Telling somebody in public they are doing a good job when in fact they are doing a bad job is worse than saying nothing at all. Other blunders are to offer praise for something that’s unimportant and praising the wrong person. These are all wrong reasons to praise someone.
When do you praise of God? What reminds you of Him? When David was the king of Israel in about 1,000BC, the nation depended on agricultural production for food and many resources. So David praised God for lush pastures, flocks of sheep and bountiful harvests.
In this post we see that David had three main reasons to praise God. But did you know that these reasons have now been superseded?
Psalm 65 has been categorized as a nature psalm. These psalms praise the Lord as the creator and sustainer of the physical universe. God is separate from nature because He created it. This made Jewish beliefs different to the common beliefs of ancient times that various objects in nature are divine. Just think about the gods of Egypt, Canaan, Greece and Rome. The theological description is that God is “transcendent”, which means He is independent of the creation. But the creation (nature) is also sustained by His mighty power; He sustains “all things by His powerful word” (Heb. 1:3NIV). And the creation (nature) declares (shows) God’s greatness (Ps. 19:1). Psalm 65 says,
1 Praise awaits you, our [Israel’s] God, in Zion [Jerusalem];
to you our vows will be fulfilled.
2 You who answer prayer,
to you all people will come.
3 When we were overwhelmed by sins,
you forgave our transgressions.
4 Blessed are those you choose
and bring near to live in your courts!
We are filled with the good things of your house,
of your holy temple.
5 You answer us [Israel] with awesome and righteous deeds,
God our Savior,
the hope of all the ends of the earth [or land]
and of the farthest seas,
6 who formed the mountains by your power,
having armed yourself with strength,
7 who stilled the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
and the turmoil of the nations.
8 The whole earth [or land] is filled with awe at your wonders;
where morning dawns, where evening fades,
you call forth songs of joy.
9 You care for the land and water it;
you enrich it abundantly.
The streams of God are filled with water
to provide the people with grain,
for so you have ordained it.
10 You drench its furrows and level its ridges;
you soften it with showers and bless its crops.
11 You crown the year with your bounty,
and your carts overflow with abundance.
12 The grasslands of the wilderness overflow;
the hills are clothed with gladness.
13 The meadows are covered with flocks
and the valleys are mantled with grain;
they shout for joy and sing.
The psalm begins with God being praised and ends with creation (nature) being joyful. In fact, the songs of joy are widespread – extending from the east to the west (v.8).
The key words in the psalm are “you” (14 times) and “your” (7 times). It’s all about God.
This harvest song may have been sung during a harvest festival like the Festival of Tabernacles. It gives three main reasons to praise God, which can all be related to a harvest. The Israelites are gathered near the tabernacle or the temple (v.1, 4). All the men of Israel were to attend three festivals a year in Jerusalem (Ex. 23:17; Dt. 16:16-17).
What about us? When do we gather together to praise God corporately with other Christians?
The three reasons for the Israelites to praise God are.
God answers prayer – v.1-4
David says that God answers prayer (v.2, 5). But what did they pray for? Maybe for a good harvest (v.9-13). And for forgiveness of their sins (v.3).
What about us? Do we have confidence that God will answer our prayers when they are in accordance with His will?
God’s power over creation – v.5-8
David acknowledges God’s role in forming the large-scale landscape of the earth. Mountains are massive examples of God’s power. As most of these mountains are composed of sedimentary rock, they were uplifted by huge tectonic forces in the recessive stage of Noah’s flood. Then the huge volume of flood runoff sculpted the earth’s topography.
The evidence of mountain ranges and large-scale erosion is visible across the globe. Last month I visited central Australia where the mountains are mainly comprised of sedimentary rock layers that have been severely deformed and eroded.
What about us? Do we recognize God’s power, strength and wisdom in designing and creating the universe? Or do we say it made itself via a big bang and evolution?
God’s care of creation – v.9-13
David says that at this time the earth was well-watered (v.9-10) and they had good harvests (9-13). He calls this an act of God. So God didn’t create the world at the beginning of time and then leave it to its own devices. Instead He continued to sustain it.
What about us? Do we thank God when we experience the benefits of a harvest? Do we thank Him for the food we eat (Mt. 15:36; Acts 27:35)?
Israel didn’t always have bountiful harvests like those described in Psalm 65. For example, when they followed false prophets and idols instead of the true God the harvest was feeble because of drought and famine (Jer. 23:9-15). This punishment for disobedience was promised in the law given to Moses (Dt. 28:22-24).
What has changed since David wrote Psalm 65? Since then Jesus has come and fulfilled the promises in the Old Testament of a Messiah. And we have the New Testament. So believers have some new reasons to praise God. Now they can praise God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit because of all they have done (Eph. 1:3-14). And they can praise God because of His mercy in sending Jesus to be their Savior (Heb. 1:1; 1 Pt. 2:9-10). They can praise God because eternal life through Jesus is secure (Heb. 12:28). And believers can praise God for the “living hope”, an eternal inheritance in heaven, they have through Christ’s resurrection (1 Pt. 1:3-7). So the main reason to praise God today is to express our gratitude and thanks for all He has done through Jesus (Eph. 5:19-20; Col. 3:16).
Christ’s sacrificial vicarious death is the main reason for praise in heaven (Rev. 5:6-12). And at the end of time, everyone will praise Jesus for being “obedient to death” (Rom. 14:11; Phil. 2:5-11). But God will still be praised in heaven because He created all things at the beginning of time (Rev. 4:11).
The Israelites praised God for three main reasons – because He answered their prayers, because His power was shown in the universe He created, and because His care was shown in how He continued to sustain them and the creation. And today God answers a believer’s prayer, and is still a great Creator (Rom. 1:20) and a great Sustainer of creation (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3). So we can still praise God for these same reasons.
But the main reason to praise God today is to express our gratitude and thanks for all He has done through Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:19-20; Col. 3:16). And this will also be the main reason to praise God at the end of time and in eternity.
Written, June 2019
“One Strange Rock” is a National Geographic television documentary series. It tells the story of how life survives and thrives on planet Earth, as told by eight astronauts from their unique perspective of being away from Earth. It lists 12 things that make life possible on Earth.
- Our planet recycles life-friendly carbon over time
Carbon dioxide is one of many greenhouse gases that trap heat and keep the Earth’s surface warm enough to support life. The static surfaces of Venus and Mars (our nearest planets) keep carbon locked in the air and rocks. But Earth dynamically cycles this vital element through its air, land, and sea due to the constant action of plate tectonics.
- We have an ozone layer to block harmful rays
The stratospheric (high-altitude) layer of ozone shields life from lethal radiation. It acts as a filter for the shorter wavelength and highly hazardous ultraviolet radiation from the sun.
- We have a big moon to stabilize our axial wobble
Earth is titled with respect to the sun, and teeters as it spins. This tiny wobble can shift the climate from hot to icy – and might vary more without the moon’s stabilizing pull. The wobble with the moon is 2 degrees, but without the moon it would be 20 degrees.
- Earth’s varied surfaces support many life-forms
The dramatic effects of plate tectonics formed different surface habitats and terrains.
In my opinion the global flood in Noah’s time and the associated tectonic movements and erosion had a major influence on the Earth’s landforms. Most of the world’s mountain ranges are composed of sedimentary rock full of marine fossils laid down by the flood. After the flood, sheet flow eroded large plateaus (like the Blue Mountains in New South Wales) and channel flow cut large gorges (like the Grose valley in the Blue Mountains) that now have underfit rivers.
- Our magnetic field deflects solar tempests
Sparked by charged particles from the sun, mesmerizing auroras are a visual reminder of our magnetic field, which deflects the bulk of our sun’s damaging radiation and solar flares.
- We’re just the right distance from the sun
Its neither too hot nor too cold so that water can be liquid on its surface. Its too hot on Venus and too cold on Mars (our nearest planets).
- We’re situated safely away from gas giants
If the orbits of the solar system’s biggest planets were much closer, tugs from their powerful gravity could cause disastrous fluctuations in Earth’s distance from the sun.
- The sun is a stable long-lasting star
Stars more massive than the sun burn hotter and usually are not long-lasting. Less massive, younger stars are often unstable and prone to blasting their planets with bursts of radiation.
- We have giant planets that protect us from afar
Jupiter thins out the asteroid belt, protecting Earth from overly frequent collisions.
- The sun offers protection from galactic debris
The sun engulfs its planets in a bubble of charged particles that repel dangerous radiation and harmful materials coming from interstellar space.
- Our galactic path steers us clear of hazards
The solar system is comfortably nestled in a safe harbor between major spiral arms, and its nearly circular orbit helps it avoid the galaxy’s perilous inner regions.
- Our location is far from stellar crowds
There are relatively few stars near the sun, reducing risks to Earth from gravitational tugs, gamma-ray bursts, or collapsing stars called supernovae.
So Earth is an ideal place to live.
An ideal place
National Geographic summarizes, “Earth is well-equipped as a planet and ideally placed in our solar system and galaxy to support life. Our planet is flush with life thanks to a fortuitous set of conditions, from the optimal chemical makeup of our planetary core to our safe distance from the hidden black hole at the heart of our galaxy”.
National Geographic says that Earth is in an ideal place in the universe for its inhabitants to thrive. It’s the most incredible place in the universe because it’s so perfectly calibrated for its inhabitants. It’s the only haven for life in the whole universe.
National Geographic call this “a fortuitous set of conditions”, but it looks like the perfect design of an intelligent Creator to me. According to our knowledge, these set of conditions don’t occur accidentally or naturally. They use the evolutionary creation myth to explain it, “Earth began as a single grain of dust. It grew into a living breathing world. Sustained by a web of interconnected systems”. This is pure imagination and speculation. They think this miracle is more believable by assuming that it’s the result of a process over billions of years of supposed history. They say, “Somehow our planet cooked up stardust and made life”! They have a lot of faith, because this goes against all the experience of observational science that life only comes from life, it never comes from non-living material alone.
That’s the explanation given by those with the worldview of naturalism, which assumes that God doesn’t exist. Instead they assume that matter exists eternally and is all there is. Nature is all there is. So, it’s called naturalism.
A word from the Creator
But what does God think of our Earth? The prophet Isaiah wrote, For this is what the Lord says— He who created the heavens (stars), He is God; He who fashioned and made the Earth, He founded it; He did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited— He says: “I am the Lord, and there is no other” (Isa. 45:18NIV). Here is an explanation of the “fortuitous set of conditions” that make life possible on Earth. They were created, fashioned, made, and formed by God. Earlier in this book Isaiah taught that God made the Earth and the stars (Isa. 40:21-26). It was made for people and the animals. They were present from the beginning, not billions of years after the beginning (Gen. 1:1 – 2:2). Whereas naturalism says that the Earth was mostly empty and humanity only appeared billions of years later.
The Hebrew word translated “inhabited” in this verse, yashab (Strongs #3427), occurs 62 times in the book of Isaiah. He uses it to describe such things as:
– the people living in Jerusalem (5:3; 8:14; 12:6; 22:21; 44:26).
– the people on Earth, (18:3; 26:9, 18, 21; 38:11; 40:22).
– and people living in other locations.
This verse is in a passage that says that the Creator God is the only true God who is superior to idols (44:6-45:25). The immediate context is saying that God is unique. For example, “there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me” (45:21).
I have not quoted any of the dates used by National Geographic as these are speculative and not calibrated against any historical records. Instead they are derived from their naturalistic worldview.
Lessons for us
National Geographic lists 12 things that make life possible on Earth. And these are all essential for life. However, its evolutionary creation story is weak because it assumes naturalism.
But the Bible tells the true story of how life survives and thrives on planet Earth, as told from the unique perspective of the God who created it and sustains it. He provides some of the facts that are missing in the National Geographic’s worldview. That’s one of the reasons why I think Christian theism is a better worldview than naturalism.
Reference: “One strange rock”, National Geographic (March 2018) 33, 3, 78-87.
Written, April 2018
In March 2016 the NSW Environment Protection Authority served notice requiring a company to conduct a mandatory environmental audit of its waste oil processing facility near Maitland. This followed a pattern of environmental non-compliance at the facility, including serious breaches involving air emissions and water discharges. The audit of site practices and procedures includes assessment of testing waste products, operation and maintenance of pollution control equipment, bunding and spill management, and potential impacts on groundwater. In this post we carry out an audit of the naturalistic explanation of the origin of life.
In 1999 New Holland published a book, ‘In six days: why 50 scientists choose to believe in creation’. The editor, Dr John Aston, noted in the preface that:
‘Why would educated scientists still believe in creation? Why wouldn’t they prefer to believe in Darwinian evolution or even theistic evolution, where an all-powerful intelligence is seen as directing the evolutionary processes? Could scientists believe that life on earth is probably less than 10,000 years old? How would they deal with the evidence from the fossil record and the ages suggested by the radioactive dating of rocks as millions and billions of years old?’
‘During the past century, the biblical story of Genesis was relegated to the status of a religious myth and it was widely held that only those uneducated in science or scientific methods would seriously believe such a myth. However, my experience in organizing this book, is that there is a growing number of highly educated critically thinking scientists who have serious doubts about evidence for Darwinian evolution and who have chosen to believe in the biblical version of Creation.’
The scientists gave their personal response to the question: ‘Why do you believe in a literal six-day biblical Creation as the origin of life on earth?’ The responses were divided into two categories ‘Science and Origins’ (dealing with the scientific critique of evolution as well as the scientific basis for creation) and ‘Religion and Origins’ (dealing with a more philosophical approach to the question of evolution and creation). My contribution was in the latter section (p.322-327).
There are two main views about the origin of the universe and the origin of life: those based on naturalism and those based on an intelligent Creator. As these events occurred long ago and are not subject to direct observation or experimental tests, both of these perspectives are mainly philosophical beliefs based on certain assumptions about the physical world.
This fact is ignored or distorted in most modern treatments of the topic of origins. For example, the March 1998 issue of National Geographic included an article titled, ‘The rise of life on earth’. The editor of the magazine wrote concerning this article on the origin of life: ‘Science is the study of testable, observable phenomena’, and religious faith is ‘an unshakeable belief in the unseen’. This ‘straw man argument’ diverts the discussion away from the issues of science and logic to the separate topic of science versus religious faith. It also ignores the fact that there are no obvious ‘testable, observable phenomena’ on the origin of life. Furthermore, the language used in the article demonstrates that naturalism also relies on faith in the unseen.
The naturalistic view of origins is that everything that exists can be explained by physical and chemical processes alone. This differs from the view that matter, energy, physical and chemical processes and life were established by a Creator as revealed in the Holy Bible.
Searching for truth
An environmental auditor relies on two main factors: objective evidence and agreed standards. The outcome of each part of an audit depends on comparing the observable evidence against the relevant standard. Of course, environmental standards change in time and space across the world. Similarly, any explanation of origins should be consistent with the body of ‘observable evidence’ and any relevant ‘standards’. This is complicated by the fact that the evidence is viewed today, a long time after the beginning of the universe and life. Also, in a changing world, it is not immediately obvious which standards are relevant. The Bible is the only reliable and consistent source of truth; it is like a fixed frame of reference. Other authorities, such as science and logic, are not sufficient, as they may change in time and space; they are like a changing frame of reference.
The laws of physics and chemistry are examples of the relative standards of science, which change with time as knowledge develops. They were developed under present conditions and assume that the universe already exists. Two of these fundamental laws are that life always comes from earlier life and that mass/energy is conserved. Applying them to the origin of life assumes that all these conditions were true at that time. To say; then, that naturalism explains the origin of life is ‘circular reasoning’, as the outcome is largely determined by the assumptions made. Although these laws may describe the present world, it would be a gross assumption to extrapolate them back to the unobserved initial conditions. Yet this is done frequently by those with a naturalistic viewpoint, without acknowledgement of the uncertainties involved and the limitations of the scientific method.
The assumptions of both naturalism and biblical creation and the principles of the scientific method are stated clearly in W Gitt’s ‘Did God Use Evolution?’ 1993, CLV Christliche Literatur-Verbreitung e. V.
The Bible is a source of ‘absolute’ truth that has stood the test of time much longer than any other document or philosophy. Of course, as in the case of any literature, it requires interpretation as to what is historical and what is metaphorical or symbolic. Besides obvious literary techniques, the most reliable method is to use the whole message of the Bible to interpret any particular passage. Otherwise, an interpretation may not be consistent with the rest of the Bible.
The Bible contains three clear tests for determining whether a belief, teaching or philosophy is true or false. To be true it must pass each of the three tests:
The Jesus test: This test states that, ‘Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist … This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood’ (1 Jn. 4:2-6NIV). The question to be answered in this test is: What does it say about Jesus Christ? The Bible teaches that Christ was unique: divine and human, sinless, eternal and the Creator. It is false to deny that Christ was the divine Son of God. Beliefs that fail this test usually claim that Christ was, at best, a great teacher or a prophet. They may even encourage the view that Christ and other events in the Bible are mythical.
The gospel test: The Bible warns about those promoting a different gospel, ‘If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!’ (Gal.1:9). The question to be answered in this test is: What is its gospel? In other words: what is the core belief or hope? The Bible says that the root cause of all our problems is that everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s requirements—resulting in death. The only means of rescue is salvation by faith in Christ. ‘Different gospels’ are those that differ from this. They either add to it or take away from it. There is a warning against adding to or taking away from the words of the Bible (Rev. 22:18-19). Broader aspects of the gospel include the original creation and the ultimate restoration of all things (Rev. 4:11; 21:1-22:6). We need to be careful when applying this test because a ‘different gospel’ may deceive by using words similar to the true gospel but give them different meanings.
The fruit test: Jesus Christ warned, ‘Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them’ (Mt. 7:15-20). The question to be answered in this test is: What kind of fruit is evident? In other words, what type of attitudes and behavior does it encourage? Is the divine nature or the sinful nature most evident? The former is characterised by the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. The sinful nature may involve: idolatry, sexual immorality, selfish ambition, pride, hostility, quarrelling and outbursts of anger (Gal. 5:19-23).
These tests will now be used to assess the naturalistic view of origins.
The Jesus test: As naturalism means that nature is all there is, it is associated with atheism. For example, the American Association of Biology Teachers states, that; ‘The diversity of life on earth is the outcome of evolution: an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable and natural process of temporal descent with genetic modification that is affected by natural selection, chance, historical contingencies and changing environments.’
This view of origins has no need for a Creator or the divine, and so is consistent with a belief that Jesus Christ was only a human being and not divine. Naturalism clearly fails the Jesus test.
The gospel test: As naturalism assumes there is no God, it accepts no absolute standards of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, and rejects the existence of ‘sin’ in the sense of falling short of God’s standard. Therefore, it teaches that there is no need of a savior. Its gospel is that nature has made itself and the Genesis account of origins is not true. A biblical consequence of this is that if there was no paradise at the beginning as described in Genesis, then there can be no hope for a future paradise (Acts 3:21). In fact, naturalism rejects all the basic biblical truths, such as: creation, the beginning of evil, the need for salvation and the ultimate destiny of human beings. So, naturalism fails the gospel test.
The fruit test: Naturalism supports and is associated with: materialism, humanism (humanity is self-sufficient, capable of solving all their difficulties) and pantheism (‘nature’ replaces God). Its acceptance leads to: less value on human life (practices such as abortion and euthanasia are more acceptable). Another example from the past is racism; less value on family life (biblical marriage is less important; divorce is more acceptable); less value on morals (truth is now relative, not absolute); a ‘might is right’ attitude that supports the strong, but not the weak (survival of the fittest; a competitive world; compassion involves saving ‘weak genes’). As these are opposite to the values of the Bible, naturalism fails the fruit test.
It is clear from this that the viewpoint of naturalism fails all the three biblical tests for determining what is true. Therefore, it is false and is not consistent with the overall message of the Bible.
Due to the influence of the above philosophies, claims are often made in the name of ‘science’ that go far beyond the available evidence, and some aspects of modern science have become increasingly tenuous and speculative. In fact, the everyday use of the word ‘science’ has changed from dealing with things that are observable and testable to meaning ‘naturalism’ and so includes conjecture and dubious hypotheses.
Although we live in a ‘cause-and-effect’ universe, ultimate causes, such as origins, are outside the realm of reliable science. Science can only reliably deal with the present world; it cannot reliably deal with the past (such as origins) or the future (such as ultimate destinies), as it cannot directly observe these. I believe all scientists should be wary of their assumptions, as these can largely determine their findings. They should also be wary of extrapolations outside the range of observation. The further the extrapolation, the less reliable the prediction. Changes in the assumptions will change the prediction. This applies in particular to boundary conditions, such as those involving initial conditions (or origins). Therefore, scientists can only speculate, imagine and guess about the origin of life.
Dr Hawke is a Senior Environmental Consultant with an electricity supply company in Sydney, Australia. He holds a BSc with first class honors in Physics from the University of Sydney, and PhD in Air Pollution Meteorology from Macquarie University. Over the past 22 years, Dr Hawke has worked as an environmental scientist and environmental consultant for a state government regulatory authority and the electrical power industry. He is also a Certified Environmental Auditor with the Quality Society of Australasia.
Published in 1999
Children grow up from infancy, to childhood, to adolescence and then to adulthood. At the beginning they are totally dependent on their parents and are not held accountable for their behavior. But as they grow up, they are trained to be responsible and accountable. The Bible teaches that everyone is answerable to God (Mt. 12:36-37; Rom. 3:19; Heb. 9:27). But when are children accountable to God?
The Bible says that both Christians and non-Christians are accountable to God. At the end of their lives, Christians “must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:10NIV) when “each of us will give an account of ourselves to God” (Rom. 14:12). This is used to determine their rewards in heaven (1 Cor. 3:12-15). Non-Christians are “judged according to what they had done” at the “great white throne” (Rev. 20:11-15). This is used to determine their punishment in hell.
Is this fair? God has revealed Himself to everyone in at least two ways. First the natural world demands a Creator – complicated things, like animals and plants and people, don’t make themselves (Rom. 1:19-20). Second, we all have a conscience and so can know instinctively what is right and wrong and feel guilty when we do wrong (Rom. 2:14-15). If someone hasn’t heard about how God revealed Himself in history (in the Bible), then they are judged according to their response to these more general revelations of God. So God is fair and “people are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20).
The Bible teaches that we are sinful from birth (Gen. 8:21; Ps. 51:5; 58:3). We are all sinners (Rom. 3:10, 23). So children are never innocent in the sense of being sinless. This is serious because spiritual death leads to eternal separation from God (Jn. 3:16; Rom 6:23).
The Bible also teaches that because they do not yet know the difference between right and wrong or good and evil, infants are not accountable for their sin (Dt. 1:39; Num. 14:31; Isa. 7:14-16; Jon. 4:11). They are not yet aware of their sinful condition or God’s cure.
So very young children are not accountable for their sin. Their minds are not developed well enough to understand that things don’t make themselves or to feel guilty when they do wrong. But what about when they grow past this stage of life?
The Bible makes two types of statements about the sins of parents and children. First, with regard to the commandment given to the Israelites against idolatry, “You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me” (Ex. 20:5; 34:7; Num. 14:18; Dt. 5:9). As they lived in households that extended to three or four generations, this means that the temporal judgment for their rebellion against God was on themselves and their households. The Bible gives examples of households that experienced the consequence of God’s judgment of the sins of their patriarch (Num. 16:31-35; Josh. 7:24-25). Likewise, today the consequences of a parent’s behavior can impact others in their household.
When the Jews used this statement to say that they were suffering for their ancestors’ sins, Ezekiel corrected them writing “The one who sins is the one who will die” (Ezek. 18:4, 20). This is an example of the second type of statement, which relates to the death penalty. “Parents are not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each will die for their own sin” (Dt. 24:16; 2 Ki. 14:6; 2 Chron. 25:4). So in the Israelite legal system, a penalty was to be imposed only on those who committed the crime, and not on those who were innocent. This meant that after children reached the age when they knew the difference between right and wrong, they were accountable for their behavior. Likewise, today when children are old enough to respond to their conscience they are responsible to God for their own behavior.
So the statement that everyone is accountable to God doesn’t apply to young children or those whose minds are not developed well enough to understand that things don’t make themselves or to feel guilty when they do wrong.
But those who have grown past this stage of life and can understand these things are accountable to God. They have no excuse. That’s why it’s important to know that our sinful ways separate us from God, but Jesus died to take the punishment that we deserve (which is hell) and reconcile us to God. We need to take responsibility for our behavior and confess our sins, because God cannot forgive our sin until it is confessed.
Written, May 2014
As there will be people “from every tribe and language and people and nation” in heaven, it seems that some of these would not have heard about Jesus before they died (Rev. 5:9-10). I believe that infants go to heaven when they die because they are not accountable for their sin. We will look at other people in two categories, those who lived before and after Christ.
The Bible says that those who trusted God in Old Testament times go to heaven. Although most of the promises they were given were physical, they also had a heavenly hope. They realised that this earth was not their final home: “admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth” (Heb. 11:13NIV). Instead they were looking towards heaven: “they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one” (Heb. 11:16a). We are told that God “has prepared a city for them” (Heb. 11:16b). In particular, Abraham “was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10).
These people are commended in Hebrews as those who lived by faith. The Bible says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). The Jews were told, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jer. 29:13). This faith was based on a revelation from God.
“Enoch walked faithfully with God” (Gen. 5:22, 24). So did Noah (Gen. 6:9). This means they obeyed God. “Noah did everything just as God commanded him” (Gen. 6:22). “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going” (Heb. 11:8). Job repented after God revealed His power through nature (Job 38-41; 42:6).
So those who trusted in God’s revelation to them before the formation of the Israelite nation go to heaven. In their case, God usually spoke directly to them.
God spoke to the Israelites “at many times and in various ways” (Heb. 1:1). It is stated that Moses accepted “disgrace for the sake of Christ” (Heb. 11:26). But as Moses lived about 1,450 years before Christ, this seems to be a figure of speech. It means that Moses choose to be loyal to God and to associate with his fellow Israelites. The reason given is that “he was looking ahead to his reward”. As Hebrews was probably written about 65AD, the writer knew that the Messiah was the one through whom God guaranteed their promised future.
So the Israelites who trusted in God’s revelation to them in Old Testament times go to heaven. In their case, the revelation was usually miracles and the law given through Moses.
We know God revealed Himself to the Israelites as they were His people during this period of time. But what about the Gentiles? The Israelites were told to follow the laws that God gave them through Moses so that other nations would come to know God: “Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?” (Dt. 4:6-8).
Rahab is a Gentile who trusted God (Heb. 11:31). She told the Israelite spies, “I know that the Lord has given you this land … for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below” (Josh. 2:9-11). Because of what she had heard of the Exodus and the defeat of the Amorites, she realised that the God of the Israelites was greater than the Canaanite gods. So she rejected the Canaanite gods to follow the God of the Israelites.
Also Ruth the Moabite told her Israelite mother-in-law, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16). Likewise, she rejected the gods of the Moabites to follow the God of the Israelites. God’s interest in the Gentiles is shown in the book of Jonah where Jonah was sent to Nineveh with a message of God’s judgment and the people repented of their sin (Jon. 3:1-10).
So the Gentiles who trusted in God’s revelation to them in Old Testament times go to heaven. God revealed Himself to them through the Israelites when they heard about their law and the miraculous preservation of their nation.
All the above are examples of people who go to heaven without hearing about Jesus. But the Bible says the following about Jesus, “There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12NLT). And Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:6). This means that the only way to get into heaven is through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Before Christ’s death people were saved according to their acceptance of God’s revelation to them. It was based on the future work of Christ. So those who trusted in God’s revelation in Old Testament times go to heaven because their faith in God was equivalent to faith in Jesus Christ. They were saved on credit. “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of His blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance He had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished” (Rom. 3:25). In this way God overlooked the sins of those who trusted in Him before Christ’s death and resurrection.
In Romans, God reveals that we are all sinners (Rom. 3:23) and we can only get to heaven through trusting in Christ’s sacrifice for us (Rom. 3:22-26). But it also says that people are judged according to God’s revelation to them: “All who sin apart from the law (Gentiles) will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law (Jews) will be judged by the law” (Rom 2:12). The two main ways that God reveals himself to people who haven’t heard about Jesus are creation and conscience.
Firstly, the physical world demands a Creator. Its design requires a Designer. The laws of nature require a Lawmaker. By looking at our universe, anyone can know that there is a creator God. “The truth about God is known instinctively. God has put this knowledge in their hearts. From the time the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky and all that God made. They can clearly see His invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse whatsoever for not knowing God” (Rom. 1:19-20NLT). Enough of God is revealed in His creation that there is no excuse for not believing in Him. Those who reject this revelation follow idols and practice sinful behavior and suffer God’s judgment (Rom. 1:18-32).
Nature is a testimony of God. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world” (Ps. 19:1-4). Also, Paul said “We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. In the past, He let all nations go their own way. Yet He has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; He provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” (Acts 14:15-17).
So if people haven’t heard about Jesus, they can be judged according to their response to the revelation of God in creation. If they turn from idolatry and seek the true God, then God may give them additional revelation. For example, Cornelius was a Gentile who sought God. So God sent Peter to tell him about Jesus and salvation (Acts 11:14). God can appear to people in many ways throughout their lives. He can send people to inform them (Rom. 10:14-15). Because God doesn’t want anyone to perish in hell and wants everyone to repent of their sin, we must trust that He has made a way for those people (2 Pt. 3:9).
Secondly, everyone is born with a conscience. We all have an instinctive knowledge of right and wrong. For example, most people know it is wrong to lie, steal, and commit adultery and murder. The Bible gives God’s standards for humanity. But for those who are ignorant of this it says: “They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right” (Rom. 2:15NLT). Anyone who has not heard about what the Bible says will be judged according to their conscience. God will say, “What did you think was right and wrong?” The next question is, “Did you always do the right and not the wrong?” By that standard, of course, everyone fails. The conscience proves that we are sinners like the law does for the Jew.
The issue is their response to a guilty conscience. If they were sorry for their behavior and would repent then they would probably go to heaven. This reasoning is based on the fact that God is just and wants all to be saved. He has made a way for all, but few accept it.
Like those who lived before Christ, the issue is whether they responded to God’s revelation to them. So through the creation and our conscience, God gives everyone the opportunity to turn to Him and be saved from the penalty of their sinfulness and go to heaven.
Lessons for us
Like the Israelites, a Christian’s behavior can influence an unbeliever to repent and follow God and go to heaven. “Live such good lives among the pagans (your unbelieving neighbors, NLT) that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Pt. 2:12).
Although people can to be saved without hearing about Jesus, it isn’t likely to occur in very many instances. The usual way to go to heaven is to respond to hearing about Jesus. “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent?” (Rom. 10:14). That’s why it’s important to tell people about Jesus as much as possible and support others in this work.
Based on a message given at my mother’s funeral on 3 April 2013
A funeral usually involves memories and reflections of the life of the person who has died. But the funeral of a Christian can also look ahead in anticipation of what lies ahead.
Help from God the Creator
The source of a Christian’s help and protection throughout life is described in Psalm 121NIV.
“I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—He who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you—the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm— He will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”
When this song was written about 3,000 years ago, God’s people knew that the only reliable help and protection comes from the God who made the universe – “the Maker of heaven and earth”. In this context the Hebrew word for “heaven” means the atmosphere and the stars and galaxies. A God with the intelligence and power to create the universe and populate it with living plants, animals and people was surely able to help them! The Bible says He was the source of life on earth whereas all other gods and philosophies are the product of the human imagination.
Unfortunately in our modern world we have largely lost this knowledge and this confidence. We have forgotten about God the Creator. Even though we have wonderful technology, science can’t explain how matter was created from nothing or how life originated, and we often replace God the Creator with the idea that things created themselves.
So when we struggle in life where does our help come from? Some people go to counsellors for help who encourage them to get help from outside themselves. Because people usually can’t solve their own problems, they need to get help from someone else. In a similar way, we all need “outside help” to sustain us and God the Creator is the ultimate outside help!
Psalm 121 ends with, “The Lord will watch your coming and going both now and forevermore”. Here those who trusted God the Creator were promised that God would protect them throughout life and into the future. They could live with assurance and confidence that God would continue to help them. Likewise Christians can have the assurance that God will sustain them during their life and afterwards.
A different world
You may ask if God created everything in the beginning, why is there so much suffering in the world? The world today is very different from the one God made originally. We live in a different world. In the beginning it was a perfect world with harmony between God, people and the natural environment. But when people turned against their Maker, it changed and sin, evil, suffering and death came into the world. This change was caused by people like us. We live in a world with consequences – an act has a consequence and an effect has a cause. Because people turned against God our relationships have been ruined. We ignore God and are separated from Him, we can’t get along with other people, and we exploit the natural environment. Another consequence is that the Bible says we are destined to eternal punishment. Because we are the cause of this problem, we need outside help. Because each of us is guilty, we can’t help each other. The only reliable help available outside humanity is God the Creator.
Help from God the Lifesaver
Fortunately, God didn’t only create the universe and the laws of nature in the beginning, but He also continues to sustain it. He is not only incredibly powerful, but He is also incredibly loving. We remember His special act of love at Christmas and Easter when we celebrate the unique birth and death of Jesus Christ. God knew that mankind was doomed to eternal punishment unless He provided them with outside help. He did this about 2,000 years ago when Jesus Christ lived on earth and died and came alive again. Jesus was unique; He was God living as a human being. He showed His power over our world by the miracles He did. When He died by crucifixion, He took the eternal punishment that we deserve. If we turn towards God by being sorry for our behaviour and accepting the fact that Jesus has taken the penalty for our sin, then He promises eternal joy instead of eternal punishment. This is called eternal life. So Jesus is like a lifesaver – He can rescue us from the eternal consequence of our selfish behaviour. In this way God is making a new creation and He gives us the choice of being a part of it. Although we spoilt God’s original creation, and there is now sin, evil, pain, suffering and death, these will be absent in God’s new creation. Instead we can be reconciled with God, we can love one another and we can look forward to the restoration of creation like it was in the beginning.
Because a Christian has accepted Jesus as their Savior they can have an inner assurance, joy and peace.
What happens when a person dies? Not only do the lungs stop breathing and the heart stops pumping. The Bible says that at death a person’s invisible soul and spirit is separated from their body. If they trusted in Jesus the Savior, their soul and spirit goes immediately to be with God in heaven. After death they are enjoying a perfect place. That is why Paul could say, “To die is gain” (Phil. 1:21) and that he preferred to be “away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). So they are in a better place. Their death is a loss for us, but a gain for them.
But there is more! On Easter Sunday we recall that the body of Jesus was raised back to life after being buried in a grave. The Bible describes a coming day when the bodies of believers, who trusted in Christ the Savior will also be raised back to life:
“What I am saying, dear brothers and sisters, is that our physical bodies cannot inherit the kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever. But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:50-57NLT).
This is also described in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18. As part of God’s new creation they will have new bodies which won’t wear out and die (1 Cor. 15:42-49; Phil. 3:21; 1 Jn. 3:2) and they will be transported to be with God in heaven – spirit, soul and new body. This will be a great victory over the sin, suffering and death of our world. That’s why Christians can look forward confidently to the coming resurrection. There’s victory ahead!
The hymn, “How great Thou art”, summarises the greatness of God and the reasons for our Christian faith.
The first verse is about God the great Creator and source of life on earth. It says “Your power throughout the universe displayed”. Do we see God’s power in His creation?
The third verse is about Jesus Christ the great Lifesaver and source of eternal life. It says “On the cross, my burden gladly bearing, He bled and died to take away my sin”. When we stand before God, will He be like a lifesaver or like a judge? If we turn towards God by confessing our sins we can be ready to meet Him.
The last verse is about the great resurrection when the bodies of those who have trusted in Christ will be raised and changed to be with Him forever. It says “When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation and take me home – what joy shall fill my heart”. Are you ready to experience this joy?
Written, April 2013