Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Dead Babies in Hell?


The subject matter today is highly speculative: the fate of preborn and born babies who experience death. I consider this topic to be speculative because I know of no scriptures which specifically treat the subject of the destiny of the souls of those persons who die in infancy or who are miscarried or aborted.

Thus, I would never address this topic—as a matter of doctrine--from the pulpit. But you are reading “Just Thinking (and writing),” not “Just Preaching (and writing);” and so we contemplate the question: Do dead babies (born and preborn) go to heaven or hell?

Some state, rather matter-of-factly, that all babies who die go to hell. They say this because they understand that we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ and they do not believe that babies have this saving faith.

Others offer that only babies of unbelievers go to hell, while the babies of believers go to heaven. Many go so far as to allege that the preborn and born babies of believers do in fact have saving faith; that somehow they “trust” God for their salvation. In other words, these babies, should they live and grow, will have no need to be born again, for they are born saved.

In effort to make the case for baby-faith more palatable, appeal is usually made to Psalm 22:9. The verse reads, “But You are He who took Me out of the womb; You made Me trust while on My mother’s breasts.” Using this as a proof-text the baby-faith proponent offers, “See…covenant community babies have saving faith even in infancy.”

But is Psalm 22 to be interpreted as normative? Hardly. This psalm is entirely—start to finish—Messianic. Baby-faithers apply verse 9 to their own infants, but do they also apply verse 18 to them? “They divide My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots” (Psalm 22:18). I doubt they do!

Or what of verse 14, “I am poured out like water, and all My bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; it has melted within Me”? No. Psalm 22 is not properly applied to believers in general, but rather to Christ in particular. I would no more claim Psalm 22:9 is true of my babies than I would that they were born of a virgin and suffered under Pontius Pilate.

So it seems the baby-faithers who claim, “My children and I were born with saving faith,” have a hermeneutical problem.

Then they also have an experiential problem. The experiential problem is namely this: We know you and your children and we ain’t buyin’ it. That is, you and your children need or needed to be born again, to be converted, no less than me and my children!

Because I don’t believe in baby-faith, must I believe that all babies who die go to hell? I don’t think so. The following is my rationale for saying that there is a basis to believe that dead babies need not suffer damnation. Let me again be abundantly clear: I am “just thinking” not preaching. Okay?

To begin, I would point out that there is a difference between election and what we typically mean by salvation. According to scripture I was elected or chosen by God before the foundation of the world, “before time began” (2 Timothy 1:9). Yet I was not saved or converted or born again until I was ten years old [quite some time after the foundation of the world].

In other words, we are elected in eternity past but we are born again, converted, or saved in space and time. We are elected in eternity past “according to the good pleasure of His will” (Ephesians 1:5). Thus, election is not based upon faith but solely upon God’s purpose or decretive will.

Is it reasonable that a preborn or born baby may be elect but not converted or born again--elect but not full of baby-faith? (This was certainly the case with me.) If an elect preborn or born baby dies, will God mercifully receive him/her unto Himself—not because of his/her being born again or converted but on the basis of His election of grace? This does not seem unreasonable to me.

Secondly, when I consider the dynamic between preborn/born babies and sin I think of it thus: We are born sinners but we are not born sinning. (I’ve heard a tiny minority argue—as did Augustine—that babies do indeed sin. This notion seems bizarre and contradictory of Jonah 4:11 and Romans 9:11.)

To be sure we are not born neutral or innocent or pure. We are born sinners by nature. But are we, as preborn/born babies, sinners by choice? That is, do babies enact their wills to transgress God’s law? “Sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4). Do preborn/born babies willfully transgress the Law of God? Are they immoral when they awaken their exhausted parents just because they’re hungry or startled? Are they being sinfully selfish?

(Please note: I am not speaking of children who have the mental/moral capacity to lie, disrespect/disobey their mommy and daddy, or hurt others; I am referring to preborn/born babies.)

Hence, I think it germane to our conversation to distinguish between sinful nature and sinful behavior. Because of Adam’s sin we are born with a sinful nature, a propensity for evil. We are born sinners. But is the sinner damned to hell because of Adam’s sin? It seems the sinner shall be judged, not for the sins of Adam, but for his own transgressions of the law.

And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books” (Revelation 20:12). What evil works have preborn/born babies committed? It would seem the answer to that question is “none.” (In so saying, we are not denying or even addressing our sin in Adam per Romans 5:12; again, c.f. Romans 9:11).

When I consider that election is based upon the decretive will God and is not to be confused or conflated with conversion, and that sinners will be judged and condemned—not according to inherited sin but according to their personal transgressions of the law; I conclude that we need not consign dead babies to hell for lack of faith nor reward them heaven for baby-faith.

Rather, we know that God is infinitely good and it may be that He welcomes dead babies into glory on the basis of His good pleasure and the merit of the shed blood of His Son. Ultimately, isn't this true of all of us who shall make our abode there?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Magical World of Atheism



My two main antitheological books were both written long before either the development of the big-bang cosmology or the introduction of the fine-tuning argument from physical constants. But since the early 1980s, I had begun to reconsider. I confessed at that point that atheists have to be embarrassed by the contemporary cosmological consensus, for it seemed that the cosmologists were providing a scientific proof of what St. Thomas Aquinas contended could not be proved philosophically; namely, that the universe had a beginning. (Antony Flew, “There Is A God,” p. 135)

Antony Flew’s book is aptly subtitled, “How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind.” And for having the intellectual honesty to follow the evidence to where it leads, Flew was reviled and excoriated by his once admiring colleagues and fawning public.

Roy Abraham Varghese in the preface to “There Is A God” observes,

The response…from Flew’s fellow atheists verged on hysteria. One atheist Web site tasked a correspondent with giving monthly updates on Flew’s falling away from the true faith. Inane insults and juvenile caricatures were common in the freethinking blogosphere. The same people who complained about the Inquisition and witches being burned at the stake were now enjoying a little heresy hunting of their own. The advocates of tolerance were not themselves very tolerant. And, apparently, religious zealots don’t have a monopoly on dogmatism, incivility, fanaticism, and paranoia. But raging mobs cannot rewrite history. And Flew’s position in the history of atheism transcends anything that today’s atheist has on offer.

Nevertheless, despite the outcry, an undaunted Flew wrote his book describing his “conversion” to theism. Though to my knowledge he never embraced Christianity or the Bible, he fully realized that his atheistic worldview was utterly incapable of accounting for the actual world in which he lived; a finite universe, with a definite beginning. The “Big Bang” shattered the mythical world in which he once lived, imploding the very foundations upon which his atheism was built. 

Three years after Flew came to his senses, the editor of a local paper asked me, “Can a theist believe in the so-called ‘Big Bang’?” I told him then as I tell you now, that a theist, and only a theist, can believe in such a thing as the Big Bang because the atheist cannot logically or philosophically account for such an occurrence.

Ask the atheist, “How and why did the Big Bang occur?” He cannot sufficiently answer. The usual feeble attempt at answering the question involves such terms as matter, energy, time and chance.

Granted, we find matter and energy in the universe today and so we may suspect that the Big Bang involved matter and energy. But here is the problem: Matter and energy can serve as the material cause for the Big Bang, but they cannot serve as the efficient cause for the Big Bang. The Catholic philosopher and theologian, Thomas Aquinas [in the 13th century] demonstrates material and efficient causes with the example of a statue.

If the statue is made of bronze, then bronze is the material cause of the statue. However, the material cause [bronze] is not the efficient cause. The efficient cause must be the sculptor. Aristotle, many centuries before Aquinas, observed the same thing.

The Big Bang may indeed accurately portray the material cause for the universe, but it cannot account for the efficient cause of the universe. Atheistic science has a problem: The problem of existence.

In other words, why is there something rather than nothing? This is a problem that simply will not go away. Atheism gives us no logic for existence. We may ask, “What was happening five seconds before the Big Bang?” or “What existed prior to the Big Bang?” The proffered answer to both of these questions is tantamount to one word: Nothing.

Don’t be fooled by talk of “singularities” and the like. The atheistic answer to what was happening and what existed before the Big Bang is nothing. Though “nothing” will be expressed in various ways, it’s still a lot of talk about nothing. That something can come from absolute nothing is absurd. Ex nihilo nihil fit.

Yet, we often hear an atheistic scientist allege, “Our universe came into being around 14 billion years ago.” Came into being? How in the world does something--a universe or anything--come into being from absolute nothing? The notion that the universe sprang into being from absolute non-being is repugnant to reason and a leap of faith far too great for the Christian theist.

Big Bang cosmology—which was initially and understandably resisted by atheists--says the universe has a beginning and thus places the atheist on the horns of a great dilemma: How does one postulate the universe came from absolute nothing [the long discredited theory of “spontaneous generation”] without resorting to magic?

Flew could no longer believe the story which begins, “Once upon a time there was absolute nothing and then abracadabra…poof…there was a mindless, magical universe for no particular reason at all…”

Why is there something rather than nothing? How did the universe come into being from absolute non-being? How can something come from nothing? To date, no atheist has escaped this quandary and simply humming “Oh Oh It’s Magic” is wearing a little thin.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Dancing on Graves: Osama’s & Ours (Revisited)

On the eve this first anniversary of the reports of Osama Bin Laden’s killing, I thought we should revisit this article.

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The sleepy Sunday evening of May 1, 2011, suddenly turned surreal. Amid a flurry of media activity, President Obama was preparing an impromptu announcement. Even before the President strode to the podium, the word was out: Osama Bin Laden had been killed.

This late breaking news report was greeted in America with great joy and revelry. Literally, there was dancing in the streets. The Star Spangled banner was sung--badly--in a New York subway. Baseball stadiums reverberated with spontaneous eruptions of “USA, USA, USA.” It was a night to be remembered. And more than remembered-- it was a night to be contemplated.

How does America’s response to the reports of Bin Laden’s death appear--when viewed through the lens of the Holy Bible? This is the question to be considered if we would be biblical in our worldview. A few scripture passages come to mind and we will briefly examine each one in turn.

But first, this caveat. Please understand, this isn’t about whether or not Bin Laden was deserving of death. Of course he was. He is responsible for the killing of thousands of people. And God’s word is exceedingly clear concerning the punishment of murderers: “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man” (Genesis 9:6). So, we are not here addressing the justice of killing murderers. We are here addressing our response to the killing of murderers. How should we respond to the killing of our enemy?

We begin with Proverbs 24:17. “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles.

Many in America were and are rejoicing in the demise of Bin Laden. While I do not feel one ounce of regret for this terrorist, neither am I inclined to exult in his execution. (I am sure I would feel differently if I had lost a loved one on 9/11. This however, would not make my feelings right in the eyes of the Lord.)

So, on the one hand we are exhorted to be subdued in our response to the death of our enemy. But then we read Exodus 15:1-18. This is the song of rejoicing the children of Israel sang when the Egyptian army was drowned in the Red Sea. The people of God were indeed rejoicing. But were they celebrating the deaths of these men per se? Or, were they jubilant in the salvation of God?

We must remember, at this point the children of Israel were facing certain, imminent genocide. But their omnipotent God saved them. God’s power to save is the central message of their song.
I will sing to the LORD, for He has triumphed gloriously! The LORD is my strength and song. And He has become my salvation; He is my God, and I will praise Him…The LORD is a man of war…Your right hand, O LORD, has become glorious in power….in the greatness of Your excellence You have overthrown those who rose against You” (Exodus 15:1,2,3,6,7).
I do not believe the late night revelers, gathered in front of the White House, were thanking and magnifying God for delivering them from Bin Laden. That certainly wasn’t the message of their slogans or signs. God uses many methods and means to distribute His justice. He used the Red Sea then and He may have used SEAL team 6 now; but then He was praised, now He is ignored.

Another passage pertinent to our examination is 1Samuel 18:6-7.

Now it had happened as they were coming home, when David was returning from the slaughter of the Philistine, that the women had come out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with joy, and with musical instruments. So the women sang as they danced, and said: “Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands.”
Obviously, the entire song is not recorded. Perhaps they praised God, perhaps not. But we must observe two things. 1)This seemingly innocuous song culminated in a bloody civil war, lasting 7 years, between the house of David and the house of Saul. 2)This narrative is descriptive, not prescriptive. That is, it merely describes the response of the women to God’s victory--through David--over His enemies. It does not command or infer: “Go and do likewise.”
Next, we consider Ezekiel 18:23,32. 
Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?” says the Lord GOD, “and not that he should turn from his ways and live…I have no pleasure in the death of one whodies,” says the Lord GOD. “Therefore turn and live!”
Here we find that God does not delight in the death of the wicked. To be sure, God ordains the death of the wicked--as He does all things--but He gets no fiendish enjoyment out of such things. God’s justice is manifested in the death of the wicked but He is not sadistic in His righteous wrath. That is, God reveals both His pleasure and His displeasure in His inscrutable dealings with sinners.

Thus, we may recognize the hand of God in all things and bask in the display of His glory, without delighting in the death--in and of itself--of wicked people.

Finally, I will end where we began. We looked at Proverbs 24:17, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles.” Now let’s read the conclusion of the thought: “Lest the LORD see it, and it displease Him, and He turn away His wrath from him” (Proverbs 24:18).

As we exult in the death our wicked enemies, are we failing to face the wickedness in ourselves? I love America, and sometimes love is blind. [As is hate.] But I clearly see, in the light of scripture, that America is a wicked nation. I do not need to delineate our national sins, but they are many.

Think of the judgment of God which rests upon our own people: an economy in shambles, a society spiraling downward into decadence, poor leadership in government [both civil and sacred], ten years of warfare with no end in sight, a lack of unity and a devaluing of national identity, etc. etc.

I echo the sentiments of Thomas Jefferson. “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.” These are sobering words, my friend. And also remember this: Those who joyously sang after God’s killing of the Egyptians in Exodus 15, were themselves judged by God. They wandered 40 years and never stepped a foot into the promised land.

And so we must be cautious when dancing on graves. Because someday the grave will be our own.