia: That’s the way I feel about God curing amputees. I can’t imagine it’s possible for an amputee to be miraculously cured, I’d have to see it to believe it, and I can’t believe that Christians would keep such miracles under wraps.

Quincy: Shoot — I think we just missed our stop.

Patricia: Then they need to turn this bus around. You’d better get praying.

 


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Posted on March 17, 2014 at 7:12 pm by ideclare · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Conversations

Just and Merciful II

The below item is part of my "Conversations" series.

A pair of Christians watching their kids play in a public park

Lucas: Look at them playing together. At this age they’re just so innocent and trusting. It really brings home how much responsibility we have.

Mackenzie: I guess. We all muddle through, though.

Lucas: But everything we do can have such big implications for their lives. I want Colton to grow up to be a good person, but I’m really worried that I won’t do a good job teaching him about God.

Mackenzie: That’s an odd thing to worry about. You’ll do fine. You’re as good a Christian as anyone I know.

Lucas: It’s not that — it’s just that I don’t know how I’m going to answer the tough questions. What if Colton asks why some people have to go to Hell? I don’t understand that myself. How can God be both infinitely just and infinitely merciful.

Mackenzie: What do you mean?

Lucas: If God’s infinitely merciful, then why does anyone ever go to Hell?

Mackenzie: He can’t just send everyone to Heaven. Heaven would be full of unforgiven sinners.

Lucas: There’s still no reason to give anyone an eternity of punishment. That doesn’t seem merciful to me. Couldn’t God just take souls who aren’t able to go to Heaven and destroy them completely? That way they wouldn’t be suffering forever.

Mackenzie: If God let people escape the punishment they deserve, that wouldn’t be just. It would actually be unjust to people to not give them the punishment they earned. It would be disrespectful to them as individuals.

Lucas: But Christians go to Heaven without punishment and we’re all sinners. God wouldn’t do that if it was disrespectful.

Mackenzie: Jesus made an eternal sacrifice to pay for the sins of Christians. That way we can go to Heaven with our sins paid for, and there’s no loss of respect since everything’s even. Justice is fulfilled and God demonstrates his infinite mercy.

Lucas: Okay. I can see that.

Mackenzie: Could you explain it to Colton?

Lucas: Ugh. I think I’m going to be telling him to talk to the pastor a lot.

 


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Posted on March 14, 2014 at 7:12 pm by ideclare · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Conversations

Doing the Impossible II

The below item is part of my "Conversations" series.

Two counselors at a summer camp

Hector: You know what? I’ve been thinking.

Isaiah: Yeah?

Hector: I don’t think God’s really all powerful.

Isaiah: He’s omnipotent. That’s as powerful as it gets.

Hector: God’s not really omnipotent if there are things He can’t do. For example, God can’t make a rock so heavy that he couldn’t move it.

Isaiah: God could make a rock and then make a promise never to move any rock that’s exactly that rock’s weight. Even though he made the rock, he would be morally incapable of moving it.

Hector: Come on — you know what I mean. He couldn’t make a rock that was beyond his physical power to move.

Isaiah: That doesn’t mean He’s not omnipotent. Omnipotent means being able to do anything that can be accomplished with power. There’s no amount of power that can do something illogical, so not being able to do illogical things doesn’t mean that He isn’t omnipotent.

Hector: There are still things God couldn’t do. If He’s all good, He couldn’t do evil.

Isaiah: That isn’t because he doesn’t have the power, though. God won’t do things that are against His nature — like break a promise not to move a rock — but when we’re talking about omnipotence, there’s a difference between “won’t” and “can’t”.

Hector: I guess, but it still doesn’t seem quite right. If God has unlimited power, it seems counterintuitive that there are things He can’t do.

Isaiah: It’s true, though. It’s like you have the power not to wear those stupid shorts but it’s against your nature not to look like a dork.

Hector: I hate you.

Isaiah: Back at you, bro.

 


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Posted on March 12, 2014 at 7:11 pm by ideclare · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Conversations

Only One II

The below item is part of my "Conversations" series.

A theist and an atheist, a little later, still at a mutual friend’s birthday party

Elric: I was thinking about what you said about there being enough room for two infinite beings, and I think you might be right this once.

Dexter: I’m so glad! I was starting to think I was going nuts.

Elric: What I really should have said is that God is omnipotent, so there can’t be any other Gods since there can’t be two omnipotent beings.

Dexter: That sounds more sensible, but I’d have to think about it.

Elric: Well, if there were two omnipotent gods, then either of them could do anything that was possible. That means that either one could do something the other one didn’t want him to do. But if one god can’t stop another god from doing something, then at least one of those gods isn’t omnipotent, because there’s something he can’t do.

Dexter: That’s a much better argument. All it proves, though, is that there is at most one omnipotent deity. It doesn’t prove that there aren’t two deities who are really powerful but aren’t quite omnipotent, and it doesn’t prove that there isn’t one omnipotent deity and a bunch of less powerful deities. Can you prove that God is omnipotent in the first place?

Elric: He’d have to be omnipotent to create the universe.

Dexter: Why? Maybe the only power He has is creating universes and He can’t do anything else.

Elric: That would be silly. Why would He be like that?

Dexter: Why would He be omnipotent?

Elric: It’s just the way He is.

Dexter: That isn’t much of an argument.

Elric: You’re right. I’ll work on it and get back to you.

 


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Posted on March 10, 2014 at 7:10 pm by ideclare · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Conversations