The Face of Jesus

Whose Jesus?” and “Which Jesus?” discussed the questions or problems one can encounter when people see Jesus differently. In both instances, the problem, as this writer saw it, was people seeking a persona in Jesus that they could accept or to which they could relate. A persona limited to the individual’s particular needs or concerns. Here, I want to focus on the burning question many seem to have, what did Jesus look like?

The question of Jesus’s physical appearance is nothing new. Anyone with a lick of sense knows it is unlikely Jesus was a fair-skinned, blue-eyed blond as some artists have imagined Him over the centuries. It is much more likely He was somewhat brown-skinned, dark-haired, and dark-eyed, but, in the words of a former Secretary of State and later presidential candidate, at this point, what difference does it make?

In reality, the exact physical appearance of Jesus is of less importance than what this writer ate for breakfast on my sixth birthday. Still, the question continues to be raised, with the most definitive answer in the minds of some coming from a picture created through the work of a medical artist.  This artist used forensic anthropology techniques to develop a likeness that some believe is “closer to the truth than the work of many great masters.”1

There is little doubt the picture developed through the use of forensic anthropology is a fair likeness of a Semite male from the time Jesus walked the earth. Yet, experts in the field acknowledge facial reconstruction is not an exact science. Sometimes, a reconstruction can resemble the deceased person very closely, and other times, it more closely resembles other work by that particular artist.

In this case, the reconstruction is based on some number of male skulls from the period. That means, the picture making the rounds allegedly depicting Jesus is simply a general representation of a man from that period, as interpreted by the artist. Therefore, it likely resembles Paul’s face, Peter’s face, John’s face, and possibly any number of Pharisees.

So, as stated earlier, what difference does it make? Does it really matter if Jesus was of average height for His time, around 5′ 1″ according to most sources, or nearer to 6′ as the Shroud of Turin seems to suggest. Does it really matter if He was dark complected with dark curly hair? The answer is still no. It does not matter in an eternal sense. What matters is why the questions continue to be raised.

This seems like such a strange little fixation in so many ways. One could write it off as simply the insatiable curiosity of humanity. Humans want to know things, and we want to know them so badly we will spend hundreds of hours and tens of thousands of dollars, other people’s dollars in most cases, studying everything from the mating habits of garden snails to the possibility of cloning a Wooly Mammoth. Therefore, developing a more accurate picture of Jesus the man is simply another aspect of our curious nature. What if it’s not?

No! AnOldSinner is not heading off into the land of conspiracies. As the current political debacle in the United States clearly illustrates, it does not take a conspiracy to cause problems. When enough people believe something, feel something, or want something, conspiracies are unnecessary. Throw in social media, and conspiracies, in large part, become something in which our ancestors engaged.

Christianity has been under attack in many ways since the time of Jesus. Since the moment He stepped forward and proclaimed Himself to be one with the Father, His teachings have been under attack. Yes, in His time and in times since conspiracies have been involved in those attacks, but for the most part, the attacks were not conspiracies.2

Many Christians believe the opposition to Christianity is part of the war between good and evil. Others may believe it is simply man’s nature to question and rebel against authority. Still, others may believe there is no real opposition to Christianity, simply opposition to the way some people want to interpret Christianity. Whatever one believes about opposition to and persecution of Christianity, the debate over the physical appearance of Jesus is a concern at some level. It is a distraction at best. At worst, it is another way to attack Christianity.

Some might read those last two sentences and think they are a bit over the top. If that is how one feels, it is understandable, but possibly misguided. There are, according to a number of sources, in excess of 32,000 variations of Christianity in the world. Some sources claim there are 1,200 variations within the United States alone.

Each of those sects, denominations, orders, persuasions, whatever, started because someone questioned something about Christianity. In some cases, they questioned the understanding of what exactly Jesus was. In others, it might be the question of baptism. In others, it may be questions concerning who can lead the church, who can teach, who can be a member, who can serve as an elder, or when and how to take communion. And that is only a partial list of differences that have divided congregations, communities, and believers.

As anyone who has taken the time to read this blog in the past knows, I could go on, and on, and on. In this case, I’ll take a breath and get back to what I feel is the point of this piece. The question, what did Jesus look like, is not the problem. Certainly, people will be curious about His appearance. The problem is that it can play into the ongoing attack on the Bible and Christianity.

As a former skeptic, AnOldSinner knows how easy it is to attack the faith of many people. Simply using the rough statistics noted above gives one ammunition to challenge the faith of some people. Throwing in the argument that Christ was really a dark-skinned, short-haired guy instead of the majestic or tragic looking Caucasian portrayed in most Christian art opens the door to questioning other aspects of the faith.

After all, just how much did the Bible change during each of those translations, and manual reproductions of the Bible. Did Jesus really say, “I am the way?” Could it be possible He said, “I know the way,” and someone made a mistake or changed it to make Him more important?

The bottom line is this. What Jesus looked like is immaterial. What is important is who He was and is. After all, His body only existed for a few years. He has and will exist for eternity. Also, as the Bible teaches in more than one place, He could be recognizable or unrecognizable, as suited His purpose.

So, if someone brings up the question of Christ’s physical appearance on this earth, have your answer ready. Give him or her the only answer that makes sense, “At this point, what difference does it make?” Then, share what He means to you and His other followers, regardless of his height, weight, hair, eyes, or complexion.

1. Quote from a Popular Mechanics published in 2015.  A critique of the article is planned, but if you wish to see it earlier, search “The Real Face of Jesus.”
2. Admittedly, there were conspiracies within the opposition to Christ and Christianity, but the opposition to Christianity, and later between differing groups within the faith, were openly hostile.

© AnOldSinner – 2017

Posted in Faith, Religion, Testimony | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

In His Time: A Bible Story

Some folks call them God taps. Others call them God signs. Still others call them God sightings. Whatever one calls them, many believers feel they are evidence of God’s active presence in the world today. Of course, skeptics and others may feel they are simply coincidences, random chance, or imagination.

The reality is some people see God personally engaged in almost everything. Others see the majesty of His creation, but do not think He is orchestrating every sunrise, sunset, magnificent rainbow, or incident that someone sees as a sign. Still others wouldn’t acknowledge Him if He appeared before them as a pillar of fire. AnOldSinner falls in between the extremes.

This summer marked the third time in four years that my home church sent a group of men to the fishing village of Abreu Do Una, Brazil. We support a small church there, and have been helping the church develop a men’s ministry.  I have been fortunate enough to be part of all three teams.

On my first visit to the village I wrote “Truly Blessed.” That piece was partially a follow-up to an earlier piece on blessings.  Also, it looked at how God can bless those who go in His name to help others, as well as those they go to help. Here, I want to share a story from our latest mission. It is a story in which some might see the hand of God and others might simply see a happy coincidence.

The purpose of the trip was to help train local men in several areas of discipleship and leadership. Their little church is working to develop a group of Christian men intent on helping change the future of the village. The current culture is morally bankrupt, and the traditional churches in the area seem to have abandoned any thought of evangelism or outreach. In fact, the predominant church practices a form of legalistic Christianity that leaves most people on the outside looking in because they do not meet the church’s standards. The result is a community wracked by crime, drug use, promiscuity, poverty, and fear.

We were in the village a week working with three different groups of men. Each group was studying a different aspect of what it meant to be a Christian man, and how such men could reach out to others. As part of the outreach aspect of the teaching, each local man was asked to bring a friend who was not part of the church to a cookout and celebration on our last night in the village. The men accepted the challenge, and a number of men from the village joined us.

Seating was set up to assure each table of visitors included one of our translators and at least one team member. I was seated at a table with two of the visitors. They were sitting across from me, stern-faced and not eating. It was clear from their body language and expressions they were not there for dinner and a celebration.

The translator and I attempted to engage them in conversation and invited them to grab something to eat. Only one would talk, and he advised they had already eaten. They claimed they were not aware dinner was part of the invitation. As the evening progressed, I came to realize that might not be completely true.

Eventually, I discovered they were members of the church actively opposing the new church. One finally admitted the only reason they came was to check out the church. His wife and children were now attending this church, and he wanted to see just what kind of church this was.

Finally, the talkative one said he could not understand how we could all come together at church for a party. He seemed serious and made it clear his church thought we were not Christians because people got together and had fun at church. He also let it be known he did not understand a church inviting outsiders to come to these parties.

In his view, Christians were not supposed to hang out with non-Christians or members of other churches. That helped me understand why he and his friend simply sat there most of the time. They were spies in the enemy camp. I also realized they likely believed breaking bread with us was a sin.

It was then I realized I had not ended up at the table by chance. I was there because they were there. It was my opportunity to witness to them. I was able to let them know we were happy they came, and we thought of them as brothers in Christ. I emphasized an important part of being a Christian was being in fellowship with other believers, which is why we could come together in celebration.

Certainly, any of the other team members could have interacted with them in this fashion.  The fact I was the one who ended up at their table was a blessing to me, but that was not the most significant part of the encounter.  The most amazing part of the encounter was the Bible.

Each man on the team was given two Portuguese/English New Testament Bibles. We were asked to highlight our favorite verses or verses we thought might be important to new believers. We were to write a personal note of some sort in the Bible, and we were to put a picture of our family in it. Then we were tasked with presenting the Bibles to someone in the newest group of men in the training. If that was not possible for some reason, we would try to give them to some man in the village when walked the village in prayer. I still had one of my Bibles.

I had been somewhat upset that I had not given both of mine away. I feared I would be forced to leave it with the church to hand out to someone in the future. Suddenly, I realized I still had it for a reason. I had it because this young man was supposed to receive it.

I will not take the time here to detail what happened from that point forward. Suffice it to say, he seemed stunned about what I said, and the Bible. In fact, the rest of the evening, I saw him turning through the Bible, or looking at the picture of my family. At the end of the evening, he sought me out to say goodbye.

Earlier I told him I would pray that he make a good decision for him and his family.  When he came over to say goodnight, I told him again I would be praying for him. I also told him I hoped to see him next year if I was able to come back to the village. It was clear he had no idea what to make of the situation.

Read into this story what you will. It could have been just one of those things. It could have been random chance I was seated at the one table with two such visitors. It could have been a coincidence that my duties on the team were changed at the last minute, and the new duties interfered with my chances to give away both Bibles.  It could have been a lot of things, but I think God had a hand in it. I was not supposed to give on the team’s time frame, or my time frame.  I was supposed to give it away in His time.

© AnOldSinner – 2017



Posted in Faith, Missions, Religion | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Blessed are the …

Almost three weeks ago, I posted from a small fishing village on the northeast coast of Brazil. My post mentioned my location, apologized for not having something new to post, linked to a piece from several years ago, and stated I was trying to write another piece on blessings or being blessed.

Since returning from Brazil, I have tried mightily to write an essay triggered by something said during the mission to Brazil. As it turned out, I was at best tilting at windmills. At worst, I was completely misunderstanding what I was feeling called to do.

In trying to write something, anything actually, on this topic something kept interfering. I suppose one could write off what I saw as interference as a form of writer’s block or procrastination. Yet, that did not seem to be the case. I was hitting serious roadblocks, from computer problems, to schedule conflicts, to completing my responsibilities related to wrapping up the mission trip. I was thinking, what is going on here? Then the light dawned!

I was thinking I was supposed to write and publish something about a new, to me at least, idea of what it meant to be blessed. Consequently, I was scrambling around attempting to do research, and make sense of what I heard. Then it hit me. The person leading the discussion which inspired me to start this piece had already done the research. In fact, he had probably written something about this particular concept.1

I was not supposed to write something new. All I needed to do was share what he had already written. It was like a weight being lifted off my shoulders and a veil being lifted from my eyes. Click on the link below and see if you find anything different in Ken Miller’s discussion of what it means to be blessed, and what one normally thinks it means.

The Benefits of God’s Approval

1. It is embarrassing enough to find oneself unable to write intelligently on a subject. It is even more embarrassing to think I should have made the connection to this pastor’s blog more quickly. I serve with him all the time in our men’s ministry.

© AnOldSinner 2017

Posted in Faith, Missions, Religion, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , ,

Of Blessings and Challenges

Three years ago this week AnOldSinner published “Truly Blessed.” This piece was published while I was on a men’s mission to a small village in Brazil. It was also a follow-up to a piece titled “Blessed” posted a few weeks earlier.

Today I am again blessed to be on a mission to the small village in Brazil. Returning to this village and its church is always a blessing, but it also has its challenges. In this case, the challenge has been twofold. First, I have little time to write. Second, I am an inspirational writer. That is, I can pound out something to publish, but my best work is when something inspires me. Once I have an inspiration, nothing else is completed until I have at least a first draft.

This trip to Brazil has inspired me to write another piece on the concept of being blessed. Unfortunately, for me at least, I have little free time and horrible internet connections. What free time I have is dedicated to photography and posting updates on the day’s mission activities. Even finding time to post this has been difficult, so much for my tale of woe.

If I am to write the piece I envision it will be published in two weeks. Until then, I thought it might be worthwhile to ask you to read or reread “Truly Blessed,” possibly even “Blessed?”

Just click on the link below, and check back on August 23 for the new piece.

Truly Blessed

© – 2017

Posted in Faith, Missions, Religion | Tagged , , , ,

Of Specks and Logs

A well-meaning soul shared a thought the other day with her social media friends. The thought, in the form of a meme, carried the message, “Worry about your own sin. I promise you won’t be asked about mine.” Of course, it immediately garnered a number of likes and positive comments. After all, most of us can empathize with someone who feels judged, condemned, or criticized for one behavior or another. The problem is the meme is a bit simplistic.

It is true the Bible contains the admonition, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” (Matthew 7:1, ESV) Additionally, the following verses seem to emphasize that thought. Verse 3 is especially pointed, advising one not to judge the speck in another’s eye while failing to notice the log in their own. There you have it, point made, case closed, do not judge others. Hardly!

Certainly, each of us will be judged for our sins. What I think of your alleged sins, and you think of mine, are of little concern in some ways. It is God’s judgment that matters. Still, the idea that one Christian should not worry about the behavior of other believers is simply not biblical. In fact, it may be one of the actions, or lack thereof, one will be asked about on the day of judgment.

If you are reading this sentence, the last sentence may not have registered yet. Either that, or you are giving me the benefit of the doubt, and waiting to see if I say anything else judgmental. Yes, I did just imply that a believer is to be concerned, worried possibly, about the sins of others. The question now is am I denying or ignoring the truth of Matthew 7. I think not, but you will need to be the judge of that.

The truth is Matthew 7:1-5 is not speaking of believers in general. Many want to focus on the first verse, while completely ignoring the rest of that section. Verses 3 through 5 make it clear Jesus is speaking to hypocrites. He is speaking to people accusing others of sins while living in sin themselves. Some feel He was specifically speaking to the Pharisees who were known for expecting others to adhere to the law, when they paid it little more than lip service.

Think of it this way. If the verses in Matthew are saying only the sinless can criticize, rebuke, correct, or attempt to show someone the error of his or her ways, then no human being has the right to advise, criticize, or point out someone’s sinful behavior. That means no priest, pastor, reverend, deacon, Bible teacher or anyone else can do anything more than teach the Word. Even then, they must be careful not judge or imply a person’s actions might be sinful

If these verses in Matthew are to be taken literally, then Paul was wrong when he wrote to the Corinthians about their behavior. Not only was he wrong, he was encouraging the Corinthian church to commit sins by judging others and taking action to remove them from the church, “Let him who has done this be removed from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:2)

It would seem obvious the Bible encourages believers to hold each other accountable for their behavior.1 In Matthew 18:15-17 believers are told to “show him his fault in private.” Also, Paul admonishes in 1 Corinthians 5:13, “Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.” Verses in 2 Corinthians, Titus, 2 Thessalonians, and Galatians teach a similar message. Christians do have an obligation to notice, be concerned about, and deal with the sins of other Christians.

Two other points need to be made here before bringing this piece to a close. The statement, “you will not be asked about mine” is misleading at best. At worst, it is a deliberate attempt to lead a believer astray. Neither those who read this piece nor AnOldSinner will be judged on the behavior of others. That does not mean we will not be asked about their behavior in some manner.

This piece posits that Christians have a duty to let other Christians know when they are sinning. If that is true, then it would seem God may want to ask us about why we did not tell our brother or sister to mend his or her ways. If that is true, God will not ask us about the other’s sins. He will ask, or judge, us on our failure to help that believer mend his or her ways.

Finally, the Bible makes it clear we are to approach others with love and respect when dealing with issues such as this. We are to make the first effort at correction in private, and if that does not work the Bible lays out a process by which a believer is to be disciplined. (Matthew 18:15-17) Unfortunately, we all too often resort to non-biblical behavior when dealing with the sins of others.  In fact, we fall into sin ourselves, as did the Pharisees,  because we do not understand, or do not know, how to lovingly take another’s behavior to task.

  1. Yes, the page of verses to which this article links is titled “Church Discipline.”  Just remember there is the church, the place you attend services, and then there is the Church, which is the body of believers.  Churches, buildings designed and dedicated to holding Christian services, did not exist in biblical times.  When we speak of Paul writing to the church at Corinth, he is writing to the body of believers, part of the Church, and what he says is applicable to all within that body.

© AnOldSinner -2017

Posted in Faith, parenting, Religion, sin, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

A Hardened Heart

As promised, this piece will deal with the question, “Why did God harden Pharaoh’s heart?” For the purpose of clarity, it is important to remember Pharaoh’s is not the only heart that God hardened or allowed to be hardened.  In fact, hearts are hardened to this very day, but discussion of those hearts must wait for another time.

In “Why Did God …?” I noted I quickly came up with a possible response to the question. I also noted that was likely not a good idea. Instead, I suggested asking the person to elaborate on his question or his underlying concerns. The point in trying to obtain more information from the questioner is twofold. First, it buys a little time for you to gather your thoughts, as long as you can gather your thoughts and listen. Second, the individual will, hopefully at least, provide information that will help you understand how to answer the question.

The last phrase above, understand how to answer the question, might give some the idea I am suggesting a tailored or weasel worded answer that skirts the truth. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Rather, I am advising you to remember the old adage, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” Which means, engaging in a heartfelt discourse with someone who simply wants to argue may not be the best use of one’s time and energy.

The truth is that God has the right to do or not do whatever he pleases. This is clearly expressed at the end of Exodus 33:19, when God tells Moses, I … “will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” (ESV) Paul makes the same point in Romans 9:14-16. Making that claim to many believers would not go well, and to a skeptic it would simply be the same as pouring gasoline on a fire.1

It does not take much imagination to envision a response such as, “So, your god just treats people like ants, doing to them whatever he wants.” Unfortunately, that is a legitimate understanding of the translation to one who is a skeptic, new believer, a New Testament only believer, or mature Christian in a crisis of faith.To avoid suddenly being put on the defensive in that manner, avoid making such a take-it or leave-it answer.

For the record, my immediate response was not that confrontational. Still, it was not one I would have made to someone I did not know well or expected to be argumentative. At least it is not one I would have made if I had taken time to think about it. Essentially, my response was God hardened Pharaoh’s heart to teach him and his people a lesson. Also, He was making certain everyone, including the Israelites, knew He was the one true God. Again, while that makes sense, it could sound a bit arbitrary and capricious to a lot of folks.

In fact, it might generate another question from a skeptic, “Why did God need to teach anyone a lesson, couldn’t he simply make Pharaoh let them go?” This and other questions one can imagine here are based on the question of God being all-powerful and loving. The real question is, “If God is all-powerful and loving, why couldn’t He just change Pharaoh’s heart instead of hardening it?”

The same question could be, and is, asked about a number of incidents.  For example, why did God destroy Sodom and Gomorrah?  Or, why did God command the Israelites to destroy the occupants of the land they were promised.  Even in the New Testament, what kind of God would let a man be born blind just so Jesus could heal him later?  For that matter, why would God allow any form of evil in the world, if He is indeed all-powerful and loving?

It is likely for most of us, the correct way to respond to or answer such a question is, “I don’t know for certain, but I’d love to look into it and get back to you.” This is after you’ve done everything you can to understand why the person is asking the question. This answer, or a similar answer, is recommended for three reasons.

First, you will find out if the person is actually seeking to understand. People who are not interested in your response will likely not agree. Someone simply wanting to argue or push your buttons will likely not care about your response. In fact, they may try to goad you into a response they can attack. Second, if they agree to the arrangement, you are buying time to polish your response or learn more about the matter yourself. Third, you are opening the door to the possibility of establishing a new or deeper relationship with the person.

AnOldSinner will admit this advice is much easier to give than to accept. When one believes strongly in something, it is difficult to listen to someone attack it without triggering a variation of the fight or flight response. Another issue is fearing the other person might see you as weak or simply someone who drank the kool-aid. Those are certainly possibilities, but there are a couple of other points to keep in mind.

One, you may not be prepared to fully answer the question. It is unlikely the person asking the question has never asked it before. The fact the person is asking why God hardened Pharaoh’s heart is a dead giveaway. Someone focusing on that particular aspect of the story is more than casually familiar with the scripture.

Two, it may not be your job to answer the question.  Some believe they must stand up for their belief against every challenge. While that is true, unless one is strong in his or her faith and knowledge, trying to debate an atheist or skeptic may be a mistake. Such a person is often well prepared to attack a believer’s faith, with the hope of sowing some seeds of doubt.  It is possible, if you are not certain how to answer a challenging question, the skeptic was placed in your path to urge you to become stronger and more knowledgeable in your faith.

A final point to remember is God has hardened hearts at times.  He is also the one who can soften hearts.  Those who study the issue of evangelism much more deeply than AnOldSinner believe God will soften those hearts he chooses, and harden those he chooses. They also believe God may use multiple believers to soften someone’s heart. Your job might just be to hear the skeptic out, and offer to introduce them to someone more knowledgeable.  God decides when it is the unbeliever’s time, and He may use multiple incidents and testimonies to prepare the heart of an unbeliever.

God decides when an unbeliever’s heart is softened. It is great to be part of that experience, but it comes in God’s time, not ours.

1. Experts in the area of Bible translation point out this phrase is hard to understand. One commentary makes the point, “Commentators point out that the Hebrew phrase used here does not imply any abrupt arbitrariness on the part of God, as its English translation might suggest. It simply draws attention to the fact that these are qualities of God which may be seen in certain specific historic instances, without going into further detail.” [Exodus: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 2, p. 236 )]
2. See “Of Job and Ants” for more on why one might respond that way.

© AnOldSinner – 2017

Posted in apologetics, Faith, Religion, Spirituality, Testimony | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Why Did God …?

A Christian openly living his or her faith will eventually be asked, “Why did God _______?” One such Christian asked AnOldSinner how to respond to a question he was asked by someone he described as a skeptic. In this case, the question was, “Why did God harden Pharaoh’s heart?” Before sharing my response, let’s spend a few minutes thinking about questions like this.

First, there are some who believe many questions are simply statements in disguise. One self-appointed expert on television with quite a following is fond of saying 80-85 percent of questions are statements in disguise. He is often criticized by more academic types, but there is reason to believe, in many instances, questions are statements in disguise.

A second point to consider is why the question is being asked. Take the case of a new Christian. Many new Christians, and many long time church goers, have little if any knowledge of the Old Testament. Therefore a question such as “Why didn’t God stop slavery” may be a legitimate question, and not the opening gambit in an objection to the basic idea of God.

Finally, as far as questions are concerned, what is the purpose of the question. One should always be aware the person asking the question may be interested in more than a direct answer. Consider the question above concerning Pharaoh.

The person asking the question is seeking information, even if his question is really a thinly veiled accusation against God. It is possible the questioner is seeking a substantive reply.  It is also possible that is not the case. Rather, the person is likely attempting to gather information about the one being questioned.

How one responds to such a question helps the person asking the question in several ways. First, he, or she, will have a feeling for the respondent’s knowledge of the Bible. Second, he will gain some insight into the person’s level of faith, commitment, and ability to handle objections or challenges. In short, how one responds to such a question will tell the person asking the question a good deal about the Christian being questioned. Which brings us back to how one responds to questions such as the one posed above.

When asked how I would respond to the question about God hardening Pharaoh’s heart, I had an immediate response. It is not one I recommend, as I will discuss later, but based on my own thoughts in this area it made sense. Also, it somewhat parallels God’s reasoning when He tells Moses He is hardening Pharaoh’s heart to show His power to the Egyptians, and so His story can be told to future generations of Israelites. (Exodus 10:1-2)

My response was He hardened Pharaoh’s heart to make a point and teach a lesson. I said God could have simply changed Pharaoh’s heart and commanded Pharaoh to free the Israelites. The problem is that would make us a race of puppets, not beings with free will. My answer made sense to my friend, but there could have been a problem if he had responded in that fashion to the person questioning him.

A more mature believer might accept, if not completely understand, that God was using the situation to teach a lesson. A nonbeliever or less mature believer might be appalled that God could be so cruel. In fact, at one time in AnOldSinner’s life I might have asked such a question, hoping someone would be foolish enough to answer that God was teaching mankind a lesson. You see, I would have been one of those people asking a question that was really a statement.

If I had asked the question about God hardening Pharaoh’s heart, I would have been thinking you worship an evil god, if such a being actually exists. Additionally, I was fully prepared to dismantle any rationalization, explanation, or excuse for your god’s behavior that you made. Which brings us to the point of this piece.

Trying to answer a question such as why God hardened someone’s heart is usually a mistake. Certainly under some circumstances it isn’t a mistake, but in a conversation with a skeptic or atheist it probably is. It is likely a mistake for several reasons.

First, they are probably prepared for any answer you could make. Second, they are really not going to listen to your answer, as they are already formulating their reply to any answer you make. Third, it is likely you do not know their real reason for asking. It is possible they are really seeking understanding, they may simply be wanting to argue, or they may be trying to find out what kind of a religious nut you are.

Instead of answering their question, ask them one. For instance, I might say, “That is a great question. What makes you ask?” Another variation would be, “I’ve struggled with that question myself, do you have any thoughts on the matter?” The idea is to avoid being defensive or combative, and to get the other party to do the talking.1

I discussed this matter in more detail a few years ago in “A Defensive Position.” The bottom line is getting them to do the talking. As I was taught, and later taught my negotiation students, if you can keep the other party talking, he or she will tell you everything you need to know to settle the deal. Of course, you must be listening. If you are, you will discover the real reason they asked the question, and if there is any way to help them understand God’s Word.

In closing, it is important you have a response to their original question.  You may not need it at that moment, but you may need it later.  Accordingly, if AnOldSinner’s plan works out, my next piece will be an argument one can make in response to someone essentially accusing God of being evil or fostering evil.

1. The statements leading into the question in these examples are for rapport building purposes. If you don’t think it is a great question, or you’ve never struggled with that or some similar question, say something else. The idea is to build rapport, disarm, and encourage the other person to talk. Simply asking someone why they are asking the question might sound defensive or confrontational. If so, that ends any hope of a conversation.

© AnOldSinner – 2017

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