Gilgamesh, Richard Dawkins, & the Problem of Facts

Earlier this year I added a page on this site where readers can submit questions or suggest topics. Recently I’ve received some questions both on that page and on Calvary Live regarding the Epic of Gilgamesh, an ancient Near East text which contains a flood narrative.

Some people claim that this text proves that the biblical story of Noah and the flood is just borrowed, or stolen, from other ancient Near Eastern mythology, and is not to be taken literally. This is part of a larger conspiracy theory which claims that much of Christianity is actually borrowed, or stolen, from other ancient Near Eastern mythologies, e.g. that Jesus was just borrowed from the Egyptian story of Horus and Isis.

Over the course of the next several posts, I will address various aspects of this conspiracy, and show why no real scholars believe this is true. The reason? Because it is simply not factual. It requires building a narrative which only sounds plausible until its claims are checked, at which time it becomes clear that they are not based on actual facts, research, or history.

Richard Dawkins & the Folk Religion of the New Atheism

Richard Dawkins is what you might call an “evangelical atheist”, which means that he isn’t content with just being an atheist himself, he is on a mission to convert the world to his views.

In his recent book, which is aimed specifically at converting children and young people to his brand of atheism, he claims that the Old Testament story of Noah comes from a Babylonian myth, the legend of Utnapishtim, which in turn was taken from the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh.

This claim caught the attention of George Heath-Whyte, a researcher at Cambridge who specializes in Assyriology and Near East history. Heath-Whyte then took to Twitter and wrote a scathing thread of tweets exposing the slew of factual errors in Dawkins’ book.

This was recently covered in an article on The Spectator titled, “If Richard Dawkins loves facts so much, why can’t he get them right?” The article summarizes the inaccuracies identified by Heath-Whyte in his chain of tweets.

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Here are a few highlights:

‘Well let’s start with “The Utnapishtim story … comes from the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh.” WHAT. The version of the Gilgamesh story that contains the flood narrative of Utnapishtim is NOT written in Sumerian, but Babylonian (Akkadian).

‘There are older Sumerian stories about the character Gilgamesh, none of which contain a flood story. There is even a Sumerian flood story too, but it’s not the flood story he’s talking about.

‘It seems he’s talking about a weird mix of one Babylonian flood story about a guy called Atrahasis and another Babylonian flood story about Utnapishtim (the latter being a part of the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh)…

‘… but come on Dawkins, even Wikipedia could have told you that neither of these were written in Sumerian.’

That’s pretty embarrassing for a man who had just told Krishnan Guru-Murthy that he wants ‘to rid the world of all claims that are not evidence-based’. But Heath-Whyte was just getting into his stride.

‘Problem no. 2: “Arguably the world’s oldest work of literature, [Gilgamesh] was written two thousand years earlier than the Noah story.”

‘So he’s just stated that Genesis was written “during the Babylonian captivity” (sixth century BC), and now he’s stated that (what we assume he means to be) the epic of Atrahasis, or the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh, was written 2,000 years earlier – so roughly 2600-2500 BC.

‘Most likely Atrahasis was written less than 1,300 years before the Babylonian captivity, and the version of Gilgamesh that included a flood story was probably finished less than 1,000 years before the Babylonian captivity, and likely quite a few centuries less than a thousand.

From the above-linked article:

Other mistakes identified by Heath-Whyte: Dawkins mixes up the animals in the Gilgamash and Genesis flood stories, and claims that the Sumerian flood legend, like the story of Noah’s Ark, ends with a rainbow. 

‘There’s no rainbow mentioned in any Mesopotamian flood story. Anywhere. There just isn’t,’ says Heath-Whyte, adding that in any case the former Oxford professor for the Public Understanding of Science has misidentified a Sumerian god. 

I think we can take Heath-Whyte’s word for it. Not only can he read the cuneiform in which Gilgamesh is written, but he can also write it.

If These Claims Are Not Historically Accurate, Where Do They Come From?

Continuing from the above-mentioned article:

Just when Dawkins must be wishing that a non-existent God would send a flood to cover his embarrassment, he delivers the killer blow. As he says, even Wikipedia would have put the professor right on these matters. So what was his source? ‘A quick Google search suggests that Dawkins’ source for a lot of this stuff may be a cute little website called HistoryWiz.’

I checked, and he’s right: this is the version of the Gilgamesh as mangled by HistoryWiz, which invites you to ‘step into the past… Let the wizard take you to a different time’. 

Alas, it looks as if you really do have to step into the past in order to consult the wizard. The site is ‘copyright 1998-2008’, there are loads of broken links and the design, c. 2000, is quaintly rudimentary. 

It seems clear that Richard Dawkins and others who make these claims about Gilgamesh are so committed to the conclusion they already religiously believe, that they are not concerned with real scholarship when it comes to creating their narrative.

The “New Atheism,” we might say, is a kind of folk religion which has its own shared beliefs, stories, and mythos, which are not actually based on fact or history.

In my next article I will explain what the Epic of Gilgamesh and Utnapishtim character are, and how we should understand them in relation to the Bible.

Following that, I will discuss the “Jesus Myth” and the theory that what the New Testament says about Jesus is borrowed from ancient Egyptian and Near East mythology. What I hope to show in the end, is that these theories do not hold up to even the most basic fact-checking scrutiny, and are part of a mythos created by New Atheists and other who would try to discredit the Bible and erode faith in it.

A further question which follows from this is: Why are some people opposed to Christianity and the Bible? – a question which I plan to address as well.

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Some Who Heard Him Were Not Impressed

I spent this past weekend in Howell, New Jersey, where we held an Expositors Collective training weekend at Cornerstone Calvary Chapel. My wife came with me, which was fun. It was only our second time taking a trip without our kids, and we got to spend time serving together, visiting friends, and going to the beach at the glorious Jersey shore!

Asbury Park, New Jersey. It was bright out!

During our time in Howell, we heard a great message on Mark 6:1-6 from our friend David Guzik, who is part of the Expositors Collective team.

If you haven’t heard of David before, check out his website: enduringword.com. Part of David’s life-work has been the creation of a great resource, a free online commentary of the whole Bible, which is now being translated into many languages. His ministry Enduring Word also provides audio messages, podcasts, videos, and books to help equip people with an understanding of God’s Word.

“Many who heard him were impressed”

In Mark 6, we read about how Jesus returned to his hometown of Nazareth, where his mother and (half)siblings still lived, and preached in the synagogue there. It says there in verse that “many who heard him were impressed”.

Think about that for a second… These people got to see Jesus himself open up the Scriptures and teach. His words were the very words of God! What an absolutely epic experience!

You would assume that EVERYONE who heard him teach would have been impressed, their lives irreversibly changed as a result. And yet, it says that ”MANY” were impressed; in other words, SOME people were not impressed! Some people heard Jesus teach, and were like, “Meh.” 🤷‍♂️

As a preacher, I find it strangely comforting to know that there were people who heard Jesus preach, who weren’t impressed. I shouldn’t be surprised; it is well within our human nature to be cynical and critical of even the most beautiful, true, and life-giving words.

May we who speak and teach God’s Word never do so out of an insecure, desperate need for human accolades and approval, but out of a love for God and love for people that leads us to lovingly present the truth of God’s words for them.

They thought they knew him, but they didn’t

Many were surprised because they thought they knew Jesus, and they were realizing that, in fact, they didn’t actually know him.

In verses 2-3, we are told that the people said: ‘What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offense at him.”

The people of Nazareth thought they knew who Jesus was. They saw him growing up. They knew him as the carpenter. But they were coming to realize that although they thought they knew who Jesus was, they did not in fact know him.

The reality is that there are many people, even today, who are in this same situation; they assume that they know who Jesus is and what he is all about, while in fact they do not really know him. I came to a similar realization as a young man: through the help of a friend, I came to realize that I did not actually know Jesus, though I thought I had it all pegged.

It is a good day in a person’s life when they come to realize that Jesus is much more than they ever thought him to be previously. If that hasn’t happened for you yet, I pray it will; that you will see him for who he fully is, and respond appropriately.

Is There a Difference Between “Soul” and “Spirit”?

Every human being has a physical body, yet clearly who we are is not only defined by our bodies. As our bodies age or are damaged, there is something fundamental to who we are which is distinct from our bodies. The Bible tells us that in addition to our physical bodies, as human beings we possess an immaterial spirit and soul.

What can be confusing, however, is what exactly a person’s spirit is, and what their soul is, and how these two relate to each other.

Two Views: Trichotomy and Dichotomy

The Trichitomous view holds that the soul and the spirit are two distinct things, whereas the Dichotomous view holds that soul and spirit are two words which describe two distinct aspects of the same thing, namely the immaterial part of a human being.

Those who hold a Trichotomous view often claim that this three-part human nature is one of the ways in which we have been created in the “image of God” (Genesis 1:26-27). Just as God is a greater trinity of Father, Son, and Spirit, He has created us in his image as a lesser trinity of body, soul, and spirit, says the thrichotomist. This assertion is usually followed by an explanation of what the difference is between soul and spirit. A common explanation is that the soul refers to the mind, encompassing both cognitive and personality-related aspects, whereas the spirit is the part of a person which connects with God. This, it is commonly said by trichotomists, is what distinguishes human beings from animals, who are not created in God’s image; though they have bodies and cognitive abilities (including emotions and personalities), they do not have a spirit, which makes them capable of relationship with God.

There are several passages in the Bible which suggest that there is a separation between the soul and the spirit (Romans 8:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; Hebrews 4:12). However, there are also several Bible verses which use the terms soul and spirit interchangeably (Matthew 10:28; Luke 1:46–47; 1 Corinthians 5:3, 7:34).

Hebrews 4:12 says that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” This would suggest that there is a dividing point between the soul and the spirit, but that they are so closely connected that the division of them is something which only God is capable of carrying out.

Advocates of the trichotomist position include James M. Boice, whereas J.I. Packer and John Calvin are some examples of those who hold a dichotomist view.

J.I. Packer’s argument for the dichotomous view

In his book “Concise Theology”, Packer explains the dichotomist view in this way:

Each human being in the world consists of a material body animated by an immaterial personal self. Scripture calls this self a “soul” or a “spirit.” “Soul emphasizes the distinctness of a person’s conscious selfhood; “spirit” carries the nuances of the self’s derivation from God, dependence on Him, and distinction from the body.
Biblical usage leads us to say that we have and are both souls and spirits, but it is a mistake to say that soul and spirit are two different things. (J.I. Packer, Concise Theology, pp. 74)

Packer goes on to explain that the trichotomous view tends to define soul as “an organ of this-worldly awareness,” whereas spirit is a distinct organ of communication with God.

This distinction, Packer argues, can lead to an unhealthy pitting of spirituality against intellectualism, in which intellectual engagement with God is considered “soulish”, i.e. unspiritual, while “spiritual perception” which is unrelated to the study of the Bible or rational thought. Furthermore, he adds that the trichotomous understanding of humanity may lead to a low view of the value of the material world, including our bodies, which would be inappropriate since we are embodied souls, and the hope of the gospel is not that we will escape this physical world, but that we will be resurrected to new and everlasting life in physical bodies.

My response to Packer’s view

I agree with Packer that it is wrong to devalue the physical world. As i have written about recently, this life matters! (See: Suicide, Christianity, & the Meaning of Life)

However, I do not believe that we should decide on theological positions based on fear of what they might lead some people to do. This is the kind of thinking that leads people to avoid teaching the scandalous truth about God’s amazing grace because they are afraid that some people might use it as a license to sin.

I do not believe that we should decide on theological positions based on fear of what they might lead some people to do.

Instead, we ought to develop our theological positions based on Scripture first, considering authorial intent as well as how these things were understood by the early Christians, subsequently applying reason (this is called “theological method”).

It seems dishonest, based on Scripture, to not acknowledge a distinction between soul and spirit. However, I am in agreement with Packer that we must not ever believe or teach that an intellectual pursuit of God is unspiritual, or that seeking God’s will in Scripture is less spiritual than seeking it through “spiritual perception”. Yet, the way the words are used in the Bible leads me to believe that soul and spirit are separate, yet intimately connected aspects of human personhood, the latter of which sets us apart from the animal world.

What are your thoughts on this topic? Do you lean more towards the trichotomous or dichotomous view, and why?

Check out this discussion that Mike Payne, worship pastor at White Fields Church and I recently had on this subject for our church’s YouTube channel:

Encouragement for the Fainthearted

back view photo of person walking out of a cave

It’s been said that if you speak to hurting people, you will never lack an audience.

In Paul’s 2nd Letter to the Thessalonians, he wrote to a group of people who were discouraged and fainthearted, worn down and tired from the struggles of life. Maybe you can relate to those feelings as well.

In 2 Thessalonians chapter 1, Paul gives the Thessalonians three things in order to encourage these fainthearted people: an outside perspective, an explanation of God’s justice, and a surprising prayer.

An Outside Perspective

We know that the Thessalonians were dealing with very difficult things: persecution, false teachers, problematic people in their congregation. And yet, Paul, in seeking to encourage them, gives them an outside perspective on how they are doing. He tells them that he can see growth in their life, in the areas of faith and love.

We all need those people in our lives who will put their hand on your shoulder, look you in the eye, and tell you what they see in you. I’ve had a few people like that in my life, and it is incredibly powerful.

This isn’t only true in regard to encouragement; sometimes we need someone to do that for us in order to help us see where we’re off-track or need to improve. An important, but often overlooked passage in the book of Genesis is Genesis 49, where Jacob gathers his sons to him in his old age and gives each of them a “blessing suitable for them” (Genesis 49:28). He takes each of his sons, and speaks into their lives, telling them what he sees in them that he is proud of, and what he sees in them which is cause for concern.

For parents, I think this is absolutely essential: that we give our children and outside perspective on what we see in them. It can be incredibly life-giving.

This is also important in friendships. This past week, in the wake of Pastor Jarrid Wilson’s death by suicide, there has been an outpouring of love and kind messages posted online from people who knew Jarrid. Many people who struggle with depression are overwhelmed by negative thoughts, and lies from the enemy, Satan, “the Father of Lies”, that they are alone, that people would be happier if they were gone, that no one would miss them, that no one cares about them, that their life is not worth living, etc. For a believer, our minds are the primary battle ground of spiritual warfare. To make it worse, our hearts are deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9), which means that telling someone to “listen to your heart” is some of the worst advice you could possibly give. It is important, therefore, that we give those who are discouraged or fainthearted an outside perspective on how we really see them, think about them, and feel about them, so they know how much they are valued and appreciated, so they are encouraged by the growth that we see, and challenged by the things which cause us concern – lest they be abandoned and left alone to the spiritual battlefield which is their own hearts and minds.

An Explanation of God’s Justice

Many people feel that human hardship and suffering calls God’s justice into question (see: “I Could Never Believe in a God Who Lets Bad Things Happen to Good People”). However, in 2 Thessalonians 1, Paul evokes God’s justice in order to encourage fainthearted people.

He explains on the one hand, that God is not unfair in allowing these things to happen to them, because God is allowing these things and using them in their lives to shape them and grow them. Additionally, God is just and will deal with those who abuse and do wrong. Finally, God is beyond just, in that he will bring about a day of relief from suffering for those who are in Christ, will all sin, death and evil will end forever and we will be glorified with Christ.

A Surprising Prayer

My tendency, and perhaps yours as well, when I face difficulty that causes me discouragement, is to pray that God would take away the problem or fix the situation. Surprisingly, that’s not what Paul prays for when he prays for the Thessalonians. Instead, he prays that God would strengthen them, and that God would be glorified through them, no matter what happens – whether their situation improves or not.

As human beings we seem to be obsessed with our circumstances. In our culture, we tend to pray disproportionately for God to protect us from bad things happening to us (think: “traveling mercies”), compared to how much we pray for God to be glorified in our lives, whatever that might entail. I am challenged by Paul’s prayer here to be asking this key question all the more: How can I glorify God the most in the midst of this situation?

For more on this topic, check out the sermon from White Fields Church: Encouragement for the Fainthearted

How to Write a Sermon: Outlining

The most recent episode of the Expositors Collective Podcast is a talk I gave at the Expositors Collective training weekend in San Diego back in April 2019.

I begin the talk with a story about my dad and his habit of starting to drive without knowing the destination, and how many people approach sermon or message preparation in a similar way.

I then explain the the process I go through each week in writing, which begins with studying and outlining, but also includes collaboration.

If you’ve ever wanted to see behind the curtain for how I go about writing a sermon, listen in: Episode 64 – Start With the Destination in Mind

Join us at an upcoming Training Weekend!

We already have the schedule for the next several Expositors Collective training weekends. More information is available at ExpositorsCollective.com

  • Howell, NJ – September 20-21, 2019
  • Las Vegas, NV – February 21-22, 2020
  • Seattle, WA – May 8-9, 2020
  • Honolulu, HI – October 16-17, 2020

 

Everyone is Fighting a Hard Battle

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

This quote is often attributed to Plato, but whoever first said it doesn’t matter as much as the fact that it is true.

September is National Suicide Awareness Month, and this week is National Suicide Prevention Week.

A number of lives close to me personally and to those in my church community have been affected by suicide and attempted suicide recently. In these cases, you are always left with the feeling that you wish you would have known, or that they would have reached out, so you could have helped them work through what they were facing, and told them how much you love and value them, and that their situation is not hopeless.

I was saddened yesterday to learn of the death of Pastor Jarrid Wilson of Harvest Christian Fellowship in California.

A képen a következők lehetnek: 1 személy, mosolyog, szöveg

Jarrid was not only a pastor, he was also a mental health advocate and the co-founder of Anthem of Hope, a Christian non-profit organization “dedicated to amplifying hope for those battling brokenness, depression, anxiety, self-harm, addiction and suicide.”

Jarrid was open about his own struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts, and was actively trying to help others who struggle with the same things.

Here is the statement from Pastor Greg Laurie, lead pastor of the church where Jarrid served:

It is with the deepest sadness and shock that I have to report that Jarrid Wilson went to be with the Lord last night.

At a time like this, there are just no words.

The Bible says, “There is a time to mourn.” This is certainly that time.

Jarrid is survived by his wife, Juli, his two sons, Finch and Denham, his mother, father, and siblings.

Jarrid loved the Lord and had a servant’s heart.

He was vibrant, positive, and was always serving and helping others.

Jarrid also repeatedly dealt with depression and was very open about his ongoing struggles.

He wanted to especially help those who were dealing with suicidal thoughts.

Tragically, Jarrid took his own life.

Jarrid joined us as an associate pastor at Harvest 18 months ago and had spoken out many times on this very issue of mental health.

Jarrid and his wife, Juli, founded an outreach to help people dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts called “Anthem of Hope.”

Sometimes people may think that as pastors or spiritual leaders we are somehow above the pain and struggles of everyday people. We are the ones who are supposed to have all the answers. But we do not.

At the end of the day, pastors are just people who need to reach out to God for His help and strength, each and every day.

Over the years, I have found that people speak out about what they struggle with the most.

One dark moment in a Christian’s life cannot undo what Christ did for us on the cross.

Romans reminds us that “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:39).

At times like this, we must remember that as Christians, we do not live on explanations but on promises. We fall back on what we do know, not on what we don’t know. We do know that Jarrid put his faith in Jesus Christ and we also know that he is in Heaven now.

We stand on the promise of Revelation 21:4 that reminds us that in Heaven there is no more sorrow, suffering, or death.

Please keep Juli and Jarrid’s family in prayer.

The Harvest family has lost a bright light.

Pray for us as we grieve together

I didn’t know Jarrid personally, but several of my friends did. I grieve with them, and for Jarrid’s wife and his children who will grow up without their father. As Jarrid was the sole income-earner in his family, a GoFundMe campaign has been set up to ease the financial burden on his family in the wake of their loss.

Suicide doesn’t fix any problems or ease any pain. It only creates more pain and heartache for those who are left behind.

Thoughts like, “Everyone would be better off if I were gone” or “No one would notice or miss me if I died” are never true, and are lies from Satan, the “Father of Lies” and the enemy of our souls. We must respond to these lies with the truth, which God has revealed in His Word: that you are loved, you are valuable, your life matters, and God has a purpose for you.

There is hope, and your life matters! That’s the truth, regardless of how you might feel in any given moment.

If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, Anthem of Hope has an anonymous live chat, where you can talk to someone and tell them how you are feeling: http://anthemofhope.org/hopeline.

For those in the United States, you can also reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK [8255]

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

Intimacy is Created Through Shared Experiences

Today is our wedding anniversary. 15 years!

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At our wedding reception in San Diego

15 years, 2 countries, 3 cities, 4 kids. It’s been great. I am so thankful.

A képen a következők lehetnek: Nick Cady és Rosemary Cady, , mosolygó emberek, hegy, égbolt, túra/szabadtéri és természet
Hiking last week in the Indian Peaks Wilderness

In addition to both being disciples of Jesus and committed to His mission, one thing I’ve learned over the past 15 years is that intimacy is created through shared experiences.

When we lived in Hungary, we had some friends from Finland who were medical students. They later became doctors, and we had the opportunity to visit them in Finland and teach at a retreat their church put on for students. Even though they were doctors, our friends lived in a nice, but modest apartment. They explained to us that they would rather live simply so they could spend their money traveling, having experiences and making memories together.

That stuck with us, and we’ve generally followed the same pattern throughout our marriage. Parts of our house are stuck in the 1970’s, yet we’ve chosen to spend our money traveling and having experiences rather than remodeling our kitchen.

We are firm believers in the idea that intimacy is created through shared experiences. When I see married couples who live separate lives even though they dwell in the same house, I get concerned, because I know they are having shared experiences with someone, and the power of shared experiences can be so strong, that they inevitably draw people together. If a husband and wife aren’t being drawn together through shared experiences, they are likely being drawn towards other people.

This principle is true outside of marriage as well, and therefore a wise person will be intentional about how, and with whom, they spend their time and create shared experiences.

I believe this is important when it comes to Christianity and a life of faith as well. Though our world is more connected than ever by technology, our society is increasingly lonely; I’ve written more about that here: “Toxic Loneliness and How to Break Out”.

How do we break out of this loneliness? How do we build a healthy kind of intimacy with other people that will help us grow? By getting out of our comfort zone and having shared experiences with other people.

Currently at White Fields, we are kicking off our fall season of Community Groups. If you’re in or around our local area here, we would love to help you get connected to a group of people with whom you can build shared experiences through prayer, fellowship, and Bible study. More information here.

All of Christianity is Eschatological

Image result for crushing the head of the serpent

The word eschatology means “the study of the final things”. Often times we use the word eschatology to speak about those parts of the Bible which deal with “the end times” and constructing a “timeline” of end-times events based on various verses in the Bible.

But that’s not all that eschatology is. Eschatology is bigger than that.

In Greek, the word eschaton means “the final event”. And in this sense, all of the Bible is eschatological, because from the beginning of the book to the end, the Bible tells us that all of human history is moving towards a grand climax.

A Linear Versus a Circular View of Life

Whereas many Eastern philosophies tend to think about life and existence circularly (think: reincarnation), the Bible is different in that it it thinks about life and existence linearly. 

According to God’s Word, all of our lives and all of history are moving towards a particular, final, and unavoidable end. God has a plan that is going to culminate in something, and that something is the eschaton. 

Genesis, the first book of the Bible, begins by telling us about the origin of the world and its original design. This story of origin forms the introduction and foundation to the story which the rest of the Bible tells: the story of God’s redemption of his creation.

The eschaton is first alluded to as soon as sin enters into the world, corrupting the good creation. In Genesis 3:16, God speaks to the serpent and says, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall crush your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” The seed of a woman (as opposed to the usual seed of a man) will be stricken by the serpent, but this one will defeat and destroy the serpent. This is a foreshadowing of how Jesus, born of a virgin, would wage the ultimate battle against evil, be mortally wounded, and yet in doing so would defeat sin, death, and the devil.

There are many aspects to this eschaton, including the return of Jesus, the resurrection of the dead, the final judgment, the Lake of Fire, and the New Heavens and the New Earth.

For more on these topics, check out:

Jesus came, therefore, as an eschatological Savior, and the hope that we have as Christians is an eschatological hope. All of the Bible and all of Christianity is oriented towards this eschatological hope.

Here is a video of a discussion Pastor Mike and I had about eschatology based on our recent study of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, which talks about the return of Jesus:

Suicide & Salvation

monochrome photo of woman sitting on floor

In response to my post, “Suicide, Christianity, & the Meaning of Life”, I received the following question from a reader:

I’m wondering about your thoughts on people who are mentally ill, followers of Christ, and decide to commit suicide. Do you think they go to heaven? In your post you said that suicide is equal to the sin of murder. This is something I’ve wrestled with for a long time now.

Mental Illness, Fallen Nature, and Spiritual Warfare

More people die from suicide than from homicide in America. Sadly, mental illness and suicide touch many lives, not only those who suffer from mental illness or struggle with suicidal thoughts, but also the lives of those who love them and are connected to them.  Mental illness often distorts the thinking and perception of those who struggle with it, leading them to feel alone and without hope, even when this is not the case.

Certainly, in addition to physiological disorders and imbalances in the brain, which themselves are the result of the fallen human condition, our minds are the chief battlefield upon which spiritual warfare is waged, with “the enemy of our souls,” the one who seeks to steal, kill, and destroy, attacking our thought life with lies and destructive suggestions.

The word “satan” comes from Hebrew, and means “adversary”. The word “devil” comes from Greek, and means “accuser” or “slanderer”. One of the ways the devil attacks us is by throwing our sins and shortcomings in our face. Whereas the devil is an “accuser”, Jesus is our advocate before the Father (1 John 2:1). Another way the devil attacks us is by telling us lies; Jesus said about the devil that “there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44)

It is significant therefore, that when Paul talks about taking up the “armor of God” to help us withstand “the schemes of the devil”, he includes the “helmet of salvation”, which protects the believer’s head (Ephesians 6:10-20). One of the best things we can do to combat the lies of the enemy is to become intimately familiar with God’s truth and who He says we are.

Sin and Salvation

Suicide, without a doubt, is a grave sin, equal to murder. However, does such a sin cause a person to lose their salvation? Since salvation is not something that can be earned in the first place by our good actions (or lack of bad actions), it is not something we can lose  by our bad actions.

The Bible teaches that those who have been redeemed by God have been forgiven of all of our sins: past, present, and future (Colossians 2:13-14). This means that I do believe it is possible that if a true Christian were to commit suicide in a moment of extreme weakness, they would be received into Heaven.

What About 1 Corinthians 3:16-17?

1 Corinthians 3:16-17 says, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”

This verse has sometimes been used to say that those who commit suicide will be destroyed by God, i.e. receive eternal judgment and not salvation. The problem with using this verse in this way, is that this verse is not talking about suicide.

While 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 argues for individual holiness on the basis of the fact that, as believers in whom God’s Spirit dwells, we are the temple of the living God, in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 Paul is talking about the church corporately as the temple of God. This is similar to what Peter says in 1 Peter 2:5, where he says, “you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” The picture Peter paints is that we are each individual stones who come together to form the temple of God; God, thus, makes his habitation in the midst of the congregation, not in special buildings built by human hands (cf. Acts 7:48, 17:24)

The problem we have in modern English is that we use the same word, “you”, for both the second person singular and the second person plural (y’all or you guys – depending on where you’re from), so a simple reading in our modern vernacular doesn’t tell us if a verse is directed towards us as individuals or to a collective group. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 uses you in the second person plural, meaning that Paul is speaking of those who destroy God’s temple as those who destroy the Body of Christ, the Church. This is also clear from the context of 1 Corinthians 3, where Paul is talking about the importance of unity in the Body of Christ.

Thus, 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 is a warning about how seriously God takes attacks against the Church, not a warning aimed at those who are considering suicide.

A Word of Caution

My purpose in writing this post is only to bring clarity to a theological question and perhaps some hope to those who have had believing loved ones who suffered from mental illness and/or great spiritual attack, and in a moment of great weakness decided to do something awful and end their lives.

My fear is that in writing this I might give justification to someone who is considering committing suicide, but has been kept from doing so out of fear of Hell.

Let me be clear: what I have written here is my best attempt at faithfully exegeting and making sense of what the Scriptures say. I could be wrong.

I will say this: to entertain suicidal thoughts is sin. It is to entertain ideas of taking your life into your own hands, rather than honoring God as Lord and master of your life. He deserves that role both as a result of creation and salvation; you are not your own, you belong to Him (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

Furthermore, the markers of person who has been regenerated by God’s Spirit is that their life is characterized by hope and by a mission. While there may be times when a person experiences extreme feelings of hopelessness for various reasons, there is hope, and God has a purpose with your life.

Help is available for those who are struggling. You can contact me directly here, or call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Hotline if you need someone to talk to immediately: 1-800-273-8255

Suicide, Christianity, & the Meaning of Life

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If – as the Bible teaches – when a believer dies, their soul goes to be with God, where there is no longer any suffering, pain or sickness, then why would we not want to speed up the process a little bit? After all, as Paul the Apostle wrote to the Philippians, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Philippians 1:23). Why not take up smoking, stop using sunscreen, and give up wearing seatbelts? Or, to take it even further, why not just go all the way and end your life now, so you can leave this harsh world behind and go to Heaven?

If that sounds preposterous, keep in mind that this was something that actually happened in early Christian history: there was a time when committing suicide became fashionable among Christians, and the church had to respond and try to end this tragic fad.

When Christians Were Killing Themselves

Until the Edict of Milan, AKA the Edict of Tolleration was issued in 313 AD, Christianity’s status in the Roman Empire was that of religio illicita, an “illicit” or illegal religion (as opposed to Judaism, which held the status of religio licita)During this time, Christians throughout the Roman Empire experienced waves of persecution, usually dependent on the attitudes of local authorities, although there were times when persecution was the official policy of the entire empire – such as during the reigns of Nero and Diocletian. Christians also faced persecution outside the Roman Empire.

During this period, many Christians were martyred, and martyrs were highly regarded and respected as those who had been willing to pay the ultimate price for their faith. In fact, martyrdom was so highly regarded, that people began to seek it out and desire it, as a way of expressing their devotion to Jesus. Ignatius of Antioch, for example, wrote about his desire to die as a martyr.

But some people took it even further. Jerome writes about a young woman named Belsilla who flagellated herself so much that she died from her self-imposed injuries. Another woman, Agathonike, upon witnessing the execution of a bishop by burning, also threw herself onto the fire, declaring “this is the meal that has been prepared for me.” She died in the flames, even though she had not been arrested nor charged. There are other accounts of Christians volunteering to be martyred even though they were not even being sought by the authorities. [1]

The Donatists, who considered themselves particularly hard core and dedicated, greatly desired to show their devotion by being martyred, some even going to the point of simply killing themselves to show how spiritual they were, i.e. how much they were not attached to this life and how much they desired to depart this world and be with Christ.

The Response of the Church

Seeking martyrdom and committing suicide became such a big issue with the Donatists in particular that it threatened the credibility, and even the existence of the church in their area of North Africa.

Judaism had always considered suicide to be sinful, whereas in pagan Roman culture it was considered an acceptable way to exit this life, and was practiced mostly by the wealthy, in part because slaves were not allowed to commit suicide since their lives did not belong to them, but rather to their masters.

It was Augustine of Hippo, a native of North Africa himself, who took up the challenge of addressing this issue and clarifying Christian thinking on this subject. In his book ‘The City of God’, Augustine considered what the Bible has to say about suicide and weighed various arguments for and against suicide. His conclusion was that suicide is always wrong as it is a violation of the sixth commandment (“Thou shall not murder”), and is never justified even in extreme circumstances. This became the official position of the church. [2]

The Meaning of Life

This whole issue touches on something which is core to Christian belief, and which sets Christianity apart from other worldviews and religions.

Many world religions view the world negatively, as a place of chaos, pain, and suffering – where the goal is to escape. This is the goal of transcendence and Nirvana in Eastern philosophies and religions, for example.

Christianity on the other hand, views this world positively. Rather than seeing the origin of the world as having come about through conflict or chaos, it is described as the thoughtful and good creation of a loving God. It is described as a garden paradise, given to us as a gift by our loving creator.

Although this good creation has been corrupted by sin and world currently “lies under the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19), the world still retains its fundamental goodness, and God has promised that one day He will redeem His creation.

The purpose of our lives, according to the Bible, is not to escape this world, but to steward this world (Genesis 1:28), as well as our lives and everything we’ve been given, to the glory of God and for the benefit and salvation of others. In other words: the people of God have been given a mission which can only be carried out in this life, and therefore this life matters greatly. Rather than escaping this world, His desire for us is to be about His business as long as we live.

It is an unbiblical an anemic theology of life and the world which leads to the attitude that the most spiritual thing to do is to bide your time as you wait to get out of this world to be with God. True spirituality is rather to value this life and the unique opportunities it affords to do the work of God, and be involved in his saving and redeeming work.

As Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. (1 Thessalonians 5:19)

Between now and the end of our lives, there is a whole space that is significant. How you live it matters greatly to God. There are things he wants you to do with that time (cf. Ephesians 2:10). The Christian life, in other words, is not simply waiting to die so you can go to Heaven. God has given you this life for a purpose and He wants to use you to advance His Kingdom and to touch lives. He values our lives, and so should we!