When Christians speak Arabic . . .

What is the name for God if you’re a Christian who speaks Arabic? You guessed it, Allah! Doesn’t that blow your mind?

Problem of Evil in Christianity and Islam (academic paper)

 

 

 

 

 

 

LIBERTY UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF DIVINITY

 

 

 

 

 

Comparison of Theodicies in Protestant Christianity and Sunni Islam

 

 

 

 

 

 

Submitted to Dr. Wooddell

 

In partial fulfillment of the requirements for the completion of

 

 

 

 

THEO 525 – D10

 

Survey of Theology

 

 

 

 

 

by

 

Ryan Enser

 

May 13, 2016 Submitted

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thesis Statement

The problem of evil is resolved by different theodicies in Protestant Christianity and Sunni Islam because the relevant attributes of God are different in each religion.

 

Contents

 

 

Introduction 1

 

Body 2

 

Relevant Attributes of God in Protestant Christianity 2

 

Relevant Attributes of God in Sunni Islam 3

 

Problem of Evil Typologies 6

 

Practical Problem of Evil Models 8

 

Other Considerations 9

 

Summary 10

 

Conclusion 11

 

Bibliography 14

Introduction

The answers to the problem of evil1 from Protestant Christianity and Sunni Islam shape the worldviews of nearly two billion people. When evil is present in a person’s life in an existential manner,2 the problem challenges the religious believer whether he be Protestant Christian or Sunni Muslim. Worldwide, Christians and Muslims generally have a poor understanding of what the other religion believes due to physical, cultural, and linguistic barriers. Here in Lebanon the linguistic barrier is absent since Arabic is spoken by all, but it is surprisingly common to find Protestant Christians and Sunni Muslims that are ignorant of each other’s faiths. This lack of knowledge can breed fear of members of the other religion and lead to isolation of one religious community from another.

 

This paper is an effort to increase the knowledge of members of each faith so that fear is reduced and dialogue is encouraged. Using scholarly peer-reviewed research, the relevant attributes of God in both the Protestant Christian and Sunni Muslim faiths will be identified. Subsequently, answers to the problem of evil of each religion will be discussed. Lastly, conclusions will be drawn as to the relationship of the relevant attributes of God of each religion to each religion’s solution to the problem of evil. The subtopics will be: Relevant Attributes of God in Protestant Christianity, Relevant Attributes of God in Sunni Islam, Problem of Evil Typologies, Practical Problem of Evil Models, Other Considerations, Summary, and Conclusions.

 

 

 

 

Body

 

Relevant Attributes of God in Protestant Christianity

 

Protestant attributes of God are inferred from God’s actions as well as directly stated in the Bible. Though there are numerous attributes, the ones that are most relevant to the problem of evil are love, grace, and justice. It is common for Christians3 to use these attributes of God, but Sunni Muslims would not normally refer to God as loving or gracious.4 Justice is surely shared between Protestant Christians and Sunni Muslims.

 

God is described both as being love and as giving love. (1 John 4:8)5 In the Bible the emphasis on God’s love cannot be overstated. Many analogies are used for God’s love including a husband to a wife, a father to a son, and a mother to her infant child. Actions that are considered loving are directly identified in the Bible in order to give practical examples of the kind of love that God provides like caring for the elderly, defending the oppressed, and nurturing orphans.6 Additionally, God’s love includes empathy for those that suffer and is shown in how he sent his own son to suffer for others. God is described as begin able “sympathize with our weaknesses” because he, in the person of Jesus Christ, experienced those same weaknesses. (Hebrews 4:15)

 

Grace is an attribute of God that is considered central to the character of the Christian God. God provides grace, or unmerited favor, to all of humankind in the form of common grace.7 It means that God as creator sustains his creation whether it be by directing natural processes or controlling human society. For example, God is said to be in control and aware of apparently trivial things like the deaths of sparrows and the hairs on a person’s head. (Matthew 10:29-30) In addition to common grace is special grace, which is unmerited favor toward particular persons. This grace is demonstrated by God’s intervention in an individual’s life to cause that person’s salvation. (Eph 2:8-9)

 

Moreover, the justice of God is an important attribute of the Christian God. God has a moral law, which he protects with justice.8 Lawbreakers, or sinners, receive wrath from God to punish them for their immoral, lawbreaking acts. (Rom 1:18) In the Christian Bible only Jesus Christ is considered to be without sin and therefore not under of God’s wrath. (2 Cor 5:21) The justice of God cannot be compromised, so all of mankind, who are regarded as sinners, needs God’s grace for salvation. (John 3:16)

 

Relevant Attributes of God in Sunni Islam

 

Sunni Muslim attributes of God are derived mainly from the names of God revealed in the Qur’an.9 The common belief among Muslims10 is that there are ninety-nine names of God.11 For example, God is known as the Compassionate One and the Merciful One.12 It is obvious that in addition to formal names, these names signify attributes of God. Additionally, Protestant Christians would identify these attributes as those of their own God. By contrast, the attribute of grace, which is regarded by many Protestant Christians as a uniquely Christian attribute, deserves further explanation.

 

The opening line of the Qur’an declares two of God’s attributes Ar-Rahman and Ar-Rahim, which show the Muslim God as gracious.13 Normally Ar-Rahman is translated as the “Compassionate One,” whereas Ar-Rahim is translated as the “Merciful One.” Ar-Rahman carries the meaning of preventative grace, which protects Muslims from sin. This is not so different from the concept of common grace in Christianity. Ar-Rahim is nuanced with concepts such as longsuffering, patience and forgiveness. This, also, is similar to the mercy concept in Christianity, which associates closely with grace. Clearly when the names Compassionate and Merciful are fully understood, it is easy to conclude that the Muslim God is gracious.14

 

To further the concept of the gracious Muslim God, the name Al-ghafur is used. It means that God forgives sin over and over and can be translated as “all forgiving.” Notable qur’anic figures that God forgave are Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, and Mohammad. Jesus is absent from that list because he never needed forgiveness. God is also known as “pardoner” by the name Al-afuw, but he does more than only pardon. He is regarded as being “full of kindness,” Ar-ra’uf, and his bounty of rewards is boundless. The rewards of the Qur’an involve both material things and heaven.15 These names of God show that he is gracious similarly to how the Christian God is gracious.

 

Although the grace of the Muslim God has been clearly established in the above discussion, the trait of justice immensely overshadows the trait of grace in the Qur’an.16 The justice of God is shown when, after man has freely chosen his actions, God rewards or punishes him accordingly.17 The emphasis of justice in the Qur’an is demonstrated by weighty passages like Surah 45:22 “Allaah has created the heavens and the earth with the truth (wisdom and purpose) so that (people may realise that the Being Who created everything can certainly resurrect people on the Day of Qiyaamah when) every soul may be recompensed for what it does, and people will not be oppressed.”18 The message here is that the earth was created for repaying every soul the justice that it deserves. Notice that there is no similar Surah that says that the earth was created for God’s grace. The justice trait of God in Islam is found in over forty Surahs that specifically describe God as a judge that is to be feared.19 It is easy to see that the trait of justice overwhelms the trait of grace, so the common understand of God is that he should be feared. That fear may lead to God being gracious, but graciousness only follows fear. Grace is not the starting point of a person seeking to relate to the Muslim God.

 

The trait of love is found in the Qur’an, but in only two passages. It pales in comparison to the trait of justice and is much less emphasized than grace.20 There are even commentaries that explain that the word translated as love is not as strong as the English word love. Love is not a normal characterization of a person relating to the Muslim God. Fear and to a lesser extent grace can be, but love is obviously absent in the Qur’an’s understanding of God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Problem of Evil Typologies

 

Philosophical answers to the problem of evil fall under three typologies: divine voluntarism, best-of-all-possible-worlds, and free-will.21 Each typology is an umbrella category for a range of theodicies that follow some common characteristics. In divine voluntarism God’s will is above the rational interest that seeks to understand it. In this way the problem of evil cannot be solved with a coherent argument. Rather the problem is considered outside of reason and only God could know the solution. Logically that implies that to God there is no problem of evil, since the problem is a problem of human reason only. Therefore, there is no problem of evil for the proponent of divine voluntarism. John Calvin is commonly cited as a Christian theologian who held the position of divine voluntarism. Within Islam, Ash’ari theology believes divine voluntarism solves the problem of evil.22 For Calvin and Ash’ari theology, as well as other voluntarists, the problem of evil does not exist.

 

The best-of-all-possible-worlds theodicy affirms that evil is necessary if God was to have created the best possible world. All kinds of creation would have to be made in order for the world to be the best. This implies that the best possible word has to contain evil. Also, under this theodicy typology is the idea that evil is necessary in order for much of the good in the world; evil functions to bring about good. Liebniz is a well-known eighteenth-century Protestant Christian holder of this view.23

 

In addition to Liebniz, an important historical Sufi Muslim philosopher who held a best-of-all-possible-worlds theodicy is Ibn Arabi.24 He has influenced many in Sunni Islam over the centuries as well as modern Sunni theologians. Rather than evil being a necessary creation of God, he regarded everything as good. Evil was an appearance only. Ibn Arabi used the analogy of dark being the absence of light to explain his view of evil. Light represented good and dark represented evil. The evil is only apparent because of the lack of good. It does not have existence on its own, but only as a negative of good.

 

Moreover, Mulla Sadra also adheres to a Muslim best-of-all-possible-worlds theodicy.25 He argues that evil is the absence of goodness and that evil is used for good. These are clearly similar concepts to Liebniz and Ibn Arabi. Essentially, the world that God has created is the best because God could not create anything less than the best. Since it is the best, then evil must be good in some way because it is a characteristic of the best possible world. Mulla Sadra’s theology also explains that each individual is tested in this life. People are completely free to choose good or evil and choosing good improves this present world and also results in a better afterlife.

 

Lastly, free-will theodicies attempt to make sense of the problem of evil by postulating that God limits his freedom by giving freedom to creatures. Since creatures have truly free-will, they can choose evil, which is why evil exists in the world. Augustine is regarded as an early free-will theodicy proponent and has influenced many Protestant Christians. Within Sunni Islam, Mu’tazili advocated a free-will theodicy when he described how God had given humans the opportunity to choose the right path. He was criticized for advocating that humans would have a free-will power equal to God’s because then there would be more than one God, which is blasphemy. Mu’tazili also believed that God offers rewards to those who freely chose to follow him and punishes those who chose evil.26

 

 

Practical Problem of Evil Models

 

Practical answers to the problem of evil are organized in three models: the retaliation model, the plan model, and the compassion model.27 These are models that people who do not have formal philosophical training use to resolve the apparent contradiction of the existence of evil and an all-powerful God.28 In the retaliation model, God restores the moral balance of the world by punishing evil. The plan model gives meaning to the presence of evil by arguing that evil is necessary to fulfill God’s plan for the world. Lastly, the compassion model states that God cares for the believer by providing spiritual support to successfully endure evil.

 

By interviewing seventy-six Muslim immigrants in the Netherlands, Kemper was able to investigate whether Muslims used any of three practical models for resolving the problem of evil. He found that the vast majority of respondents in his study used the retaliation model to justify evil in the world. Additionally, the majority of Muslims questioned practiced spiritual accountancy which counts good deeds and evil deeds. If the individual’s account has more good deeds than evil deeds in it, then the retaliation of God will not fall on them.29 He concluded that these Muslims believed that evil was corrected by God’s punishment of it, therefore resolving the problem of evil with the retaliation model.

In Indonesia Adeney-Risakotta observed Christians and Muslims facing terrible natural disasters side by side.30 He noticed that both Christians and Muslims looked for meaning in their suffering. From the educated to the simple, earthquake and tsunami survivors all held that God is good and just, that God gives them strength to face the future, and that God motivates them to help others. He discussed how each of the disaster survivors, no matter Christian or Muslim, leaned on God for strength to carry on, therefore, their theodicy solution was the compassion model. Rather than having an intellectual answer to why the disaster happened, they had a compassionate God to see them through.

 

 

Other Considerations

 

Andrew Gleeson’s article “The Problem of Evil and the Problem of the Slightest Toothache” attempts to distinguish between the intellectual and the existential problems of evil. The article is a response to Richard Swinburne who postulated that if everything was perfect in the world except for the slightest toothache, the toothache would be enough for someone to question the existence of God.31 The intellectual problem of evil, given in the example of the toothache, does not address serious evil, but only “blemishes” of evil according to Gleeson.32 On the other hand, the existential problem of evil causes one to question the existence of God. This dichotomy serves Gleeson’s thesis that the existential problem of evil, not the intellectual problem of evil, causes a person to question the existence of an all-powerful, all-loving, and just God. One will only question the existence of God when faced with the existential problem like the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, which destroyed the city and took thousands of lives.33

Betenson discusses how the problem of evil is not as simple as it appears prima facie. Many individuals approach the classic problem of evil’s three propositions as if the underlying normative assumptions are the same for each individual. This leads to misunderstandings of how and if the problem is solved. He gives the example of the Christian theologian and the atheologian.34 If the Christian theologian regards suffering as a benefit in this life, then proposition 3 is not in contradiction with proposition 1. The maximally good, maximally powerful creator of the universe is not allowing pointless or unconscionable evil in the world. According to the Christian theologian, the apparent “evil” is actually “good.” The atheologian would easily misunderstand the Christian theologian in this example because he would not normally assume that the Christian theologian’s underlying normative assumption that apparent “evil” is actually “good.” The two theologians could possibly not even realize that they were approaching the problem of evil differently unless the underlying normative assumption was addressed.

 

 

Summary

 

This paper sought to show that the problem of evil is addressed by both Christians and Muslims in different ways due to the traits attributed to each religion’s respective Gods. First, the relevant traits of the Christian God and Muslim God were discussed. Then philosophical typologies that are common between Christians and Muslims were explained with examples of theologians who adhered to each typology given. Lastly, practical models for resolving the problem of evil and other considerations regarding the problem of evil were presented.

 

 

 

 

Conclusion

 

The attributes of God in Protestant Christianity and Sunni Islam shared grace and justice, but differed in love. The effect of this difference did not result in a drastically different set of problem of evil answers. This may be due to the formulation of the problem. The three steps of the problem of evil are: 1) There exists a maximally good, maximally powerful creator of the universe. 2) A maximally good, maximally powerful creator of the universe would not create or permit any pointless or unconscionable evil in its creation. 3) Some pointless or unconscionable evil exists. Since the maximally good, maximally powerful creator does not necessarily have to be loving according to this formulation of the problem of evil, the Muslim God who lacks the characteristic of love is evaluated similarly to the Christian God who does possess the trait of love.

 

The theodicy typologies of divine voluntarism, best-of-all-possible-worlds, and free-will all have adherents among theologians of both religions. From the research it appears that since the problem of evil deals with a particular set of propositions by design, it may not take into account other possible formulations. Could it be that other propositions would distinguish the Christian God from the Sunni God? Would a different formulation reflect the problem of evil that individuals encounter in real life better than the classic model used in the paper?

 

The practical problem of evil models; the retaliation model, the plan model, and the compassion model can also be applied to Christians and Muslims alike. Models designed for use with Christian subjects were easily applied to Muslims. The way that the Muslims fell into the same categories shows that their practical experience with the problem of evil was similar to Christians. Moreover, disaster survivors in Indonesia of both Christian and Muslim faiths both used the compassion model to deal with horrible circumstances in their lives. The compassion model would appear to necessitate a God with the trait of love, but the Muslim Indonesians whose God does not possess the characteristic of love according to the Qur’an still used the compassion model.

 

In addition to the Indonesian study’s impact on our understanding of practical problem of evil models, the study verifies that experiences with extreme evil cause people to confront the existential problem of evil like Gleeson identified. Indonesian disaster victims were not concerned with the intellectual problem of evil much at all. They still could not definitively answer why God has allowed volcanoes and earthquakes to ravage their communities. Rather than finding an intellectual answer to that question, they were concerned with the meaning of the events for their lives and how to move on.

 

The studies of Muslims in the Netherlands and in Indonesia seem to point to a difference in the way the Qur’an characterizes God and the way that different groups of Muslims experience God in everyday life. The result of the Netherlands study is that the Muslims there overwhelmingly use the retaliation model. That is consistent with the Qur’an’s emphasis on the trait of justice. By contrast, the Indonesians more readily use the compassion model, which would appear to emphasize the trait of love. This trait was shown to be rare in the Qur’an. This suggests that there are different underlying normative assumptions present in both Muslim group’s approaches to the problem of evil. These assumptions can be difficult to identify for both researchers and their subjects because many people lack awareness of these kinds of assumptions. More dialogue is needed with Muslims to uncover what underlying values and concepts inform their problem of evil solutions. There may be other important influences besides the Qur’an and well-known cultural components that are shaping the experience of Muslims from different parts of the world.

There are many factors to consider to further the research of the ways that Christians and Muslims deal with the problem of evil. How religious are the people? How much is the religion influencing the people compared with other factors that are influencing the people? How educated are the people? How educated are the people in their religion? How accurate to the experience of the people is the formulation of the problem of evil? Are there misunderstood or unknown assumptions present in the people’s resolution to the problem of evil? Is an alternative formulation of the classic problem of evil necessary?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

Adeney-Risakotta, Bernard. “Is there a meaning in natural disasters?: constructions of culture, religion, and science.” Exchange 38, no. 3 (2009): 226-243.

 

Betenson, Toby. “Evaluative claims within the problem of evil.” Religious Studies 51, no. 3 (September 2015): 361-377.

 

Custodio, LJ. “The presence and indefiniteness of Allah's attributes of grace in the Qur'an and its implications.” Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies 18, no. 1 (Feb 2015): 53-86.

 

Elias, Mufti Afzal Hoosen. Quran Made Easy: Complete English Translation with Inline Commentary. Electronic Dawah Institute, 2012, Kindle.

 

Gleeson, Andrew. “The Problem of Evil and the Problem of the Slightest Toothache.” The Heythrop Journal 56, no. 1 (Jan 2015): 32-43.

 

Hoover, Jon. “A typology of responses to the philosophical problem of evil in the Islamic and Christian traditions.” The Conrad Grebel Review 21, no. 3 (Fall 2003): 81-96.

 

Ishak, Mohammad Shuhaimi Haji. “The influence of Muḥammad ʻAbduh on Hārūn Nasution's theological discourse.” Hamdard Islamicus 33, no. 1, (Jan-Mar 2010): 31-50.

 

Kalin, Ibrahim. “Mullā Ṣadrā on theodicy and the best of all possible worlds.” Journal of Islamic Studies 18, no. 2 (May 2007): 183-201.

 

Kemper, Frank. “Meaning among Moroccan Muslim migrants: in search of an Islamic theodicy.” Journal of Empirical Theology 13, no. 2 (2000): 5-18.

 

Landau, Rom. “Philosophy of Ibn 'Arabī.” The Muslim World 47, no. 2 (Apr 1957): 146-160.

 

Maller, Allen S. “Unique and shared names of God in Islam and Judaism.” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 49, no. 4 (Fall 2014): 647-650.

 

Stapa, Zakaria Bin. “A Discussion on the Concept of Tawḥīd: The Viewpoint of the Muʻtazilites.” Hamdard Islamicus 19, no. 1 (Spr 1996): 37-45.

1

The three steps of the problem of evil are: 1) There exists a maximally good, maximally powerful creator of the universe. 2) A maximally good, maximally powerful creator of the universe would not create or permit any pointless or unconscionable evil in its creation. 3) Some pointless or unconscionable evil exists.

2

Andrew Gleeson, “The Problem of Evil and the Problem of the Slightest Toothache.” The Heythrop Journal 56, no. 1 (Jan 2015): 32.

3

“Christian” will be used to describe Protestant Christians for the remainder of the paper.

4

The discussion of the traits of love and grace in Islam will be provided later in the paper.

5

Unless otherwise noted, all biblical passages referenced are in the English Standard Version.

6

Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd edition, “God, Attributes of,” 496-497.

7

Ibid., “Grace,” 519-520.

8

Ibid., “God, Attributes of,” 496.

9

L.J. Custodio, “The presence and indefiniteness of Allah's attributes of grace in the Qur'an and its implications.” Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies 18, no. 1 (Feb 2015): 54.

10

“Muslim” will be used to describe Sunni Muslims for the remainder of the paper.

11

Allen S. Maller, “Unique and shared names of God in Islam and Judaism.” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 49, no. 4 (Fall 2014): 647-648.

12

Ibid., 648.

13

Mufti Afzal Hoosen Elias, Quran Made Easy: Complete English Translation with Inline Commentary (Electronic Dawah Institute, 2012), loc. 1900-1906, Kindle.

14

L.J. Custodio, “The presence and indefiniteness of Allah's attributes of grace in the Qur'an and its implications.” Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies 18, no. 1 (Feb 2015): 56-57.

15

Ibid., 57-58.

16

Ibid., 64.

17

Mohammad Shuhaimi Haji Ishak, “The influence of Muḥammad ʻAbduh on Hārūn Nasution's theological discourse.” Hamdard Islamicus 33, no. 1, (Jan-Mar 2010): 44.

18

Mufti Afzal Hoosen Elias, Quran Made Easy: Complete English Translation with Inline Commentary (Electronic Dawah Institute, 2012), loc. 24051-24054, Kindle.

19

L.J. Custodio, “The presence and indefiniteness of Allah's attributes of grace in the Qur'an and its implications.” Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies 18, no. 1 (Feb 2015): 65.

20

Ibid., 66.

21

Jon Hoover, “A typology of responses to the philosophical problem of evil in the Islamic and Christian traditions.” The Conrad Grebel Review 21, no. 3 (Fall 2003): 83.

22

For more on Ash’ari and Mu’tazilite theology see Zakaria Bin Stapa, “A Discussion on the Concept of Tawḥīd: The Viewpoint of the Muʻtazilites.” Hamdard Islamicus 19, no. 1 (Spr 1996): 37.

23

Ibid., 85.

24

Rom Landau, “Philosophy of Ibn 'Arabī.” The Muslim World 47, no. 2 (Apr 1957): 147.

25

Ibrahim Kalin, “Mullā Ṣadrā on theodicy and the best of all possible worlds.” Journal of Islamic Studies 18, no. 2 (May 2007): 199-200.

26

Jon Hoover, “A typology of responses to the philosophical problem of evil in the Islamic and Christian traditions.” The Conrad Grebel Review 21, no. 3 (Fall 2003): 88-90.

27

Frank Kemper. “Meaning among Moroccan Muslim migrants: in search of an Islamic theodicy.” Journal of Empirical Theology 13, no. 2 (2000): 7.

28

Practical models have some similarities to the typologies mentioned in the previous section.

29

Ibid., 17-18.

30

Bernard Adeney-Risakotta, “Is there a meaning in natural disasters?: constructions of culture, religion, and science.” Exchange 38, no. 3 (2009): 239.

31

Andrew Gleeson, “The Problem of Evil and the Problem of the Slightest Toothache.” The Heythrop Journal 56, no. 1 (Jan 2015): 32.

32

Ibid., 33.

33

Ibid., 36.

34

Toby Betenson, “Evaluative claims within the problem of evil.” Religious Studies 51, no. 3 (September 2015): 370-371.

Andy Mineo interview

Christian hip-hop artist Andy Mineo’s latest album Uncomfortable debuted at #2 on iTunes rap/ hip-hop charts. He combines smooth delivery, insightful lyrical content, and innovative beats to produce high quality and inspirational hip-hop music.

Find the interview here.

Who are the people of God? – Romans 9:8-12

  
The Jewish people are commonly thought of as “the people of God” because they are physical descendants of an ethnic group that began with Abraham. Paul clarifies the meaning of “the people of God” to mean the people that are descendants of a promise that began with Abraham. This distinction is at the heart of Romans 9 and forms the foundation for the argument that God’s promises do not fail.

[Romans 9:8-12 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. 9 For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad-in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls- 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”]

The example of Abraham shows that Sarah’s son Isaac was produced by God’s promise rather than only the physical conception of a child. This is how Isaac became part of the children of God. By contrast, Ishmael was physically conceived only and not by God’s promise. He was not part of the “people of God” because of this. 

One hole in this argument is the mother. It’s easy say that because Ishmael was not born by Sarah, Abraham’s legitimate wife, he did not receive the promise that Isaac received. This complaint would argue that Paul’s example from Abraham does not clearly show that the descendant was only selected on the basis of the promise of God. Maybe the mother was a basis of selecting the descendant.

That is why Paul includes the example of Jacob and Esau. These two twin brothers were born by the same mother, Rebekah. They could not have been distinguished as descendants on the basis of their mother. What was the basis of choosing a descendant in this example?

It was that God made a promise to Jacob and not Esau. This is the only basis for the selection. The basis was not their good or bad behavior. Paul carefully notes that the promise was issued before they were born. Couldn’t the promise have been given based on their future works? 

Verse 12 reiterates that the basis is not works of any sort. Good and bad deeds of the future are included!  The basis was the choice of God, only.

So “the people of God” are a people that God makes a choice to select. They are descendants of a promise. In the cases of Isaac and Jacob, they were descendants physically and of a promise, which distinguishes them from their brothers who were only descendants physically. When Paul describes the Jewish people, he distinguishes between physical descent and descent according to God’s promise. Shouldn’t you?

God bless.

Image: GenerationBijoy Mohan, licensed under CC BY 2.0

More than one layer of Jewish people – Romans 9:6b-7

  
Paul supports his argument that the word of God had not failed by distinguishing between physical Jewish people and spiritual Jewish people. Like an onion, there is more than one layer to the Jewish ethnic group for Paul.

[Romans 9:6b-7 For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”]

Not all who are descended physically from the Jewish patriarch Israel belong to the spiritual group of people known as Israel. Additionally, not all are spiritually children of the patriarch Abraham only because they are physically his offspring.

The example of Abraham is more obvious because we know that Ishmael was not the child of the promise as stated in Genesis 21:12, even though he was also a physical child of Abraham. God’s promise to Isaac is a clear example that physical offspring are not all regarded in the same way before God.

The example of Israel is important because the Jewish people hold Israel as their patriarch, as well as use his name for their ethnic group. They regard themselves as the descendants of Israel, but do not normally distinguish between physical and spiritual descendants. It is easy to see how this would be problematic for Jewish people to try to test each person for their spiritual fitness. It is much easier for an ethnic group to determine who is a member by only checking blood relationship.

God promised that he would bless Abraham’s descendants, but Paul is dealing with great sorrow because so many of them have rejected God’s Son, Jesus Christ and will not share in God’s salvation. He is arguing here that even though many Jewish people rejected God’s Son, it is not because God’s promises failed to keep them faithful to God. Instead he believed that many ethnic Jews were not spiritual Jews and were not included in God’s promises to Abraham. As you can see for Paul the Jewish people have more than one layer -like an onion.

God bless.

Image: R. Nial Bradshaw, redonionslice.jpg, is licensed under CC 2.0

What God says, he does – Romans 9:6a

  
After Paul discusses all of the blessings that God bestowed on the Jewish people, he writes a verse which seems slightly out of place. 

[Romans 9:6a But it is not as though the word of God has failed.]

Paul introduces the idea of the word of God failing here because the response of the Jewish people to Jesus Christ caused many to believe that God had gone back on his promises. Why did they conclude this?

God promised that he would be their god and they would be his people. [Exodus 6:7] God promised to make the Jewish people like the sand on the sea shore in number and to bless all nations through them. [Genesis 22:17-18] If God sent his Son to the Jewish people and they rejected him, how are they His people? How will the nations be blessed by a nation that does not follow God’s own Son?

This problem needs to be addressed in Romans 9 because of the sweeping promise offered in Romans 8:38-39. How could God promise that we will never be separated from his love, if he doesn’t keep all of his promises? Maybe God’s word will fail one day and we will be separated from his love. Separation from God’s love results, finally, in hell.

The verses that follow Romans 9:6a explain how God’s promises to the Jewish people appear to have failed, but have not failed.

God bless.

Image: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5/

Nepalese singer known as “the Justin Bieber of Nepal” converts to Christianity

Countries of very few Christians can sometimes be heavily impacted when a public figure counterculturally makes a decision to follow Jesus Christ.

This is apparently what has just happened in Nepal. In a country that is less than 2% Christian, the conversion of a widely known singer may have affects outside just his own family. Raju Pariyar, his wife, and his two children all have became Christian. Many Nepalese could begin to investigate the religion now that someone they respect has joined th faith.

It is important to note how this happened. Raju heard about Christianity because a Nepalese pastor struck up a conversation with him on a flight. You never know what an unexpected conversation with a stranger will lead to. 

Read more on this story here.