Thursday, September 20, 2012

"What about the heathen?"

One of the most frequently voiced "objections" to the Christian faith goes something like this: "What about the heathen people of the world who have never heard the Gospel?  Are you trying to say that a loving God would send them to Hell, just because they've never heard the Christian message?"  It's a very old objection, and, happily, you don't hear it as often as you used to; perhaps this is because the entire world is gradually "evolving" into a state of rampant heathenism, so the issue isn't as prominent.  Nevertheless, there are always plenty of cynics, and a few honestly questioning people, who tax Christians with this question.  As usual, there's an answer.

First of all, we need to define the word "heathen."  Webster's 1828 Dictionary of the English Language, which was compiled during a time of Judeo-Christian consensus, defined the term this way:

1. A pagan; a Gentile; one who worships idols, or is unacquainted with the true God. In the Scriptures, the word seems to comprehend all nations except the Jews or Israelites, as they were all strangers to the true religion, and all addicted to idolatry. The word may now be applied perhaps to all nations, except to Christians and Mohammedans.

Heathen, without the plural termination, is used plurally or collectively, for Gentiles or heathen nations.

2. A rude, illiterate, barbarous person.

Although relatively few people today share Noah Webster's Christian orientation, they would recognize the first definition as the one they meant when asking "What about the heathen?"  The definition conjures up images of impoverished Indians or starving Africans or various aboriginal peoples: what Rudyard Kipling, in his great "Recessional," called "lesser breeds, without the law."  And there are still hordes of them, even in the 21st century: it would be naive and presumptuous to assume that, simply because of the Internet and the proliferation of cable television, the entire world is "connected" and informed.  There are billions of people on earth who wouldn't know a computer from a box of corn flakes (although the latter would be of more use to most of them).  According to the United Nations, there are still thousands of languages which have not yet been reduced to writing.


There are, then, certainly hundreds of millions of people who have never heard the Name of Jesus Christ, much less the saving knowledge of His Gospel.  Which begs the question: if receiving Christ is the prerequisite for salvation, are these people damned? (A related question would be, "What about the people who lived before Jesus Christ appeared on the earth?")  Cynics and theophobes gloat over this question, seeing it as one of Christianity's most glaring flaws.

It is no such thing, of course, resting (as do so many objections to Christianity) upon specious and mendacious presuppositions.  For those people who are sincerely troubled by this question, the answer isn't hard to find in God's word.

Because the fact is that no human being who has ever walked through this world has been in complete and utter darkness, cut off from the revelation of their Creator.  God isn't that callous, or that uncaring; He did not create the human race to be fodder for Hell. He has provided, and continues to provide, light and illumination for anyone, in any place, who seeks to know Him.

God has revealed Himself in a number of ways: within the sphere of human history, He did it by giving the Law to Moses, and by becoming incarnate at Bethlehem.  Every Jew looks to Abraham and Moses as the human fathers of their faith, and the bearers of God's revelation; Christians, of course, recognize Jesus Christ as God, the Creator, in the flesh.  And both regard the Old and/or New Testaments as God's propositional revelation: the one in which He expressed Himself in words.  But, leaving aside the claims of false faiths and cults like Islam and Mormonism, which also claim "holy writings," God has revealed Himself in several other ways - - - ways that can be perceived and understood by every human being who ever lived, if they are truly seeking.  When God chose to reveal Himself to His human creation, He didn't leave anyone out.



The heavens declare the glory of God, says David in Psalm 91:1-3, and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.  The people pictured above may never hear the Name of Jesus Christ, or see a page of scripture, but they behold God's handiwork every day of their lives - - -and every night of their lives, from the youngest to the oldest.  But they're not just observing pretty butterflies, or witnessing the glories of a starry night; they're actually receiving knowledge about God. They see the creation, and, unless they've been educated out of their intelligence by "teachers," they sense the Presence of a Creator. But look very carefully at what David said, under the inspiration of God: Day unto day uttereth speech.  Although they're not listening to a missionary or reading a Bible, these people are being spoken to, on an intellectual level that bypasses the merely verbal. And, according to the same sentence, they're hearing that speech.  Not just one South American tribe, or one Pacific Island native group, or the people of the African veldt: everyone. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard - - - the voice of God's creation. Their line is gone out through all the earth, David continues, and their words to the end of the world. "Their line" simply means "their message," and it's a very contemporary term: as in, "Oh, man, don't give me that line!  I've heard it before!"

Not only do "the heathen" learn of God's existence through His creation, they can learn very specific things about God.  (How much they learn depends on how much they want to learn, just like any university student in the "civilized" world.) In Psalm 19:4,5, David continues, In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun, Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race. People see the sun, and, if they're seeking God, they are reminded of a Bridegroom, of all things: in fact, the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ (Mark 2:19, 20, Luke 5:34, 35, Revelation 19:9, etc.).  And when the sun goes down, and rises again in the morning, they may perceive that the Bridegroom dies and is resurrected, and that He's coming back.  These are but a few of the truths that can be preceived from God's natural revelation.  "What about the heathen who haven't heard?"  The question is meaningless.  They've heard: There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. If this sounds fanciful to you, then you're not looking for an answer to the question; you're looking for an excuse to reject Jesus Christ.  Happily, many of "the heathen" are more open-minded than you are.



In addition to this revelation of nature, however, every human being, in whatever circumstances, has been given the revelation of God in his or her conscience.  (These things are referred to by theologians as "general revelation," but we needn't be so supercilious as to reduce such great truths to mere labels.)  If the revelation of nature settles the question of "God/no God," then the revelation of conscience solves the matter of the existence of right and wrong, good and evil.  Every child has a conscience about certain things, until he or she is "educated" out of it by antinomian teachers, or wheedled out of it by peers, or simply stifles it deliberately in order to pursue his or her selfish desires.  But it's there at birth.  Paul, writing of the Gentiles (Kipling's "lesser breeds, without the law"), said, For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another (Romans 2:14, 15).  God has written His moral law upon our hearts, just as surely as He has written the color of our eyes into our DNA. That's why the Pharaoh was horrified by Abram's apparent willingness to countenance adultery, in Genesis 12:11-19 - - - before the Ten Commandments were ever given.  God's law was written upon the human heart long before it was graven on stone tablets.  Once again, we needn't ask about "the heathen who haven't heard:" they've heard.  They certainly need missionaries and teachers to instruct them in the specifics of God's word, but they are not, and never have been, totally ignorant. 

But, despite Webster's definition, this entire discussion begs the question: "Who are the heathen?" Are they African bushmen or Australian aborigines who have never heard the Name of Jesus Christ .... or might they also be the "educated" Westerners who have heard that Name, been instructed in the Bible, and totally rejected them, with self-righteous contempt, or tried to remake them to suit their own fancies?

It would appear that there are "heathen" .... and then there are heathen.  May God forbid that you not be among them, but that you might find life and light and joy through receiving Jesus Christ as your Saviour, according to John 1:12 - - - without making excuses. Let God worry about the islanders and the jungle dwellers, and look to yourself!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Whose Democratic Party?

For the record, I am not a Republican, nor do I belong to any political party.  To paraphrase Groucho Marx, I wouldn't want to join any Party that would have me.  Nor, despite my obvious disdain for the Current President, am I campaigning for Gov. Romney.  (I haven't seen a Presidential candidate who was worthy of my support in nearly thirty years.)  But I do care deeply about the nation of Israel, and I found this video to be, as the lawyers would say, quite apposite:

video  
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Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Captive

 As I was among the captives by the river of Chebar, that the heavens were opened,
and I saw visions of God ... and the hand of the LORD was there upon [me].
- - - Ezekiel 1: 1, 3

There is no commentator of the Scriptures half so valuable as a captivity. The old Psalms have quavered for us with a new pathos as we sat by our "Babel's stream," and have sounded for us with new joy as we found our captivity turned as the streams in the South.
    

The man who has seen much affliction will not readily part with his copy of the Word of God. Another book may seem to others to be identical with his own; but it is not the same to him, for over his old and tear-stained Bible he has written, in characters which are visible to no eyes but his own, the record of his experiences, and ever and anon he comes on Bethel pillars or Elim palms, which are to him the memorials of some critical chapter in his history.
    

If we are to receive benefit from our captivity we must accept the situation and turn it to the best possible account. Fretting over that from which we have been removed or which has been taken away from us, will not make things better, but it will prevent us from improving those which remain. The bond is only tightened by our stretching it to the uttermost.
    

The impatient horse which will not quietly endure his halter only strangles himself in his stall. The high-mettled animal that is restive in the yoke only galls his shoulders; and every one will understand the difference between the restless starling of which Sterne has written, breaking its wings against the bars of the cage, and crying, "I can't get out, I can't get out," and the docile canary that sits upon its perch and sings as if it would outrival the lark soaring to heaven's gate.
    

No calamity can be to us an unmixed evil if we carry it in direct and fervent prayer to God, for even as one in taking shelter from the rain beneath a tree may find on its branches fruit which he looked not for, so we in fleeing for refuge beneath the shadow of God's wing, will always find more in God than we had seen or known before.
 
It is thus through our trials and afflictions that God gives us fresh revelations of Himself; and the Jabbok ford leads to Peniel, where, as the result of our wrestling, we "see God face to face," and our lives are preserved. Take this to thyself, O captive, and He will give thee "songs in the night," and turn for thee "the shadow of death into the morning."  --William Taylor
      
"Submission to the divine will is the softest pillow on which to recline."



(From Streams in the Desert, Mrs. Charles Cowman, 1925)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

You've got a lot of nerve....

"You've got a lot of nerve, to say you are my friend
When I was down, you just stood there grinning...."
.
- - - Bob Dylan, "Positively Fourth Street"*

This is getting monotonous: the current President of the United States has stiff-armed Israel again, in an even bolder manner than he has in recent weeks.  Although he has announced plans to appear, once again, on the David Letterman show,  and although he has time for a radio interview with a certain "DJ Laz," who is pleased to bill himself as "the pimp with the limp," the current President has declined a request to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  Seldom have a Commander-in-Chief's priorities been more obvious. From Haaretz:

White House declines Netanyahu request to meet with Obama

The White House's response marks a new low in relations between Netanyahu and Obama, underscored by the fact that this is the first time Netanyahu will visit the U.S. as prime minister without meeting Obama; PM to meet with Clinton

By Barak Ravid and Natasha Mozgovaya | Sep.11, 2012 | 8:10 PM

The White House declined Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's request on Tuesday to meet U.S. President Barack Obama during a UN conference in New York at the end of the month. 
President Haman
The White House National Security Council Spokesman Tommy Vietor told Haaretz the two would not meet due to a scheduling conflict. "The President arrives in New York for the UN on Monday, September 24th and departs on Tuesday, September 25th. The Prime Minister doesn’t arrive in New York until later in the week. They're simply not in the city at the same time." 
President Haman
Vietor did, however, say that Netanyahu and Obama are "in frequent contact" and that the PM would meet with other senior officials, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. 
President Haman
An official in Jerusalem said that the Prime Minister's Office sent the White House a message stating that although Netanyahu will spend only two and a half days on U.S. soil, he is interested in meeting Obama and is willing to travel  to the U.S. capital specifically for that purpose.  The official added that the White House rejected the request and said that at this time Obama's schedule does not allow for a meeting. 

Asked whether the president is ready to meet Netanyahu in Washington, Vietor said: "I don’t have a final schedule for the president for that whole week." 
President Haman
The White House's response marks a new low in relations between Netanyahu and Obama, underscored by the fact that this is the first time Netanyahu will visit the U.S. as prime minister without meeting the president.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak tried to ease the tension on Tuesday, saying that the differences between the U.S. and Israel should be ironed out "but behind closed doors." 
President Haman
"We must not forget that the U.S. is Israel's most important source of support in terms of security," he said in a statement. 
President Haman
Earlier on Tuesday, Netanyahu launched an unprecedented verbal attack on the U.S. government over its stance on the Iranian nuclear program. 

"The world tells Israel 'wait, there's still time'. And I say, 'Wait for what? Wait until when?' Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don't have a moral right to place a red light before Israel," Netanyahu told reporters on Tuesday. 

"Now if Iran knows that there is no red line. If Iran knows that there is no deadline, what will it do? Exactly what it's doing. It's continuing, without any interference, towards obtaining nuclear weapons capability and from there, nuclear bombs," he said. 

U.S. Department of State spokeswoman Victoria Nuland stressed again on Tuesday that the U.S.  administration doesn't see public discussion of Iranian nuclear program and red lines as useful. "We don't think it's particularly useful to have those conversations in public. It doesn't help the process and it doesn't help the integrity of the diplomacy. To be standing here at the podium parsing the details of the Iranian nuclear program is not helpful to getting where we want to go," she said, briefing the media.
President Haman
White House spokesman Jay Carney reasserted the strong cooperative relationship between Israel and the U.S. on security. "We have extensive and ongoing conversations and contact with our close ally, Israel, on this issue as well as a wide variety of other security-related issues. We have the most comprehensive security and intelligence relationship with Israel in history, as attested to by not just leaders from this administration but from the Israeli government." 

Also on Tuesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that if Iran decides to make a nuclear weapon, the United States would have a little more than a year to act to stop it.

"You've got a lot of nerve, to say you've got a helping hand to lend;
You just want to be on the side that's winning...." *

 "Aren't those Jews a hoot, Dave?"


*© Special Rider Music, 1965

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Obama to Israel: "Go to Hell!"

Sadly, this is nothing new, but it's the latest installment in the continuing betrayal of Israel by the two most recent American administrations.  Even in the midst of a reelection campaign, even as Israel faces perhaps its greatest danger since 1973, the current President is moving farther and farther away from America's only ally in the Mideast.  May the Lord reward him according to his works (2 Timothy 4:14).

From the most reliable source for news of Israel, Debka File:

US disowns Israel over Iran strike: No weapons or military backup 
 .
DEBKAfile Exclusive Analysis September 1, 2012, 10:04 AM (GMT+02:00) 
.
US Gen. Martin Dempsey’s assertion Thursday, Aug. 30 that the US would not be “complicit” in an Israel strike against Iran, together with the drastic reduction in the scale of next month’s joint US-Israeli war game disclosed by TIME, add up to a blunt message from US President Barack Obama to Israel: You are on your own! See how you manage without special US weapons and US military backup, including a shield against missile counter-attack, if you decide to defy us and go through with a military operation against Iran.
Israel
Instead of the 5,000 US troops originally assigned for Austere Challenge 12, the annual joint exercise, the Pentagon will send only 1,200 to 1,500 service members. The missile interception systems at the core of the joint exercise will be reduced in number and potency: Patriot anti-missiles will come without crews and maybe one instead of two Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense warships, according to the magazine.

debkafile’s military sources: The Obama administration has put Israel on harsh notice that an attack on Iran to disrupt or delay its nuclear armament will be refused US missile backup - both in the course of the operation and to cover Israel’s back in the event of a counter-strike widening into a general Middle East conflict. The Netanyahu government will bear full and exclusive responsibility for the consequences of attacking Iran.

Obama, who has repeatedly pledged his commitment to Israeli security, is the first American president to cut Israeli adrift against a major threat to its security explicitly posed by Iran.

 The US president has put his campaign for reelection next month at great albeit calculated risk. His rival Mitt Romney will not doubt follow up on the charges he made during his acceptance speech to the Republican convention Thursday that Obama threw “allies like Israel under the bus” and failed utterly to stop Iran’s centrifuges spinning.
  Israel

Obama may find the Jewish vote and campaign contributions fading. For Romney an incumbent president  throwing Israel to the wolves against the ayatollahs is a dream come true. 
Israel
Binyamin Netanyahu and his defense minister Ehud Barak must bear some of the onus for one of the most damaging ruptures US-Israel relations have ever faced - as will be discussed later. However, the prime cause must be sought elsewhere.

In the last month, Obama has undergone a change of face: The top US soldier and ambassador Dan Shapiro were told to start treating Israel like a pest and telling its leaders that the administration is fed to the teeth with their clamor for action on Iran.

This change did not come out of the blue. debkafile’s Washington and Moscow sources report it evolved from three events:

 1. During this month, President Vladimir Putin severed Russia’s military ties with Iran and Syria as debkafile reported earlier: Obama reciprocated by cutting Israel down to size. Moscow informed Tehran and Damascus that there would be no more Russian arms supplies after the delivery of the last items in the pipeline. Putin therefore left both Iran and Syria high and dry amid war dangers in return for Obama cutting Israel off from advance military hardware at a time of peril.

The Russian and American leaders thus put in place the first bricks of an accord for resolving their disputes over a nuclear Iran and the Syrian crisis by the device of slashing the military capacity of Iran, Israel and Syria.

The Russian president took another step as a gesture to Obama: He pulled Russian warships out of the Syrian base of Tartus and the eastern Mediterranean, leaving only a floating dry dock.

 In return, he counted on Washington forcing Israel to abandon any plans to strike Iran.

 2.  But this exercise in symmetrical reciprocity ran into a major snag: Obama found a tough nut in Jerusalem: Binyamin Netanyahu held out for a pledge of US military action against Iran as his price for holding back. Despite the massive pressure Obama threw at the Israeli government, both through the highest ranking US political and military channels and by mobilizing the government’s most vocal opponents and anti-war circles at home, Netanyahu and Barak did not budge.   

They understood, despite Obama’s concealment, that the secret US-Russian deal would in fact preserve Iran’s nuclear program at a point at which Iran’s leaders could have a weapon assembled and unsheathed at any moment.

The also realized that as long as Israel’s military option against Iran was alive, the Obama-Putin deal was stuck, because both Iran’s Ali Khamenei and Syria’s Bashar Assad would likewise refuse to fall into line.
  Haman
When Romney said he would give America’s friends “more loyalty” and Putin “a little less flexibility and more backbone,” he was referring to President Obama’s request from Putin on June 18, at the G20 conference in Mexico, for more time against his promise to the Russian leader of “more flexibility” later.

To keep his deal with Putin in motion, the US president will have to tighten his squeeze on Israel’s leaders to forego an attack on Iran.
President Haman
3. The Netanyahu government, for its part, committed three tactical errors:

One: They dragged out the dialogue on Iran with the US administration for far too long - three years or more – and come away for it empty-handed. If their purpose was to persuade the United States to carry the can against Iran, as many Israelis believed, they failed.  No Israeli leader has the right to procrastinate to this extent on action affecting its fundamental security, if not existence. Netanyahu fell into the trap of crying wolf by shouting year after year that Iran must be stopped – and doing nothing.

Two:  Israel’s deterrent capacity, already sapped by inaction, was further eroded by US General Martin Dempsey’s assertions that Israel lacks the capacity to destroy the Iranian nuclear program.

Three:  They failed to act expeditiously to prevent the political opposition using a campaign against an attack on Iran as a stratagem for bringing the government down.

It has been four weeks since the former Mossad director Ephraim Halevi said that if he was an Iranian, he would be worried in the next twelve weeks.

That was on Aug. 2.

Thursday, Aug. 30, Halevi said: “It is important for Israel’s military threat to be credible.”
 
He was throwing down the gauntlet for Netanyahu and Barak to show they were serious about striking Iran – or else back down completely.
President Haman
His timeline gives them another eight weeks to show their mettle. During that time, they will be under heavy bombardment from Washington. 


(emphasis added.  Copyright 2000-2012 DEBKAfile. )