Thursday, December 31, 2065

Friday, September 6, 2013

Christian Apologetics: Who Needs It? by William Lane Craig

Resources by William Lane Craig on the importance and usefulness of apologetics for Christians, their children and in order to clear the ground for evangelism. Craig argues that apologetics, while not absolutely necessary, is nevertheless very useful, even critical and vital for evangelism and the spiritual stability of Christian believers.

Christian Apologetics: Who Needs It? by William Lane Craig
(video link)
A written version of the lecture above:
Christian Apologetics: Who Needs It?

In Intellectual Neutral by William Lane Craig
(video link)

William Lane Craig on Dealing with Doubt
(video link)

Links Dealing with the Inner Testimony of the Holy Spirit

Imagine a Christian living in Europe during the late Medieval period and not having apologetical material, nor even having a Bible or even being literate. Let's call him Abraham. His father was a Christian Crusader, his mother a Muslim who fell in love with his father in her homeland and followed him back to Europe. When it comes to the Bible and the Gospel all he has is the fragmentary stories he's heard from his local priest about God sending Jesus to earth to save sinners like himself. All around him there's tragedy, plagues, sickness and tyranny and his "friends" try to convince him (like Job's wife) to curse God, renounce Christianity and become an atheist like themselves. "Besides" they say, "there's no evidence that the world even ever began [i.e. a beginning to the universe]." Note that even Aquinas had difficulty arguing for a beginning of the universe armed as he was with Aristotelian philosophy. Since the expansion of the universe was not scientifically detected until the 20th century. Day after day his atheist friends bombard him with arguments for atheism; and in addition to that he wonders about the truth of Islam (the religion of his ancestors on his mother's side). What is a person like that to do? How can someone like that become or maintain being a Christian? That's why the doctrine of the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit is not only necessary apologetically, but in actuality. [This is also why the doctrine of election makes a lot of sense as well. But that's a topic for a different blog.] 

Articles by William Lane Craig:

Belief in God As Properly Basic (Q & A #195)

Is Appeal to the Witness of the Holy Spirit Question-Begging? (Q & A #237)

Witness of the Holy Spirit and Defeasibility of Christian Belief (Q & A #244)

Critique of Holy Spirit Epistemology (audio podcast 8/12/2013)

Answering Critics of the Inner Witness of the Spirit (audio podcast 8/17/2014)

Emotions and Deciding Whether Christianity Is True

Blind Faith?

What Is the Inner Witness of the Holy Spirit?
(video link)

Religious Experience: Subjective or Objective?
(video link)

Religious Epistemology
(video link)

Religious Epistemology Q&A Session
(video link)

Is Craig a fideist? by Steve Hays

The Internal Testimony of the Holy Spirit by James N. Anderson

Belief in God as Properly Basic by William Lane Craig

"Unveiling" The Hiddenness of God

Detecting and Finding God

Evidence and Arguments Against Materialism and Naturalism

Answering Moral Objections to the Bible

Could God Command a Christian to Kill?

A Rational, Pragmatic and Prudential Argument for Believing in God  

Book Reviews of Recent Atheist Authors 
by Christian Apologists

Monday, August 19, 2013

If Jesus Was A Cult Leader...

A common charge by atheists is that Jesus was prototype cult leader. Here's how one atheist put it to me:

Jesus is the prototype cult leader. 1) He established himself as an ultimate authority. 2) He claimed to be divine. 3) He demanded control over the actions and thoughts of his followers. Control he promised to maintain beyond the limitations of his earthly life. 4) He promised his followers unfathomable rewards for their devotion. 5) He told his followers that everything he asked of them was out of love.

I plan to respond to each of these one by one. But as I do, I'm leaving aside the (admittedly important) issue of whether Jesus actually did or said the things attributed to Him in the Gospels. Since the above atheistic quote criticizes the Jesus portrayed in the Gospels irrespective of their historicity. Similarly, I'll be examining the character of Jesus as portrayed in the Gospels.

First off,  it doesn't logically follow that if false teachers, false Messiahs, and false claimants to deity are wrong in claiming such prerogatives, that it would also be wrong for the True Divine Teacher and Messiah to claim such prerogatives. In other words, if Jesus is who Christians claim He is, then it would follow that Jesus had the prerogative to do all 5 things.

Regarding #1:
 In one sense He did. But at the same time He affirmed the authority of others. For example, Jesus affirmed the Scribes genuinely sat in Moses seat (Matt. 23:2). A cult leader wouldn't do that. Jesus also insisted John the Baptist baptize Him even though John himself thought it wasn't appropriate or necessary. Cult leaders don't naturally defer to others. They usually don't acknowledge the authority of others. They are often self-appointed and self-anointed or claim to be directly appointed by God without appeal to the testimony or authentication of others. Jesus submitted to John's Baptism and accepted John's designation of being the Lamb of God. Jesus also acknowledged the genuine authority of Pilate and said that he only had authority because it was given to Him from above (i.e. from God). Also, Jesus never contrasted His authority to that of Scripture. As the Son of God He could have "pulled rank" but He always claimed His authority was in keeping with the teaching and predictions of the Holy Scriptures. Some cult leaders will claim submission to some sacred Scripture, but others will deny any kind of authority over them (including a sacred text). Some leaders will claim to be in keeping with a text, but contradict it in actuality or in spirit. This wasn't the case with Jesus.

Regarding #2:
It is true that at times Jesus implicitly or explicitly claimed to be God. But notice that Jesus didn't openly claim it from the start. He didn't even do that with regard to His lesser claim of being the Messiah. All things being equal, a human claiming to be God would understandably be considered blasphemous by Jews, but it wasn't blasphemous to claim to be the Messiah. So, it wasn't for the purpose of saving His hide that He didn't always openly claim deity, since He did the same thing concerning His messiahship. Which is strange for a cult leader to do. For the most part, He let His works do the proclaiming (Matt. 11:2-6; John 5:36; 10:25; 38; 14:11). Though, there were times when He did explicitly claim to be Messiah and God.

Regarding #3:
It claims, "He demanded control over the actions and thoughts of his followers." If Jesus really was God's Messiah (in fact God in the flesh and the 2nd person of the Trinity) then such demands and allegiance was right, proper and to be expected. This isn't the place to discuss ethical theories. I and others have done that elsewhere, and I may provide links to such discussions some time in the future. Suffice it to say that I hold to Divine Command Essentialism whereby virtues flow from God's nature, while our duties to God flow from God's commands to His creatures. Commands which reflect and are grounded in His nature. It avoids the problem of arbitrariness found in Divine Voluntarism or common versions of Divine Command Theory. It also avoids the problems that Divine Essentialism has when applied to certain Biblical ethical commands (especially Old Testament). For example, the dietary laws and God's command to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac are problematic in common version of Divine Essentialism. Divine Command Essentialism (my view) solves the problem of whether God is sub lego (under law) or ex lex (outside of law). God is a law unto Himself because He is the very standard and paragon of virtue and goodness. Thus, this position solves the Euthyphro Dilemma posed by Socrates in Plato's Dialogues. The 3rd charge continues by saying, "...Control he promised to maintain beyond the limitations of his earthly life." Well, if Jesus was God, then He does possess that control. The fact that miracles have continued to happen in the name of Jesus down through Church history suggests that Jesus is exercising that power. See for example the following links:

The following is a link that leads you to Craig Keener's interview about his book on miracles. Both Keener and Michael Licona (the interviewer) share their experiences of supernatural healings in their own lives, in the lives of others, throughout church history and throughout the globe at the present time. The Link also includes a collection of blogs at Triablogue that discussed miracles in light of Keener's book.  Here's the LINK.

The following is a link to A.J. Gordon's book The Ministry of Healing: Miracles of Cure in All Ages

The following is a link to Thomas Boys' book The Suppressed Evidence: Or, Proofs of the Miraculous Faith and Experience of the Church of Christ In All Ages 

Leaving #4 for last, let's deal with #5. The claim is, "He told his followers that everything he asked of them was out of love." What would we expect from God but what Jesus actually said? Jesus taught that the greatest commandment was first to Love God with all one's heart, soul, mind and strength. Then secondly, to love one's neighbor as oneself. He also claimed that all the other commandments of God hung on these two commandments. Who could complain about such teachings and moral system? What better ethical "theory"? Really, only (or mostly) atheists would argue against it. Atheists, deists (or other sub-theistic supernaturalists) who don't like the idea of God having a right to give commands. Often they will claim that it isn't right or fair. But that begs the question of which moral theory is actually true or best. Christian philosophers have shown repeatedly that the Christian system is far superior to all other popular alternatives. Unless and until non-Christians can provide a coherent and justified alternative moral theory that does just as good or better than Christianity's, then they cannot consistently judge or evaluate Jesus' morality.

Maybe the charge is that Jesus falsely claimed that His commands were given out of His love for them. Well, if Jesus was a fraud, then that charge would stick. But it begs the question as to whether He was a fraud or not. If Jesus really was who He claimed to be, then He really did give His commands out of love and the world. This charge, like all the 5 charges begin with some attributes of frauds, con artists and cult leaders and then uses those attributes to judge and evaluate Jesus' ministry. But that's like using the behavior of a child molester to judge loving parents. Both child molestesr and loving parents may both provide the child candy, food, toys, entertainment et cetera. Just because there are similarities in behavior doesn't mean that the intentions of both are the same. Rather, the child molester will do those seemingly kind and loving things for ulterior motives. Including the motive of mimicking the behavior of good parents in order to deceive the children into placing their trust in them. This 5th charge is like using counterfeit money to judge genuine legal tender as counterfeit. OF COURSE, there will be similarities between the counterfeit and "the real McCoy." But you judge the counterfeit by the genuine article not the other way around!

Lastly, Regarding #4:
The claim is, "He promised his followers unfathomable rewards for their devotion." This is true. But if Jesus really did perform the miracles claimed in the Bible, then those who saw it would be warranted to conclude that Jesus probably is who He claimed to be and really is the Messiah sent by God. So, only on the presumption that Jesus never performed a miracle would such a charge have some weight. Of course, there's the possibility of demonically empowered miracles. However, the charge of Jesus being a cult leader is usually made with the assumption of materialism, naturalism and atheism. It would take us off topic to deal with the issue of the possibility of Jesus being demonically empowered. Though that's not to say that as a Christian I deny that some cult leaders are demonically empowered. I believe some are. Nor is this the place to argue for Christ's true messiahship and divinity.

Also, Jesus gave prospective disciples fair warning that following Him would be difficult and may require their physical death. Also, that even if they didn't physically die, they had to daily die to themselves and their natural sinful desires. Such devotion and obedience to love God and others as oneself is not only good, but would be too difficult a calling for people to hastily accept or to continue to attempt to fulfill. The standards of Jesus are so high, that if anyone seriously tried to fulfill them, they would either have to depend on God for the grace to keep on trying, or they would be hypocrites and false converts anyway. Anyone who thinks being a Christian is easy doesn't know what God requires. Or doesn't really attempt to obey. In fact, at any time, disciples were free to give up and apostatize. Jesus didn't hold a tight rein on His disciples. He required them to be self-disciplined and to receive grace from God to live out the Christian life. Unlike cult leaders, Jesus didn't have a program to personally kept them in check. There was no strong hierarchy of leaders to whom everyone had someone above him to keep him accountable. In fact, He repeatedly allowed His followers to leave His group without Him protesting or hindering them. He also repeatedly discouraged people from too quickly deciding to be His disciple. He admonished them to first "count the cost" of being His disciple (Luke 14:28-33).

Here's a list of questions we have to ask ourselves if we want to seriously consider the claim that Jesus was a cult leader. Admittedly, some of the following things attributed to Jesus might be done by some cult leaders. But not all cult leaders will do them. Nor will any of them do all of them. Reading all of the things listed below attributed to Jesus should have a cumulative effect in one's mind that one will have to not only seriously doubt that Jesus was a cult leader; but also doubt He's a fictional or mythical character as some atheists and agnostics claim. Reading the following list of questions may even lead one to concluded that Jesus really existed and is who the Bible claims He is.


  • Why did Jesus say, "Why do you call me good, Only God is good"? A cult leader would be the first to say that he himself was good. It wouldn't make sense if Jesus were a fraud and/or a cult leader. From a Christian perspective, I have to point out that on other occasions Jesus did say or imply He was without sin and was God. But why would He ever ask someone why he called Him good, as if to deny His goodness? By the way, Christians believe this WAS in fact a veiled reference to His own goodness and deity.

Christ said to a certain ruler: "Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God." (Mark x, 17, 18.) Christ did not deny that he himself was "good," nor did he deny that he himself was God; but the ruler had not acknowledged him to be God, and our Lord's question to the ruler was based upon that fact. It was as much as to say, As you do not confess me to be God, why call me good? Our Lord said: "There is none good but one, that is, God." It would follow from this that whoever is perfectly good must be God; but our Lord is perfectly, infinitely good, hence must be God........The dilemma, as regards the Socinians, has been well put (see Stier II, 283, note), either, 'There is none good but God; Christ is good; therefore Christ is God;' or, 'There is none good but God; Christ is not God; therefore Christ is not good.' " (Alford, in loco)
-Richard N. Davies book The Doctrine of the Trinity page 18-19

Yet we know that the Gospel writers and the other writers of the New Testament affirm Jesus' goodness.

  • Why did Jesus warn potential disciples of the difficulties that would ensue from following Him? That's a poor way for a cult leader to gather followers.

  • Why didn't Jesus do His very best to seek out disciples? On the contrary, Jesus sometimes did the opposite. For example, He limited His ministry to "the lost sheep of the House of Israel" (i.e. only the Jews). [cf. Matt. 10:6; 15:24]

  • Why did Jesus often do things and say things in a way so as not attract attention? Cult leaders usually want all the attention they can get.

  • Why did Jesus often make statements that He knew would offend people and result in people turning away and stop following Him? For example, in John chapter 6 His statements about eating His flesh and drinking His blood resulting in many people abandoning Him. In the text it's clear that while He was giving His teaching people were becoming offended, complained and were quarreling among themselves. He was clearly using a figure of speech. However, He didn't take the time to correct their misunderstanding. In fact, He explained their misunderstanding and inability to understand by appealing to predestination and the need for God to open people's eyes (John 6:37-39; 43-45; 63-66). Doing so would itself additionally repel some people as predestination still does today.

  • Why did Jesus allow disciples to freely come and go? Almost as if He didn't care if they continued following Him. There are many examples of this in the Gospels. Again, see John chapter 6. 

  •  Why didn't Jesus keep a tight rein on His disciples? Nor did He insist that they go everywhere He went.

  • Why did Jesus often go away into a secluded place like a mountain to pray alone or with a few of His disciples during times when He was being sought by the crowd? In one instance they were about to make Him their king (John 6:15).

  • Why did Jesus tell the Rich Young Ruler to sell everything and give it to the poor? If Jesus was cult leader, He would most likely have told him to give HIM (i.e. Jesus) the money. Or at least a portion of it.

  • Why would Jesus often leave areas where He was still warmly welcomed? Irrespective of His reception in any particular area He would promptly leave to continue His itinerant (i.e. traveling) preaching and healing ministry. That's not how one would act if one's goal was to garner as many followers as possible. [Mark 1:38-39; Luke 4:43 cf. John 9:4-5]

  • Why did Jesus remain an itinerant preacher roaming from place to place? Capernaum may have been His "headquarters" of sorts, but He wasn't always there. He didn't eventually settle down in one location. He didn't attempt to build a private Kingdom like some modern tycoons or televangelists.

  • Why didn't Jesus start a community or town like other Messianic claimants? Think of Muhammad, Jim Jones, David Koresh.

  • Why did Jesus hang around those considered extreme sinners to preach to them when He knew that the religious leaders would look down on Him for it and renounce Him as a false teacher and a sinner Himself? That's how He got the reputation of being a "friend of publicans and sinners" and a drunkard (Luke 7:34).

  • Why did Jesus intentionally provoke the leaders of the religious communities by doing things to make them angry? Like healing the sick on the Sabbath (which He did multiple times). Allowing His disciples to eat with unwashed hands. Allowing disciples to pick grains of corn on the Sabbath. This is a way to make religious and political enemies, not friends. It's true that some cult leaders and groups thrive on opposing the establishment. Others groups like Catholicism, Mormonism, Scientology try to rub shoulders with the cultural elite. Not so with Jesus. Jesus 1. didn't align Himself with the established groups. Yet 2. He also opposed them while 3. at the same time affirming and acknowledging their genuine authority as religious groups [Matt. 23:2-3] along with the authority of the government [Matt. 22:21; John 19:11]. That's not the likely behavior of a cult leader.Jesus didn't AGGRESSIVELY wage war against the religious and/or political system from within or without by physical and/or rhetorical means. Jesus attempted to reformed and correct the religious establishments without denouncing and delegitimizing them en toto (i.e. in every way and sense).  

  • Why did Jesus acknowledge the authority and leadership position of other religious figures? For example, that the Scribes genuinely sat in "Moses Seat." He affirmed the authority of the Sanhedrin and to some degree the authority of the Pharisees, Saducees and scribes. Cultists usually don't like to affirm the legitimacy of outside spiritual authority. Rather than deny their authority altogether, He denounced their hypocrisy.

  • Why did Jesus approve of people who were not in His group but who were casting out demons in His name, rather than telling them they should stop because they weren't part of His clique? Rather than commending them, He should have been denouncing and delegitimizing them if He were a cult leader. See Mark 9:38-39; Luke 9:49-50

  • Why would Jesus warn people that following Him might entail losing their physical lives? In fact, He positively required them to daily die to themselves and take up their cross. Cult leaders sometimes require this, but not all of them do because they know that it's difficult to get people to be willing martyrs and to choose things contrary to self-interest and pleasure.

  • Why did Jesus secretly go to Jerusalem when it was time for the feast and crowds were gathering?
2 Now the Jews' Feast of Booths was at hand.3 So his brothers said to him, "Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing.4 For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world."5 For not even his brothers believed in him.6 Jesus said to them, "My time has not yet come, but your time is always here.7 The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil.8 You go up to the feast. I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come."9 After saying this, he remained in Galilee.- John 7:2-9

  • Why did Jesus often hide or veil His claim to be the Messiah? Many messianic claimants both before and after Jesus' time weren't hesitant or shy to proclaim they were the Messiah.

  • Why did Jesus often veil His claim to deity using studied ambiguity? Admittedly, Jesus did sometimes explicitly claim His messiahship and/or deity, but usually it was merely implicit.

  • Why didn't Jesus brazenly and openly claim to be God like other cult leaders? Some might say that it was to protect Himself so that He wasn't stoned for blasphemy. The problem with this answer is that Jesus would often implicitly claim to be God knowing that it would cause some to want to stone Him. And on a few occasions it almost did. Moreover, Jesus seemed to have orchestrated His own eventual and timed death.

  • Why tell Peter, James and John to keep the vision of Jesus' transfiguration to themselves for the meantime? Like His performing of miracles, this experience was a good opportunity to make more disciples. Admittedly, people would have to believe on the basis of the three Apostles' mere testimony, but no doubt SOME people would become convinced. Even if it was a complete lie. Why not allow Peter, James and John to testify of their claimed supernatural experience?

  • Why did Jesus choose the Apostles that He did when He was preaching a gospel of love and ethical behavior? Peter, Andrew, James and John were 1st century equivalents of "blue collar" working fishermen. Peter was rash and quick tempered. Not thoughtful and tactful. Matthew was a despised Tax Collector. Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas were trouble makers and disreputable. Many biographers of the Apostles suggest that these last three Apostles may have all been strong dissenters of the Roman government. Maybe even revolutionaries (like Simon in all liklihood since he's called a "Zealot").

    Why didn't Jesus choose people who were from the upper class or "white collar" workers to be His disciples? Clearly, He attracted some followers from those groups. Both before and after the events described in the first chapter of Acts. In the book of Acts, some of the Jewish leaders apparently became Christians.

  •  Why didn't Jesus raise up an army or mob to fight the Romans?

  • Why did Jesus only allow 12 Apostles and around 70 other people to be His close disciples when there were multitudes who thronged Him in His healing campaigns? Repeatedly the Gospels say He knew what was in people's hearts and that because of that He didn't entrust Himself to them. See John 2:24-25 cf. Matt. 9:4; Mark 2:8.

  • Why didn't Jesus surround Himself with a harem of women? Cult leaders often surround themselves with women like Muhammad did. There's one instance when Muhammad claimed to receive a revelation from Allah commanding him to marry his adopted son's divorcee. Something so convenient since he previously desired her. Muhammad had over 10 wives, yet Jesus never married.

  • Why did Jesus discourage divorce and uphold traditional marriage? By doing so, He would prevent the possibility of attracting people into His group who wanted unlimited divorces as a form of legal wife swapping. That could have potentially attracted rich men who could afford to have multiple wives and sons and who could also line Jesus' pockets. Also, by upholding the sanctity of monogamous marriage, it prevented Him from having a harem like Muhammad. By discouraging divorce He was limiting the possibility of His marrying a divorced woman or adding her to His harem. Jesus' ethical standard was high. He didn't promote adultery, polygamy, fornication, or polyamorous relationships as some cults and cult leaders do (think Mormonism, Islam etc.).

  • Why did Jesus allow Himself to be baptized by an odd preacher who lived in the wilderness wore camel's hair and ate locusts and wild honey? A preacher looked down upon by the religious establishment. If one is going to be a strange leader, one might as well begin as a strange/odd leader by oneself. Of course, it's possible to start up a religious movement with good intentions at the beginning and then later to decline morally and become a fraud. But neither Jesus' beginning, ending or intervening ministry show any signs or hints of corruption.

  • Why did Jesus willingly get water baptized by John the Baptist (contrary to John's own protestation)? Cult leaders usually don't like to imply that their authority is derived or must be authenticated. Or that they were anointed, or appointed, or "ordained" by someone else. If they do claim it is derived, they will usually claim it was directly from God. That way they don't have to be accountable to anyone. Also, it would be difficult to dispute such a claim. Conveniently, no one saw Joseph Smith do the things he claimed (e.g. being visited by the angel Moroni). Also, it affords them the luxury of not having to show others who approved of them or authenticates their message and authority. Of course other cult leaders on the other hand have directly claimed to be God themselves.

  • Why didn't Jesus always and consistently acknowledge that His authority came from God? On one occasion when He was officially asked point blank where His authority came from and He didn't directly say it was from God. Instead He asked them a question, which if they answered, He would have answered them theirs. The question was, where they thought John the Baptist's authority came from. Cult leaders normally won't leave it unclear as to whether they are from God or not whenever there's a question in the people's mind. Or leave it unclear that they are God or not if they claim to be God. Jesus didn't do that. He seemed to trust that those whom God predestined to open the eyes of to believe would. See Matt. 13:10-17; Mark 4:10-12; Luke 8:9-10. See also those times when Jesus said "If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear." [Mark 4:9; 4:23, 7:16; Luke 8:8; 14:35]

  • Why did Jesus approvingly pay the temple tax and commend the woman who gave her two small copper coins? By His own admission "the children are free" (Matt. 17:26). Sure cultist leaders are often willing to pay their taxes lest they get in trouble with the government. But this wasn't a tax by the Roman government. It was a religious tax for the temple. Therefore, the political ramifications wouldn't be too great if Jesus refused to pay. If anything, it would be the perfect opportunity to deny the authority of the religious establishment, thumb His nose at them, and affirm His own autonomous authority.

  • Why did Jesus make statements that initially offended and embarrassed Nicodemus? He was a potential ally within the religious community. A member of the Sanhedrin no less!

  • Why did Jesus say that He didn't know when the Son of Man (speaking of Himself) would return? Many scholars believe that saying is genuine precisely because of the principle of the Criterion of Embarrassment. No later Christian would attribute that saying to Jesus because it would appear to teach too low a Christology. That's why even very skeptical atheistic scholars accept its authenticity. See Mark 13:32. A shrewd cult leader would say he knew the day but that it was for their best interest for them not to know. Or that he wasn't permitted to say.

  • Why did Jesus  intentionally speak in parables so that people wouldn't understand Him?  In fact, His speaking about eating His flesh and drinking His blood was so radical that many people stopped following Him (see John 6). cf. Matt. 13:10-17, Mark 4:10-12; Luke 8:8-10

  • Why did Jesus say "For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."? Cult leaders don't normally say this sort of thing or model it by their behavior. Rather, cult leaders will say and do things so that they will be served.

    27 For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves.- Luke 22:27

    4 [Jesus] rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself.5 After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.- John 13:4-5

    12    So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you?13 You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am.14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.15 For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.16 Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him.- John 13:12-16

    28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."- Matt. 20:28

    45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."- Mark 10:45

  • Why didn't Jesus usually try to defend Himself against the accusations of the chief priests and high priest? Cult leaders would rather ignore the criticisms of other religious and political leaders. However, when placed in a situation where it would be in their self interest to defend themselves and to their detriment if they didn't, they usually will defend themselves verbally and legally (often with well paid lawyers). Jesus never defended Himself in that way. He usually just made affirmations and minimally defend Himself for clarification's sake. He would make sure that He spoke in a way that people ought to have understood, but at the same time He didn't go out of His way to always make things absolutely clear; trusting in God's grace to open the eyes of those whom God elected (as mentioned above concerning predestination).

  • Why didn't Jesus try to save Himself from Herod and Pilate? If He had explained Himself, His mission and message more clearly, they may not have had Him crucified.

  • Why did Jesus endanger His life repeatedly? For example they were about to throw Him off a cliff in Luke 4 because of His message. Throughout His ministry He intentionally provoked the religious leaders to the point that they wanted Him dead. Sometimes it was because they understood Him. Other times because of a misunderstanding that Jesus could have easily cleared up.

  • Why would Jesus speak and minister to the Samaritan woman at the well? Being a Samaritan, she was considered by the Jews worse than a Gentile because she came from a race that were "half-breeds." They were part Gentile and part Jewish. Which was considered an abomination to them. Yet Jesus spoke to her prohetically contrary to His disciples expectations. Same thing with the miracle Jesus eventually granted to the Syrophoenician woman.

  • Why would Jesus send out His top disciples two by two to preach rather than keep them around Him so as to serve Him and protect Him from scandal or help Him hide His indiscretions? Also, cult leaders like to keep their inner followers close to them least they start to think for themselves.
  • Why did Jesus challenge His accusers and critics to prove Him of committing sin. A cult leader would be hesitant to make such a challenge.

    Which of you convicts Me of sin? And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me?- John 8:46

    30 I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He
    [i.e. the Devil] has no claim on me,31 but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here.- John 14:30-31
  • Why didn't Jesus encourage the natural desire to "be somebody [important]" in His apostles and disciples? On the contrary, He said that the greatest among them would be the one willing to be servant of all. Mark 9:33-35; 10:35-44

  • Why would Jesus contrast Gentiles rulers who exercise their authority in such a way that they "lord it over" their subjects with the way Christians leaders should treat the laity? If Jesus were a cult leader, He and His closest associates would love "lording it over" the lower class followers. Mark 10:42

42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, "You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."- Mark 10:42-45

  • Why did Jesus allow the children to come to Him? Cult leaders would rather not have to deal with messy and insignificant children. Sure, some cult leaders will sometimes take the time to meet with children for the purposes of public relations. But this is just one more datum that should be considered when thinking about the character of Jesus. There's a cumulative effect of all these questions that lead one to suspect Jesus was at least sincere and not a fraud. Matt. 19:13-14; Mark 10:13-14; Luke 18:15-16

  • Why did Jesus strongly encourage people to forgive other people the sins committed against them? He even taught that if we didn't forgive other people that God wouldn't forgive us. That's a radical statement in light of the fact that cult leaders like to harness other people's bitterness, resentment and anger for their own purposes. Those things segregate people. Forgiveness promotes interaction of various groups. Something which is detrimental to the stability of closely-knit cults.

  • Why would Jesus say things like He did in Mark 12:38? The things Jesus denounces are the very things cultists like to do, have and experience. Clearly Jesus didn't do such things openly. Otherwise He would have been branded a flaming hypocrite. Doing them in private would be difficult because of the things I pointed out above.
    And in his teaching he said, "Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces39 and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts,40 who devour widows' houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation."- Mark 10:38-39

  • If Jesus was a fraud, how would one explain Paul's conversion to Christianity? There are some naturalistic explanations atheists give. However, none of them are really convincing. One has to take seriously the fact that Paul was a rising star in Judaism. He was advancing quickly in the ranks of his fellow Jews. Why would he abandon the future success, notoriety, comfort and financial security he was almost certain to have gained in Judaism and trade all that for the shame, persecution and hardship of being a Christian. Nevertheless, he converted knowing he would become a major target of persecution since he was a major convert that embarrassed his former peers.

As I said above, while some of the things Jesus did might be done by some cult leaders on occasion, they wouldn't say or do ALL of the things attributed to Jesus of Nazareth. From a Christian perspective, reading all these things about the alleged character of Jesus ought to have a cumulative effect on the psyche of the people who read the Gospels. It ought to naturally lead one to seriously consider whether Jesus really was and is who and what the Christian church claims Him to be. In one sense the Jesus of the Gospels seems too good to be true. Yet at the same time, by the Holy Spirit's inner witness, that's precisely why it's too good not to be true. If, you're not a Christian, I encourage you to prayerfully read through the Gospels and consider if they don't have the ring of truth to them.

If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!"
- Mark 7:16

Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember?
- Mark 8:18

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Detecting and Finding God

 (Last updated/edited 6/23/14)

This blog should be read in conjunction with my other blog HERE.

Some theologians like Gordon Clark point out that (assuming the concept of God is logically coherent) it would be difficult to disprove the existence of God since it would be like trying to prove that there is no naturally buried gold in Alaska. To prove that there IS natural gold buried in Alaska would be as simple as finding said gold. It might be found one foot away and one inch deep from where you first started digging. However, to prove there is NO gold in Alaska, one would have to search all of Alaska and then, after that exhaustive (LITERALLY, *g*) inductive search could one finally make the claim with certainty that there is no gold buried in Alaska. However, most modern atheists don't believe they need to disprove the existence of God since they claim the burden of proof is on those who assert God DOES exist.

According to a widely believed story, the great atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell was once asked what he would say if he found himself standing before God on Judgement Day and God asked him, "Why didn’t you believe in Me?" Russell replied, "I would say, ‘Not enough evidence, God!  Not enough evidence!'"

Atheists also like to quote W.K. Clifford's maxim, "[I]t is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence." However, how much evidence is "sufficient"? Must the evidence be of such a kind and such a degree that it forces/compels one to believe in the existence of God in order for it to be "sufficient" and for human beings to be morally responsible before God? Why assume that?

Also, is it even possible to inductively prove with apodictic certainty that God exists? Isn't it logically possible for even the angels and saints in heaven to rationally speculate (assuming we're limiting ourselves to inductive reasoning at present and ignoring issues like the Inner Testimony of the Holy Spirit) that they might be in a computer simulation or that there might be a greater God who is above and more powerful than the one they have been worshipping? It seems that no matter how many demonstrations of His power and wisdom God may provide finite creatures, those finite creatures can only experience and examine the demonstrations in a finite way. Also, since (as the saying goes)  "the finite cannot contain the infinite," no amount of direct experience of God could lead one to apodictic certainty that it's an experience of the one true and greatest God. Furthermore, any sentient being who lacks omniscience could always question the veridical nature of his/her conscious experiences.

How then can theists solve these problems?

As a Calvinist, I can only speak as a Calvinist. Calvinists surmount these problems by the Biblically derived teachings of election, regeneration, the testimony of the Holy Spirit, and the self-attesting nature of Scripture. These are in addition to other standard/common Christian beliefs about our mental faculties being designed by God for rationality, our ability to acquire information, the general reliability of our sense perceptions, of our brains, bodies, minds and environment being adapted to one another etc.

According to Calvinism, God elected some humans to salvation "before" the creation of the world, and in time God regenerates them by enabling them to be able to understand and accept spiritual truth. Then, by the self-authenticating internal testimony of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the elect coupled with the external testimony of Scripture (or Scriptural truth if one doesn't have access to the Bible) elect believers can know with fallible but yet sufficient certainty that Christianity is true.

[Historically, there has been disagreement among Calvinists about the nature of "assurance". Specifically, whether Christians can have an infallible certainty of their gracious state (and therefore by extension their election). This disagreement seems to have implications regarding the nature of the universal knowledge of God, whether it's actual and whether it's infallible.]

As one notable Calvinist put it, "I believe in this infallible book, in the last analysis, because 'of the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the word in my heart.' " [alluding to the WCF]

Does that mean that humans can't affect their eternal destinies by looking for God and examining the various evidences for God? No, it doesn't. One cannot change their pre-ordained destiny, but one can affect it because God ordains both the ends as well as the means; all the while upholding causal relations. In other words, God providentially predestines not only what will happen, but how they will happen.

So, if God ordained that a person will be saved, then God also ordained the means to their salvation. That can include things like their 1. seeking for God, 2. examining the evidences, 3. praying, 4. reading the Bible, 5. studying apologetics et cetera.

It will be argued, "Sure, God may also ordain the means, but people will not actually seek God unless and until God first regenerates them so that they can genuinely and sincerely seek after God." The charges and assumptions being, that it's not possible for people to initiate a search for God. And that therefore there's no point in admonishing people to search for God. Also, unless they first have reason to believe they are regenerated (and/or numbered among the elect), they have no reason to have confidence or expectation that their search will be fruitful and that they will, in the end, actually find God. But those are false inferences. God's promise that those who sincerely seek Him will find Him stand (e.g. James 4:8; John 6:37b; Matt. 11:28-30; Isa. 55:6-7; Jer. 29:13; Ps. 145:18; cf. James 1:8.; Luke 11:9-10; Heb. 11:6). That's true whether one is regenerated or not. Moreover, God doesn't require either the elect or non-elect to know they are regenerated or elect before they can seek after Him. Humans are free moral agents (even if they don't have libertarian free wills as Calvinism implies). Being free moral agents created by God, all humans have the duty to seek after God and believe in Him regardless of the possibility of their success in that search.

Given Calvinism, both the elect and non-elect can "search" for God, but only the elect will sincerely, honestly and persistently search for Him because of regeneration. Since a knowledge of one's regeneration isn't essential to saving faith, everyone can have personal psychological hope that they might find God by searching for Him.

Therefore, regarding those who are currently non-Christians, for all they know, God will use their search for Him (whether it's currently sincere or insincere) to eventually lead to their finding Him. Their search which may have begun insincerely may end up being sincere by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. So, we are all without excuse if we fail to search for God.

According to general Evangelical Christianity (whether Calvinist, Arminian, Lutheran etc.), there is sufficient evidence for God's existence in many fields and sources of inquiry and experience. Among Evangelicals there is disagreement as to what that sufficiency entails. By "sufficient" most Evangelicals mean there is enough evidence so that God's existence not only can be detected, but that it's sufficiently clear and pervasive that all humans are without excuse. Some Calvinists even insist that the evidence for God's existence cannot be escaped and that it is necessarily the case that all humans know God. That is, that all humans directly know that God their Creator, whom they are accountable to, exists. While I'm open to that position (being a Van Tillian apologetically), my tentative/provisional position is that all humans existentially know that God exists, even if they don't necessarily or always rationally know (on the surface of their consciousnesses) that God exists. [See the following links for an article by Paul Manata that has led me to no longer dogmatically hold the traditional Van Tillian view that all human beings actually know God. The links are HERE or HERE of the same article. It caused quite a stir in the Van Tillian community, e.g. HERE]

This is where certain quotes from Blaise Pascal are useful for the Christian apologist/evangelist and the non-Christian seeker. Here are those quotes from his Pensées:

Willing to appear openly to those who seek him with all their heart, and to be hidden from those who flee from him with all their heart, God so regulates the knowledge of himself that he has given indications [or "signs"] of himself which are visible to those who seek him and not to those who do not seek him. There is enough light for those to see who only desire to see, and enough obscurity for those who have a contrary disposition.

Elsewhere in his Pensées he wrote:

The prophecies, the very miracles and proofs of our religion, are not of such a nature that they can be said to be absolutely convincing. But they are also of such a kind that it cannot be said that it is unreasonable to believe them. Thus there is both evidence and obscurity to enlighten some and confuse others. But the evidence is such that it surpasses, or at least equals, the evidence to the contrary; so that it is not reason which can determine men not to follow it, and thus it can only be lust or malice of heart. And by this means there is sufficient evidence to condemn, and insufficient to convince; so that it appears in those who follow it, that it is grace, and not reason, which makes them follow it; and in those who shun it, that it is lust, not reason, which makes them shun it. [bold used for emphasis by me]

According to these quotes, the disposition of the seeker is a determining factor as to whether people will actually find God. The persuasiveness of the evidence is "in the heart of the beholder." A useful analogy would be the multiple possible perceptions of optical illusions. For example, is the picture below that of an old or young woman? Depending on one's neurological "wiring", one will naturally see a young or old woman upon first encountering this classic illusion.

 Another analogy that can help explain how one's attitude, point of view and disposition can influence the interpretation of the evidence is the old "Half Full or Half Empty" rhetorical question.

It can also be explained in this following anonymous story.

The Cricket

A Native American and his friend were in downtown New York City, walking near Times Square in Manhattan. It was during the noon lunch hour and the streets were filled with people. Cars were honking their horns, taxicabs were squealing around corners, sirens were wailing, and the sounds of the city were almost deafening. Suddenly, the Native American said, "I hear a cricket."

His friend said, "What? You must be crazy. You couldn't possibly hear a cricket in all of this noise!"

"No, I'm sure of it," the Native American said, "I heard a cricket."

"That's crazy," said the friend.

The Native American listened carefully for a moment, and then walked across the street to a big cement planter where some shrubs were growing. He looked into the bushes, beneath the branches, and sure enough, he located a small cricket. His friend was utterly amazed.

"That's incredible," said his friend. "You must have super-human ears!"

"No," said the Native American. "My ears are no different from yours. It all depends on what you're listening for."

"But that can't be!" said the friend. "I could never hear a cricket in this noise."

"Yes, it's true," came the reply. "It depends on what is really important to you. Here, let me show you."

He reached into his pocket, pulled out a few coins, and discreetly dropped them on the sidewalk. And then, with the noise of the crowded street still blaring in their ears, they noticed every head within twenty feet turn and look to see if the money that tinkled on the pavement was theirs.

"See what I mean?" asked the Native American. "It all depends on what's important to you."

It's true that for Calvinists, we believe regeneration by God is what provides the disposition to be convinced by the evidence and to believe. But as I explained above, we are all naturally able to "search" for God in some sense and therefore are without excuse if we fail to search or stop searching because there is sufficient evidence (at the very least) in General Revelation. And since there are plenty of pragmatic and prudential reasons for believing in God, or at least to continue seeking after God for one's entire life even if the various rational arguments (thus far presented) for God's existence (allegedly) fail. See my A Rational, Pragmatic and Prudential Argument for Believing in God 

In his An Introduction to Systematic Theology Cornelius Van Til wrote:

That even Reformed philosophers and theologians do not always make full use of the riches found in Calvin's Institutes may be briefly pointed out by a reference to the work of Gordon H. Clark, A Christian Philosohy of Education. He says that the position of the atheist and pantheist in actually or virtually denying that there is a Creator is untenable. If a discoverer of an uninhabited island were to search its confines for a particular form of animal life, he might fail to find it. [He then quotes Gordon Clark]
He could not be sure, however that the particular animal had never lived on the island, because, even though the search had been diligent, still tomorrow the remains might be discovered. Similarly, it is clear that no finite amount of searching could rationally lead one to deny the existence of God. During the time of the atheist's investigation of this earth, it just might be that God was hiding on the other side of the moon, and if some rocket should take the atheist to the moon, there is no reason to hold that God might not go over to Jupiter–for the express purpose of inconveniencing the atheist.
[Van Til goes on to comment] But a God who can thus escape to the moon or to Jupiter is not inconveniencing the atheist at all. On the contrary, he shows himself to be so finite, so insignificant, that the atheist can cover the whole earth without being confronted by him [i.e.  God]. This is the exact reverse of the teaching of Calvin, based on Paul, that God is divinity and power [ I suspect this is a typo and should read "that God's divinity and power" ], being always and everywhere so obviously present that he who says there is no God is a fool. The foolishness of the denial of the Creator lies precisely in the fact that this Creator confronts man in every fact so that no fact has any meaning for man except it be seen as God's creation. [pages 173-174 2nd edition edited by William Edgar; bold used for emphasis by me]
 I agree with Van Til that the evidence for God's existence is sufficient that one cannot escape being confronted with evidence for God's existence. However, I'm not so sure that all humans actually rationally know that God exists, even if I am certainly persuaded that they OUGHT to know that He exists because of the evidence in general revelation (both within them and external to them), not to mention the self-attesting evidence of special revelation found in the Bible (of which, admittedly, not everyone is exposed to). So, even if it is the case that not all men know that God exists, they nevertheless ought to know God exists since there is the moral category of culpable ignorance as well as vincible ignorance. This doesn't contradict my earlier statement that while not all men necessarily know rationally that God exists, they do so existentially.

And so, it is logically possible for the evidence for God to be sufficiently clear that all should and could know that God exists, and yet at the same time the evidence could be sufficiently vague enough (by God's design) so that God's existence is not rationally coercive.

A final and highly important consideration must also be factored into the issue of the detection and finding of God. It is the issue of the effects of the Fall on people's hearts and minds. The three main branches of Christianity (Catholicism, Protestantism, Orthodoxy, not to mention Anabaptism and the various other ancient Catholic churches etc.) differ on the nature of Original Sin and depravity (e.g. it's effects and whether they are passed on or not et cetera). The issues are complex and can't be dealt with here. But a common thread in the various views is that somehow sin affects our ability and/or willingness to accept God's existence.

In the history of Christianity there have been 4 basic views on the nature of our receptivity to God. I'll summarize (maybe oversimplify) them here:

1. Pelagian view

2. Semi-Pelagian view

3. Prevenient Grace or Initiating Grace view

4. Sufficient Grace or Efficacious Grace view

1. The Pelagian view teaches that all humans are born in the moral state Adam was created in. According to this view, people can live in such a way that they can both merit and earn salvation by their own works apart from the salvation provided in Christ. The grace of God can help and aid in one's salvation, but it's not absolutely necessary. This view has been universally and categorically rejected by the Christian church.

2. The Semi-Pelagian view teaches that God's grace is absolutely necessary for salvation (unlike Pelagianism). People cannot be saved without the grace of God. People do need God's grace, however they are already free enough morally to exercise their free wills to accept or reject God's grace for salvation apart from the internal work of prevenient grace taking the first step. In Semi-Pelagianism, God OR MAN can initiate man's salvation. That is to say, man can, of himself, respond to God's grace and offer of salvation apart from God's grace making the first step and initiating salvation. God's grace (in this view) doesn't need to first work in a person to draw them to a response to God. Sometimes Semi-Pelagianism is interpreted to mean that ONLY man can initiate his salvation. But historically Semi-Pelagianism's error was more modest than that. Technically, Semi-Pelagianism doesn't deny that God could (and sometimes does) initiate salvation. The error of Semi-Pelagianism is the idea that SOMETIMES MAN CAN INITIATE his salvation by his free will response to offered grace. Semi-Pelagianism was rejected at the (2nd) Council of Orange (in 529 A.D.). The decrees and teaching of Orange were somehow lost for most of the Middle Ages but approximately around the time of the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation they were rediscovered. And so now, at the present time, Catholicism, most branches of Protestantism, Eastern Orthodoxy (and others) all reject Semi-Pelagianism and Pelagianism. In summary, the error of Semi-Pelagianism is NOT that it denies the necessity of subsequent grace (or  co-operating grace in Catholicism) in living the Christian life (after becoming a Christian). Rather, the Semi-Pelagian error is in denying the NECESSITY of initiating/prevenient grace (or operating grace in Catholicism) in order to become a Christian. Here's a link to Arminian Roger Olson's blog on Semi-Pelagianism and Prevenient Grace.

 [Nota Bene: I used the phrase "becoming a Christian" rather than "conversion" because "becoming a Christian" is the more general and all encompassing phrase. Becoming a Christian is understood differently by different denominations since some believe children become Christians upon infant baptism, while others believe it requires conscious and intentional conversion. As a credobaptist Protestant, I believe in the latter (i.e. conversion). Whereas a Catholic would believe there is initiating grace infused during infant baptism. For adult converts, Catholics would agree that before the person believed on Christ, God's initiating and operating grace was first working in the person which lead the person to be able to freely convert. Besides the various Catholic denominations, there are also Protestant denominations that practice infant baptism and so sometimes also believe prevenient grace is involved.]

The following TWO views correctly reject the idea that SOMETIMES man can initiate his salvation, or that ONLY man can initiate salvation. The following two views affirm that ONLY GOD can initiate salvation.

 3. The Prevenient Grace (or Initiating or Enabling Grace) view is the majority view in the Church. Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and most Protestants and Evangelicals (e.g. Arminians and other non-Calvinists) hold to this view. It teaches that God's grace must first work in the hearts of people before they can then freely accept God's grace for salvation (hence the word "initiating" and the "pre" in the word "prevenient"). It's a pre-regenerating form of grace. While Catholics believe one can merit one's salvation (by the enablement of grace), and Evangelicals deny it can be merited, both Catholics and Evangelicals deny one can earn or strictly merit salvation (since they both reject Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism). For Evangelicals who hold to prevenient grace the Fall wounded men's minds and wills such that God's grace must first heal it so that it can now freely receive or reject God's free offer of salvation. Prevenient grace doesn't leave men merely indifferent or neutral. It also draws and woos people to respond to God's grace. As Roger Olson described it, " is an operation of the Holy Spirit that frees the sinner’s will from bondage to sin and convicts, calls, illumines and enables the sinner to respond to the gospel call with repentance and faith (conversion)."

4. The Sufficient Grace or Efficacious Grace view is the view that Calvinists hold. Calvinism goes further than (far beyond) the prevenient grace view and says that not only is God's grace necessary, it's also sufficient. That when God begins a work of salvific grace in a person, that person  will definitely, certaintly and inexorably come to saving faith in Christ and be saved. This is my view. It is usually considered a form of Augustinianism. While prevenient grace is sometimes called a form of Semi-Pelagianism, I personally think that's a poor label. In my opinion, it's erroneous to call Prevenient Grace a form of Semi-Pelagianism. Unfortunately, many of my fellow Calvinists do so. I think the prevenient grace view should be called a form of Semi-Augustianism. Either that or call it Augustinianism and the Calvinist View Ultra-Augustinianism (or Supra-Augustinianism) since there are facets of Calvinistic theology that go way beyond Aurelius Augustine's own doctrines. Rather than the human search for God as the reason why some humans find God, in Calvinism God is ultimately the one who "finds" human beings (i.e. reveals Himself to them) [cf. Rom. 10:20].

Both Calvinistic Evangelicals and (most) Non-Calvinistic Evangelicals (e.g. Arminians) believe that humans are so depraved (apart from grace) that they suppress the evidence for God's existence because there is a universal (but unnaturally natural) aversion to God, His Holiness and His commandments/requirements. So that has bearing on the issue of the "sufficiency" of the evidence for God's existence. For many Arminian-like Evangelicals, they believe that God is constantly wooing non-Christians by his Prevenient Grace, but because of their depravity and their use of the libertarian free wills they often continue to suppress the evidence for God in their hearts and so continue to reject God (even though Prevenient Grace has enabled them now to freely accept or reject God's offered salvation since it offset the effects of natural depravity). Calvinists on the other hand believe that all humans are beneficiaries of Common Grace, but that only God's redemptive Special Grace is sufficient to overcome natural depravity. That is why for the Calvinist depravity is "Total" while for the Arminian it is not "Total" since it teaches that human free will coupled with prevenient grace is sufficient to overcome depravity if people properly apply their free wills aided by grace.

To sum up, options #3 and #4 are within the pale of Christian orthodoxy and should be factored into the issue of the possible detection and discovery of God along with whether there is "sufficient" evidence for God's existence.

See also my comments in the  combox of Steve Hays' blogpost:
Calvinism meets Street Epistemology 

 I recommend another of my blogs where I explore possible reasons why God might intentionally make His existence somewhat vague: "Unveiling" The Hiddenness of God

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

"Unveiling" The Hiddenness of God

(Last updated/edited 9/17/16)

This blog should be read in conjunction with my other blog HERE.

Truly, you are a God who hides himself,
O God of Israel, the Savior.
– Isaiah 45:15

Many of the various objections to Christianity are directly or indirectly related to the topic of the Hiddenness of God (sometimes abbreviated in this blog as "HoG"). For example, the HoG has bearing on the Problem of Evil and Suffering ("PoE").  PoE is considered by most authorities (philosophical, theological, apologetical,  atheological etc.) to be the number one objection to Christianity [both logically and emotionally]. In recent years many books and essays have been written addressing the HoG. But in comparison to the problem of evil, the HoG has barely been addressed or grappled with. Here are some of my thoughts concerning the HoG. In the following I'll be combining and highlighting the insights that other writers have made with my own comments. Obviously, I won't be able to cover all the worthy contributions made on this topic by better writers.

A basic objection to Christianity based on the HoG is often stated this way, "Why isn't God's existence more obvious and clear? Why hasn't God made His existence undeniable?" For example, why doesn't God use the stars in the sky to write in every major language "I, God, exist and Jesus Christ is my Son"?

In Christianity, God not only created humans, but He also created angels. When He did, He created them in such a way that it was impossible for the angels to not know He existed. That is, they couldn't escape knowing that God exists. The angels had that epistemological advantage of knowing with certainty that God existed. But the disadvantage of that scenario was that their belief, obedience, and devotion to God was, in a sense, "coerced." They didn't have the opportunity to demonstrate their obedience and devotion as being willing and freely committed. That's the exact opposite when it comes to the situation human beings find themselves in.  Unlike Adam and Eve who were directly created by God or Moses and the Exodus generation, humans are generally born in situations where God's existence is not absolutely and rationally certain (or nearly so) or coerced due to strong evidence (e.g. the miracles in Moses' ministry). In that sense, human beings are that much freer (than angels) to willingly choose to believe, obey and be devoted to God despite all obstacles, difficulties and doubts. We humans have the opportunity to show by our daily living that we desire God to exist and are committed to believing and obeying Him, even when it gets difficult to believe or when faith is wavering. Humans get the opportunity to more freely choose for or against God and His ways and whether to willingly serve or disobey Him. Thus, with their lesser knowledge, it allowed for the greater potential praise and reward of humans; just as the angels, with their greater knowledge, resulted in the greater potential for blame and punishment.

Apparently, God chose to make (at least) two kinds of sentient species (angels and humans) under these different circumstances. Two additional differences between the creation of angelkind and humankind are 1. (apparently) each individual angel is created directly by God and is not the offspring of a parental angel or angels; unlike humans who are born from parents of the same species (with the exception of Adam & Eve). 2. (apparently) angels were not created with a Federal Head whose actions had ramifications for each individual. Unlike humans who had Adam as their Federal Head and whose Original Sin had ramifications on the rest of his species (i.e. his wife and descendants).

Above I explained the advantage and disadvantage of the angelic situation as well as the advantage of the human situation. What then is (or are) the human disadvantage(s)?  They can be exemplified in the following questions. "How does one come to know or be convinced of the existence of God? If the evidence for God is not sufficiently strong enough, how can one come to justifiably believe in God, or justifiably be judged by God when His existence wasn't evidently clear?"

I agree with William Lane Craig's following statement regarding the hypothetical situation in which God repeatedly makes his existence rationally coercive (or nearly so) to each individual human. Imagine God speaking in a booming voice every 12 PM noontime in every time zone saying "I, God, exist and Jesus is my Son. Believe in Him." Or imagine a theophany of God following you around and intruding in your most private moments in the bathroom or bedroom. Or personally warning you every time you're tempted to commit some sin. A kind of divine "Big Brother." Craig says,

"Indeed, I could well imagine that in such a world, after a while, people would begin to chafe under such brazen advertisements of their Creator. And in time, eventually come to resent His effrontery for such brazen advertisements of His existence." (paraphrase of a statement he's made in various texts and in debates; e.g. HERE and HERE, similarly HERE)
Apparently, that's what might have happened in the angelic realm. The existence of God was so commonplace that that familiarity bred contempt. It may be asked, "Could not the same thing happen with humans in heaven after countless eons of living in the presence of God?" This delves into a topic that's outside the purpose of this particular blog. But I'll give a brief truncated answer. I speculate that the knowledge of God angels had before any of them fell into sin was probably limited and therefore allowed for the possibility of some of them thinking they can join forces to successfully overthrow and replace God.

 It seems to me that if they fully knew that God was truly omnipotent (i.e. ALL-powerful, not merely VERY-powerful), it would have made little sense for them to attempt to overthrow God. It would be totally irrational to attempt to rebel against an omnipotent Deity. Even 1 Peter 1:12 declares that the angels are learning things about theology and the plan of God as they watch the human drama unfold. The Redemptive History of mankind is not only for the instruction of humans, but also of angels. It may have been that before the angels fell they weren't fully informed, for example, of God's omnipotence or absolute sovereignty (and by extension predestination). That answer might explain how angels COULD fall. Another possibility is that they were told of God's attributes like omnipotence, but they gradually began to doubt that God had the powers He claimed to have because of their limited experience of God. God may have continually manifested Himself to the angels in a theophany whereby He could be seen sitting on a throne. Some of the angels may have wrongly inferred from that theophany that God was limited in the ways they themselves were and so eventually plotted to overthrow God once they started doubting His claimed attributes of omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence et cetera.

Now how do we go about explaining how redeemed humans in heaven WON'T fall again for a second or third or fourth time (ad infinitum)? While some theologians allowed for repeated falls and redemptions (like Origen), most modern Christian theologians reject the notion. The more Arminian-like theologians often argue that the soul-making property of humanity's earthly life forms and sets (as in the hardening of clay) the character of humans so that by the time they get to heaven it would be impossible for them to fall again. Especially since they are now exposed to the full glory, holiness and grace of God (unlike the angels, per my speculation). That coupled with their being able to appreciate the benefits of redemption after having experienced for a lifetime the misery of a fallen world.

These are things which may have been denied angels by the circumstances of their creation. Yet, they were nevertheless responsible because of the limited knowledge they did have which included the certain knowledge of their Creator and heavenly Father (Heb. 12:9) who was, in their clear observation, (at the very least) extremely powerful and extremely benevolent. Adult human offspring don't normally rebel or conspire against loving parents. Teenage children do, but that's partially due to their rational powers not having yet fully developed. Whereas angels were created extremely intelligent from the start. Stephen Charnock wrote, "Unbelief was the first sin, and pride was the first-born of it." Again, my speculation is that the angels were originally given sufficient knowledge of God that they knew for certain God exists and had certain attributes. But that knowledge of God wasn't complete, though it did render them morally culpable for rejecting God. According to my speculation (and Charnock's quote), "Lucifer" (conventionally named so) or some other angel, first started to doubt God's power and goodness. This doubt spread through angelkind, and in pride one (e.g. Lucifer) or all of them deluded themselves into thinking they could overthrow God and have one in their own ranks take God's place. From the Christian perspective, the attempted coup d'état failed. For all we know, demons still think it's possible to overthrow God and usurp His authority. That might explain why they still fight against God's Kingdom. Another possibility might be that they live in a different timeline since they also live in a different dimension (another speculation), though I'm disinclined to believe it. But that might explain why they continue to fight God even after the Cross and Resurrection of Christ.

Returning to the issue of explaining why the saints in heaven won't fall; the more Calvinistic-like theologians argue that God can so sanctify human beings and conform them to the image of Christ (and His character) such that they will willingly be unable to sin. This answer is similar to one of the Arminian-like answers but is more consistent with Calvinism because Calvinism denies libertarian free will (usually in favor of compatibilistic free will). Given libertarian free will, it is difficult to conceive of finite creatures being unable to sin. But I'll set that issue aside.

To those paying attention to the argument, it might be noted that I still haven't addressed the questions I posed on behalf of my hypothetical critics. As a reminder, here are the questions again,

"How does one come to know or be convinced of the existence of God? If the evidence for God is not sufficiently strong enough, how can one come to justifiably believe in God, or justifiably be judged by God when His existence wasn't evidently clear?"
A beginning answer can be found in a few quotes by Blaise Pascal. He wrote in his Pensées:

Willing to appear openly to those who seek him with all their heart, and to be hidden from those who flee from him with all their heart, God so regulates the knowledge of himself that he has given indications [or "signs"] of himself which are visible to those who seek him and not to those who do not seek him. There is enough light for those to see who only desire to see, and enough obscurity for those who have a contrary disposition. [Quoted by William Lane Craig HERE and HERE]

Elsewhere in his Pensées he wrote:

The prophecies, the very miracles and proofs of our religion, are not of such a nature that they can be said to be absolutely convincing. But they are also of such a kind that it cannot be said that it is unreasonable to believe them. Thus there is both evidence and obscurity to enlighten some and confuse others. But the evidence is such that it surpasses, or at least equals, the evidence to the contrary; so that it is not reason which can determine men not to follow it, and thus it can only be lust or malice of heart. And by this means there is sufficient evidence to condemn, and insufficient to convince; so that it appears in those who follow it, that it is grace, and not reason, which makes them follow it; and in those who shun it, that it is lust, not reason, which makes them shun it. 
God's apparent absence can also be compounded and explained by the fact that God uses relational distance as a form of judgment. Isaiah 59 says,

1    Behold, the LORD's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save,
        or his ear dull, that it cannot hear;
2    but your iniquities have made a separation
        between you and your God,
    and your sins have hidden his face from you
        so that he does not hear.
3    For your hands are defiled with blood
        and your fingers with iniquity;
    your lips have spoken lies;
        your tongue mutters wickedness.
[The remainder of the chapter continues in the same vein]

Another compounding factor in the apparent absence of God is the reality that we ourselves as sinners hide and run away from a holy God like Adam and Eve did because of their guilt and shame. We naturally try to suppress, repress and resist the presence and reality of God.

And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.– Gen. 3:8
19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.– John 3:19-20
 Or as C.S. Lewis put it in Surprised by Joy, "Amiable agnostics will talk cheerfully about 'man's search for God'. To me, as I then was, they might as well have talked about the mouse's search for the cat."

The beauty of the two quotes I gave of Pascal is that they can be appealed to and used by both Arminian-like Christians and (most) Calvinistic-like Christians (if understood in a particular way by a Calvinist). Even by Van Tillian Calvinists who believe that all things in creation are (in some way) evidence for the existence of God. The evidence for God can be sufficient so that all humans are without excuse, without that evidence having to be rationally coercive. I interpret Van Til to teach that all men know existentially that God exists, rather than knowing in a rationally coercive way. More Pascal quotations can be found at this link HERE

Returning to William Lane Craig's insight, I can imagine that most humans (especially before their salvation) would NOT want God continuously watching them knowing He is also continuously "recording," weighing and judging their thoughts, words, and actions. Most people, because of their sinful nature, wouldn't want a God to exist who sees all the sins they commit (with their "heads," "hearts" and "hands") at work, in their bedrooms, against their families, friends and neighbors and against themselves (not to mention against God Himself).

If God's existence were clearly evident people would end up either begrudgingly feigning love and obedience out of fear. Or "obey" out of a sycophantic desire for rewards and not out of genuine respect, love and gratitude. Similar to how people tend to slow down and drive exactly at the speed limit when they know a police car is driving behind them. Often times, the longer the police car drives behind them, the more anxious and resentful they become (with feelings of possible guilt rising up) because they suspect the police officer is "just LOOKING" (i.e. eager) to catch them in a violation.

Richard Swinburne said concerning the Hiddenness of God, that it's like being in a nursery. You don't hit your brother when you think your mother is there and watching. Rather, you hit your brother when you think she isn't there and watching. By partially veiling His existence, it provides an opportunity to make all the more free choices for God and goodness, or against God and for evil. God's hiddenness provides opportunity to develop and/or prove one's character. To develop virtues like compassion, courage, love, perseverance, patience, self-sacrifice, faith and trust in God. It provides opportunities for activities like evangelism, apologetics, discipleship, acts of charity and mercy (all of which God will reward). It provides opportunity for a truly willing devotion and commitment to God which angels can't demonstrate, prove or participate in to the degree humans can.  

So, in a sense the HoG (i.e. God's regulated epistemic distance) is a gift of God to man. A gift that has the potential for greater degrees of praise and (not to mention different kinds of) rewards for humans which angels cannot partake of. Angelic rewards will be different, but no less real. That's the paradoxical nature of both 1. the Hiddenness of God and 2. of the requirement of faith. On the one hand the HoG is an impoverishment, on the other hand it presents an opportunity for greater blessings. Similarly, in one sense faith is non-meritorous and is a means to magnify men's weakness and insufficiency to save themselves and conversely magnify God's sufficiency, grace and power to save. Yet, in another sense when Christians persevere in faith despite (and in opposition to) the presence of trials and obstacles, it affords a way for Christians to "graciously merit" greater rewards. Hence the paradoxical phrases used to describe this seemingly contradictory concept. John Piper used the phrase "conditional unmerited grace" in his book Future Grace.  John Gerstner was willing to use the phrase "works of super-erogation" in a Protestant sense in that good works (which are rooted in faith) can add to a Christian's rewards, even if it in no way contributes to his justification. Yes "gracious merit" is an oxymoron, but the concept was what Augustine was alluding to when he said that God crowns His own gifts when He rewards believers, since their ability to believe and do good deeds flow from God's own grace.

Back to the topic of the HoG.

In contrast to the fault finding trigger happy Policeman who is looking for any excuse to write up a ticket, the loving, forgiving and merciful heavenly Father, is "looking" for reasons to bless and reward people for the good they do. All things being equal that is; and not in a Pelagian or Semi-Pelagian way since orthodox Christianity denies both and opts for either Prevenient divinely initiated Grace as in Catholicism and Arminianism or Sufficient effectual Grace as in Calvinism [see my explanation of the differences in THIS blog].

Again, in such a world (where the knowledge of God's existence were coercive on earth) there would be sycophants who would obey God *merely* for the benefits rather than out of genuine love. But in both the cases of the anxious driver AND the "brown noser" [forgive the mental image], the problem wouldn't technically be the rationally coercive evidence of God's existence (since the saints in heaven have that and so have the unfallen angels from the time of their creation). Rather the attitude of the people involved will be what makes the difference. So, this would especially be true post lapsis (i.e. after the Fall) due (in part) to the natural depravity of men.

Still others, in such a world would respond to such irrefutable evidence in the opposite manner. They would, like Lucifer and his minions, rebel against God. As the saying goes, "Familiarity breeds contempt." J.P. Moreland has argued that after death humans will not have an opportunity to believe and repent because they will be exposed to such an abundance of rationally coercive proofs for the existence of God that it will no longer be the free kind of decision that those same humans had the opportunity of exercising before death. This might partially explain why the angels, as a species, were never given an opportunity for salvation. God may not have provided redemption for fallen angels because angelic sin was against way too much light. This means, because of redemption, the saints in heaven (i.e. saved humans) will relate to God on the basis of grace in a way that angels won't be able to. The "elect [unfallen] angels" never have their sins forgiven because they never sinned and (presumably) never will sin. Whereas saved human beings, will have greater reason to love God in heaven (not to mention now here on Earth) because, as the Lord Jesus said in Luke 7:47, "...he who is forgiven little, loves little." (cf. Luke 7:41-43). By implication, those who are forgiven greatly, can love greatly. Christians who have experienced the grace and love of God that non-Christians haven't experienced sin against greater light and love and therefore ought to love God that much more greatly.

Again, I suspect part of the reason why God has providentially made His existence partly vague the way He has is so that there would be opportunity for people to willingly/freely (not necessarily libertarianly) seek, find, choose, and love God. God isn't merely interested in humans merely coming to believe THAT God exists. That's relatively unimportant to God. God wants humans to believe IN Him in the sense of of having a personal loving and trusting relationship with them that results in 1. the greater eventual manifestation of His glory and 2. greater remunerative (gracious) rewards partly in this life and ultimately in the afterlife. Constant rationally coercive evidences in this life would be a hindrance to that (to some extent as it was to the angels).

God has ordained the amount and limitation of knowledge for both angels and humans in the differing (and contrasting) ways He has in order to:

1. prove through His differing creatures that He Himself is truly worthy of such love and devotion from both those who do have such undeniable evidence (like the angels who didn't fall) and from those who don't have such evidence like fallen human beings on earth.

2. provide opportunity for greater reward for His human believers who persevere in faith, obedience and faithfulness even when there are times when God's existence is in doubt; or when while His existence is believed, yet His seeming indifference seems to be more the case. Since, as C.S. Lewis said, there is a kind of faith (or faithfulness) that believes and perseveres despite adversity (including challenges to belief in God's existence and/or trust in God's goodness).

In a time of doubt C.S. Lewis wrote in his A Grief Observed, "The conclusion I dread is not 'So there's no God after all,' but 'So this is what God's really like. Deceive yourself no longer..' "

Catholic saint (or not-so-saint) Theresa of Avila accordingly said, after being bucked off a horse and into a muddy puddle or river, "[God,] If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few."

In times of trials, sufferings and deprivations there is the special opportunity to believe God's promises that to those who love, believe and trust in Him, and believe He also loves them, He will compensate and console them for it all in the next life (if not also to some degree in this life).

It takes a special (as a Calvinist, I would argue a God given) persevering faith to believe "behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face," as the hymn God Moves In A Mysterious Way states.  Nevertheless, the experience of Christians down the centuries also shows that Charles G. Trumbull wasn't being too hyperbolic when he said, "Those who are readiest to trust God without other evidence than His Word always receive the greatest number of visible evidences of His love." That's not necessarily true in this world. But ultimately it will be true in the next for the Christian.

Martin Luther wrote, "But surely it is preferable to lose the world rather than God the Creator of the world, who is able to create innumerable worlds afresh, and who is [Himself] better than infinite worlds! For what comparison is there between things temporal and things eternal?" Not just anyone can believe what Luther wrote in a way that doesn't make God a means to an end, rather than an end in Himself.

All the above things mentioned gets to the issue of where such faith (and faithfulness) and love can come from with the amount of evidence 1. "for" 2. "against" and 3. "neutral on" God's existence. For the most part, most of what I have already said could be affirmed by both Arminian-like and Calvinistic-like Christians. I encourage my Arminian-like fellow Christians to avail themselves of the arguments I've so far mentioned. However, this is where we must part ways. As a Calvinist, I believe the human faith to savingly believe in, love and trust God are all ultimately the gifts of God that flow from His Sovereign Grace. That is to say, as a Calvinist I believe in predestination. That God elects some to salvation while passing over others through non-election.

In light of my Calvinism, these further quotes from Pascal's Pensées are also useful for the various high predestinarian point of views.

577 There is sufficient clearness to enlighten the elect, and sufficient obscurity to humble them. There is sufficient obscurity to blind the reprobate, and sufficient clearness to condemn them, and make them inexcusable.—Saint Augustine, Montaigne, Sébond.

574 All things work together for good to the elect, even the obscurities of Scripture; for they honour them because of what is divinely clear. And all things work together for evil to the rest of the world, even what is clear; for they revile such, because of the obscurities which they do not understand.

562 It will be one of the confusions of the damned to see that they are condemned by their own reason, by which they claimed to condemn the Christian religion.

576 God has made the blindness of this people subservient to the good of the elect.

Blaise Pascal, being Roman Catholic, wrote these things as someone who, while rejecting Jansenism as heresy, nevertheless held to a high view of predestinating sovereign grace. Evidently, he was influenced by the Jansenists whom he was exposed to in his youth and attempted to hold to an Augustinian view permissible under Catholicism.

Some will argue that these comments and answers regarding the HoG won't satisfy the requests for reasons, evidences and arguments that non-believers may have in order to believe in Christianity and trust in Christ. It wasn't a purpose of this particular blog to provide positive evidence for the truth of Christianity. My other blogs present such evidences and arguments as well as providing links to other resources. [Here's a LINK to my blog on the the issue of the sufficiency or insufficiency of the evidence for Christianity.]

But even if this particular blog did provide positive evidence, we Calvinists heartily agree that non-Christians, if they remain unregenerate, will never be satisfied with the sufficient evidence. Since they will be judging by the criteria of their unbelieving, arbitrary, inconsistent, and question begging standards. "Standards" which they use to examine and judge what are often strawmen representations of Christianity. We believe that apart from the grace of God, they will do this by suppressing the evidence for God's existence due to their sinful depraved nature (which we were all born with).

When Desiderius Erasmus fully realized the implications of Martin Luther's doctrine of predestination, Erasmus (essentially) asked, "If predestination is true, who can come to believe that God actually loves them personally? Or who can bring themselves to love such a God?" (paraphrase). Luther's answer was, "I reply, Nobody! Nobody can! But the elect shall believe it; and the rest shall perish without believing it, raging and blaspheming, as you [Erasmus] describe them. So there will be some who believe it."

That's because it takes God given faith to believe that God is truly good even when there seemingly appears to be evidence to the contrary both in the world and in the Word (i.e. in truly Biblical doctrines like that of God's sovereignty). Nevertheless, the persevering Christian's experience bears out the reality of God's goodness. As Psalm 73 declares.

1. Truly God is good to Israel,
to those who are pure in heart.
2 But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
my steps had nearly slipped.
3 For I was envious of the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked....

16 But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
17 until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I discerned their end....

21 When my soul was embittered,
when I was pricked in heart,
22 I was brutish and ignorant;
I was like a beast toward you.

23 Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.

In his book The Bondage of the Will Martin Luther wrote:

Keep in view three lights: the light of nature, the light of grace, and the light of glory (this is a common and a good distinction). By the light of nature, it is inexplicable that it should be just for the good to be afflicted and the bad to prosper; but the light of grace explains it. By the light of grace, it is inexplicable how God can damn him who by his own strength can do nothing but sin and become guilty. Both the light of nature and the light of grace here insist that the fault lies not in the wretchedness of man, but in the injustice of God; nor can they judge otherwise of a God who crowns the ungodly freely, without merit, and does not crown, but damns another, who is perhaps less, and certainly not more, ungodly. But the light of glory insists otherwise, and will one day reveal God, to whom alone belongs a judgment whose justice is incomprehensible, as a God Whose justice is most righteous and evident - provided only that in the meanwhile we believe it, as we are instructed and encouraged to do by the example of the light of grace explaining what was a puzzle of the same order to the light of nature.

Lastly, another response to the atheistic argument for the non-existence of God based on the hiddenness of God and/or the insufficiency of the evidence is the Calvinistic belief that God doesn't intend to save all human beings. The assumption of most standard arguments against God's existence based on the hiddenness of God and/or the vagueness of the evidence for God's existence is the false premise that God has the benevolent desire to save every human being equally. Based on that false premise atheists argue that therefore God would provide ample evidence of His existence. Since God hasn't provided such evidence (to their satisfaction and their definition of "ample" and "sufficient"), God therefore doesn't exist. While some Calvinists believe that God has no benevolent intentions and/or salvific desires for the non-elect, other Calvinists do believe that in some sense God is benevolent (not merely beneficent) toward the non-elect, and may even desire their salvation in some lesser sense. Regardless of which Calvinistic view one holds, it denies the false atheistic premise. And as I said above and elsewhere, the evidence can be sufficient without it being coercive.

It may seem to some that my solution is contradictory in that on the one hand, as a Calvinist, I deny libertarian free will; yet on the other hand argue that the reason why God has regulated the evidence for His existence in the proportions He has (pros and cons)  is to preserve our willing choices so that they can be rewarded or punished. Even Christians who are not Calvinists have critiqued Calvinism on this point since it seems self-evident that both praiseworthiness and blameworthiness depend on libertarian free will. However, Calvinists do affirm and have philosophical arguments in defense of the possibility, reality and appropriateness of merit and demerit.

See for example, Paul Manata's book Free Will, Moral Responsibility, and Reformed Theology: A Contemporary Introduction


In the future, I'll be adding relevant links below. Here are some preliminary links:

The Hiddenness of God article at the Ravi Zacharias International Ministries website

Why doesn’t God give us more evidence of his existence? by Wintery Knight
Divine Hiddenness of God by William Lane Craig
Divine Hiddenness of God by Douglas Geivett

Related blogs of mine:

Detecting and Finding God

Christian Apologetics: Who Needs it? by William Lane Craig  

Book Reviews of Recent Atheist Authors by Christian Apologists

Evidence and Arguments Against Materialism and Naturalism

Answering Moral Objections to the Bible

Could God Command a Christian to Kill?

Resources for Dealing with Alleged Bible Contradictions, Discrepancies and Errors

Dealing with Christian Doubts

A Rational, Pragmatic and Prudential Argument for Believing in God 

At the present time I strongly lean toward supralapsarianism. Here's a link to a blog regarding whether reprobation is conditional, unconditional or both. It's touches on the justice or injustice of reprobation.

More relevant Pascal Quotes