The problems which I have with Christianity (and looking for answers)

(RiderOnTheClouds) #1

Though my view of Christianity has become much more positive. There are still some issues alongside the resurrection of Christ which are a problem for me accepting the New Testament. These are:

  1. What happens to people who do not have the chance to accept Christ? What of uncontacted tribes in the Amazon and New Guinea? Do they go to hell? I don’t see this as a problem as far as the OT is concerned, for the book of Daniel only says that those who are wise and lead men to righteousness will go to heaven.

  2. Is it fair to call looking at a woman with lust ‘Adultery’? It is only natural (and beyond our control) to feel sexual arousal.

  3. Did the Gospel writers think the world was flat (Matt 4:8) long after it’s round shape was known?

  4. Why does the New Testament treat disease as though it is the result of demonic activity? Is this appropriate?

(Mervin Bitikofer) #2

I’ll just pick out one of your questions for response for now, and leave the harder ones for others, who I’m sure will bring brilliant insights to bear shortly! :slightly_smiling_face:

There is probably a reason why we aren’t sure about this. And that is that none of the gospel writers wrote on the subject. And there is probably a reason they didn’t write on it: It isn’t what they wanted to talk about – not even on their “horizon” (if I may). It was a live question among some natural philosophers from their time and even before; or not so much a question as a verified conviction that those who did care (e.g. Eratosthenes) not only knew, but had even mathematically measured to an impressively accurate result. But how widespread was such knowledge in that day? No social media to spread ideas around, and most populations would have been majority illiterate. Ideas wouldn’t spread so fast then as they do now. And if you did hear of an idea, there would be one more hurdle: why should you care? If most are busy about day-to-day survival, such ponderings may not have been foremost on their minds.

All that said, it seems apparent that our cosmological concerns and questions now were not theirs [the masses’] back then. And I think the disciples could safely be identified more with “the masses” than with the erudite natural philosophers of the day. And they (I think) would have just run with the common assumptions on the street of the time (whatever those were), and when they eventually did have something [Someone!] to write about, the question about the earth’s shape still would not have registered as something important to them. They would instead have made use of it (whatever those common assumptions of the street were) to make the points that did interest them: Jesus could have had all the kingdoms of the world under his forceful rule had he chosen to; and if the way to picture that temptation is to see him on a tall mountain surveying the impressive swath of world that could be seen from there … then that is how it was described. It would no more have been about orbs and planets than it would have been about what sort of igneous or volcanic rock was Jesus standing on.

Or when passages speak of winds from the four corners of the earth, this is no doubt just another colloquialism that would have meant something like “everywhere” to the person on the street. So that is how they wrote. I have not heard that any scholar has been able to make the case (either way) that they did know about such things as the roundness of the earth, or that they did not know. And since it has no bearing on their message (except to those who have convinced themselves today that regarding all scriptural authors, it must either be omniscience or bust – don’t be one of those – they do not have scriptures on their side) it shouldn’t disturb your faith one whit whether they knew such things or not.

[the usual edits have happened]

(Christy Hemphill) #3

Many Christians do not believe in hell as eternal conscious torment. And there are a range of interpretations on the “what happens to people who have never heard or never truly understood the gospel” question. I don’t want to minimize the issue because it is certainly a hard question that lots of people struggle with, but I wouldn’t want you to think you have to settle for “everyone who doesn’t accept Jesus as their Savior will be thrown into a literal lake of fire for all eternity” as the only faithful option.

Sexual arousal isn’t lust. Attraction isn’t lust. Lust is intentional sexual objectification that denies someone else the dignity of their full personhood. Jesus also said calling your brother a fool was murder. There is a certain amount of hyperbole going on here, but I think the point was our thoughts and motivations matter when it comes to righteousness. (In contrast to the Pharisees, who were a little obsessed with outward forms of righteousness.) It is not enough to merely perform the correct actions towards our fellow human beings, because love for others (the second greatest commandment) is an internal disposition made manifest in external acts. I’ve heard that calling someone a fool was the equivalent of saying you wished they were dead, so it goes beyond just thinking someone is an idiot. Thankfully, or none of us could read internet forums without repeatedly sinning. :wink:

You can find some fundamentalists who do characterize all sexual arousal and attraction as lust, but they end up in bad places psychologically and tend to make life miserable for women, who are taught that they are a “stumbling block” and basically given the responsibility to never be sexually attractive. They also tend to see anything other than opposite-sex attraction as sinful too, which I think is wrong. Because like you said, who we are attracted to is beyond our control. It’s not wrong to look at a donut and want to eat it when you are on a diet. We only have a responsibility for how we act on our biology, not our biological impulses themselves. If the impulses themselves were sinful, than Jesus would have been a sinner. How can you be tempted if you don’t ever want something you shouldn’t have? And Jesus was tempted in every way.

I’ll come back to question 4 later.


Did the Gospel writers think the world was flat (Matt 4:8) long after it’s round shape was known?

No. IP has done an excellent video on this one.

Why does the New Testament treat disease as though it is the result of demonic activity? Is this appropriate?

I’ve seen these verses, and I don’t think it does this at all. It simply regularly mentions demonic activity, and disease in the same passages. But I’ve never seen it ever say or simply or treat one as the result of another. I’ll give you an example.

Mathew 4:24: News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them.

They are mentioned in the same text but never associated with one another in some sort of causality. In fact, if they were supposeed to be associated with each other, it is strange why verses like Matthew 4:24 lists them not directly together, but they are separated by “those suffering severe pain”, as if they’re entirely separate phenomena to begin with and only occasionally mentioned beside each other.

I think @Christy banged the nail on the head when it comes to lust/adultery. Sexual arousal isn’t lust. Attraction isn’t lust. “Lust is intentional sexual objectification that denies someone else the dignity of their full personhood.” Let’s say, “looking at a women like she’s a piece of meat.” That’s what Jesus is talking about. Noticing a good looking woman obviously is no big deal.

(Juan Romero) #5

Love that IP video.

(RiderOnTheClouds) #6

That’s a pretty good video actually. The cosmic explanation is fascinating.

There are other verses however:

After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree.

I don’t think this means the earth is square. However, the parallelism between the corners and the winds, suggests this refers to the cardinal directions. There can only be an absolute east and west (which can be stood on) or a flat, concave or convex earth.

And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.

This suggests that there are opposite ends of the sky, which is only possible on a flat earth.

(Randy) #7

First, congratulations on going through good questions. I am struggling with these and still learning.
Denis Lamoureux was very helpful with his Faith and Science online course (you can watch it all for free at Coursera, and comment to him, too; he has triple doctorates in evolutionary biology, theology, and dentistry).
His argument is that the Bible, both OT and NT, is not scientifically concordant. Thus, no one would have known what God was talking about if He discussed evolution in their time; and likely no one would have known what epilepsy, schizophrenia, eczema, pemphigus, or half the skin disease attributed to leprosy at the time of the NT. When Paul in Philippians 2:10 talks about “every knee should bow, in heaven, and on the earth and under the earth,” and in 2nd Cor 12:2 when someone was “caught up into the third heaven,” he uses ancient Near East imagery of the pillars, Sheol, etc.
As a family physician, when I read Mark 9:22 about the demon that cast a boy in to fire to destroy him, I am very uncomfortable trying to fit that into anything other than epilepsy or possibly mental illness. I guess that’s just what happened --that people read demons or the supernatural into most things that didn’t have a great explanation otherwise. As far as 1 Tim 5:23, when Paul told Timothy to not drink only water, but take a little wine for his stomach’s sake–besides wondering why he didn’t just heal him as he healed Eutychus, who fell from the window, I wonder where on earth he got his medical school training. (I know that some of the water was bad, but taking a little wine isn’t medicinal if what you mostly take is water). At any rate–scientifically and geographically, I don’t think that we have to try to squeeze the NT into modern expectations. They were wrong, but that doesn’t change the message that God cared for us. If you glean more to teach me, I’m happy to learn. Thanks.

(Randy) #8

PS regarding “those who haven’t heard,” good point. I was born in a missionary family in Africa. However, I completely agree that God only judges folks based on what they know. Half of all conceptions (that spontaneously abort), all those severely mentally handicapped, and up to half of all children (those who die under 5 in 3rd world countries of preventable diseases) have no idea of anything about the gospel story. To argue that they all go to Hell for being formed as a zygote onward and “sinning,” as many fundamentalists say, from conception (misusing Psalm 51:5, sinful from the time my mother conceived me) is ludicrous and makes God look like a demon. If no one is able to keep from sinning because He made us that way, and we all go to Hell because of one sin, that’s another train that leads to blaming God.

I don’t know what happens. I think that God knows our hearts and cares a good deal more about them than about what we know. If, for example, my 4 year old daughter does one thing wrong while simultaneously smiling at me “great big,” and I know she’s doing it purposely–I’m not going to punish her vindicatively. I’m not going to break fellowship with her. I give her corrective consequences. The purpose of the correction is healing, not satisfying my anger.

Many Christians (from George Macdonald, my favorite author, onward) believe that God punishes as parents do–to save and improve relationships, not to separate and vindicate.

Even if it comes to Hell–it’s not, to my mind, a lake of fire. Macdonald actually put it that Hell is the place where we are closest to God–where he takes us to himself and teaches us to be more like Him.

I personally think that Randal Rauser’s note of hopeful universalism is reasonable.

"Christian universalism is the view that ultimately all people will be saved by God through the atoning work of Jesus Christ. Since that salvation does not occur for all in this life, universalism proposes that it will be completed posthumously. This is where the doctrine of hell comes in: Christian universalists agree that there is a hell (in contrast to Unitarian universalists, pluralistic universalists, and others), but they view hell as restorative rather than retributive."

I don’t put this as the solution, but perhaps one aspect of a possible solution. I’m still learning.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #9

Regarding the #1 (What happens to people who die who hadn’t yet heard the gospel) – I think you all may find this resource interesting. The pastor whose sermon is linked below identifies one approach as “Christian Inclusivism” and differentiates it as a scripturally sound option between Exclusivism and Universalism.

Start listening to this homily at about 28:00 in, and over the next several minutes he addresses these questions directly. The whole sermon is a good one to hear, but for the impatient; 28 minutes in is where you should start. For those who really want to learn a lot … the sermon linked above was the first of a six sermon series on comparative world religions. Every one of them is excellent.

[Edit to change a few word choices.]

(Christy Hemphill) #10

On the demon possession thing, I will try to be brief because this has been discussed ad nauseum in other threads and I’m not bent on changing anyone’s mind if they categorically reject the idea of a spiritual realm with personal beings in it.

If you take Scripture seriously, you have to deal with the fact that Jesus sends his disciples out on a ministry trip and specifically instructs them to cast out demons and heal the sick (Matt 10, Luke 9). I don’t think the two are conflated. In the NT, some sickness is sickness and some physical/mental symptoms are attributed to demonic activity. They didn’t seem to have a problem knowing the difference. A good chunk of the Gospel narratives involve Jesus dealing with demons if you actually sit down and count verses. Personally, I don’t find it acceptable to dismiss all that content with some sort of “Jesus was just accommodating the superstitions of the day” explanation.

As a modern American, I am just as uncomfortable as most with the idea of demonic oppression and just as appalled as the next person that mentally ill people or people with epilepsy or brain tumors have been subjected to abusive exorcism rituals in some cultures by people who believed they were following the Bible. People with medical issues should get medical care, and clearly epilepsy and schizophrenia and multiple personality disorders are real things with medical explanations.

BUT, I am also completely dissatisfied with dismissing the experiences and testimonies of Christians from all over the world who do have experiences that look very much like the NT narratives and are labelled by everyone involved, believers and unbelievers, as incidents of demonic oppression and often involve situations where medical experts were consulted and could not find a medical issue. I don’t think it can all be swept under the rug as “backwards superstition” or “psychosomatic illness.” As I tell people, I live in an animistic culture where the community in general is much more open to the concept of an active spiritual realm, and weird stuff happens here. I don’t know what to do with all of it, but insisting it can all be explained away by modern psychology and medicine is not sufficient for some of the stuff I have encountered.

Even if you accept that a spiritual realm in opposition to God exists and can affect people physically, that doesn’t mean you have to turn into some nut-job who denies their children medical care and goes around trying to cast out demons from depressed people. Like anything else in the Bible, things can be taken out of context and applied in wildly inappropriate and damaging ways. That doesn’t mean we need to excise those passages from our Bibles somehow, it just means we need to be diligent and wise about how we go about drawing conclusions and applications from them.

(Randy) #11

Very well put and balanced. Thanks.

(Randy) #12

Terrific homily. Thanks. I’ll likely listen to the others in the series, too.


As do I, great stuff that IP guy makes.


I don’t think this means the earth is square. However, the parallelism between the corners and the winds, suggests this refers to the cardinal directions. There can only be an absolute east and west (which can be stood on) or a flat, concave or convex earth.

Simply referring to north, south, east, and west, which is what I think the passage does, does not imply a flat earth. It simply means north, south, east, and west, and such notions were used back when they thought the Earth was flat. I don’t see how you can take the verse absolutely seriously in the way you’re doing without taking the “four corners” thing seriously. As for this verse:

And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.

Again, to me, it seems that all this verse is saying that the elect will be gathered from the whole earth, from every corner of the Earth, etc. Nothing to do with flatness. These are pretty slippery passages to try to rest any conclusions on.

(Jay Johnson) #15

Just some short replies:

People are judged according to the light that they have: the greater their knowledge of God, the greater their responsibility to put that knowledge into practice. That is what Jesus means in Luke 12 when he says,

“The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked."

And as you see from the context, “hell” is not the same for everyone, for Jesus hints at degrees of punishment, just as elsewhere he hints at degrees of reward. What exactly this might be is not defined for us, but what it says to me is that eternal destinies are not necessarily a binary assignment to heaven/hell; rather, God’s judgment seems to involve some sort of continuum. Still, it is hard to imagine what that might involve, so I’ll leave my speculations at that.

This is a common understanding of Jesus’ statement in the Sermon on the Mount, but it is not the best translation of the Greek. Here’s what D.A. Carson said in his commentary (with rough transliteration of the Greek):

“The second auten (”[committed adultery] with her") is contrary to the common interpretation of this verse. In Greek it is unnecessary, especially if the sin is entirely the man’s. But it is explainable if pros to epithymesai auten, commonly understood to mean “with a view to lusting for her” is translated “so as to get her to lust.” The evidence for this interpretation is strong. The man is therefore look at the woman with a view to enticing her to lust. Thus, so far as his intention goes, he is committing adultery with her, he makes her an adulteress."

In short, here is how Carson might translate Jesus’ words: “You’ve heard their interpretation of what was said: ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say that whenever you let your eye linger on a woman to entice her to lust after you, both of you already have committed adultery in your thoughts.”

Frankly, I don’t understand your worries about what the biblical authors (OT and NT) may or may not have believed about the physical world. It is a bizarre recent twist to the doctrine of inerrancy.

It does not treat all disease that way. This is similar to your previous question, because the root of both problems can be traced to the fact that God’s message is timeless, yet it is timebound in the sense that it was delivered to specific people in a specific culture at specific times and places in human history. We cannot escape that fact, and no amount of logical backflips can erase these traces of history from the ancient collection of literature we call the Bible. God has always had to “meet us where we are,” even though the target keeps moving.

(Albert Leo) #16

President Jimmy Carter (bless his heart) failed to make that distinction in the famous Time magazine interview: “I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times.” To our country’s shame, a couple of our more recent presidents put their lascivious thoughts into frequent action,
Al Leo

(David Heddle) #17

My (and mine alone) answers:

[1] I don’t know what happens to them, but I’m a Calvinist and the most important Calvinistic verse (in my opinion) is that God will have mercy upon whom he will have mercy (Rom 9:15). I cannot tell God whom he can and cannot save. The farthest I’ll go from scripture is that the normative case is that we are to act as if everyone must hear and accept the gospel, and we are to treat those who have not made a positive response to the gospel as if they are unsaved, but we do not know. Put more succinctly, I believe it’s quite possible that missionaries often encounter already converted (saved) people, and the evangelism of the missionary gives the person a context for what God has already done.

[2] Yes it’s fair. And the fact that it is our nature–well that’s a feature not a bug. It’s Original Sin. It is the result of the fall. Because sin (like garden-variety lust) is now “natural” is exactly why we need a savior.

[3] The gospel writers no doubt had all manner of incorrect scientific beliefs. The only thing that matters (if you believe in the inspiration of scripture) is that the Holy Spirit did not inspire them to write down definitive statements about the earth being flat or that it was created only 10 kya. They may have believed that–but their beliefs did not find their way into the canon of scripture. No denomination of Christianity that I am aware of argues that the apostles were infallible, only that what they wrote under inspiration was infallible in the original autographs.

[4] It would say that it doesn’t. I would say it treats demonic activity as demonic activity.

(Richard Wright) #18

Hi Reggie,

I know you’ve already received a fair amount of reasonable answers to your queries but allow me to chime in. I’ve been a, “baptized, born-again follower of Christ living faithfully” for ~ 30 years now (was a deist before) so this is how I’ve come to think about these things.

If God loved us enough to send His son here to be tortured and murdered for our sins, I think we can trust him to judge fairly those who haven’t heard the gospel.

For one, I don’t think Jesus was making lust equal to adultery, otherwise half of everyone would have to be disfellowshipped from their churches for unrepentant immorality. I think he was trying to get people to think about the root of sexual sin.

Two, similar to what Christie posted, to lust after a woman, you must first see her then recognize that she is attractive to you. A Christian would/should look away, recognizing that looking more can cause arousal and an intimate attraction, which is allowed only for her husband (and the wife of the looker, if he’s married). So it’s when we keep looking, or have 2nd or 3rd looks, that we cross the line to lust. Usually we don’t get sexually aroused from a quick glance.

It matters not, God didn’t give bible authors special scientific knowledge - it wasn’t necessary for His spiritual purposes and if He had it only would have caused confusion and distractions. Jesus and his followers lived in ancient times and he addressed them from that perspective. That said, I’m not sure from the passage that the flat earth is being referred to.

Jesus didn’t always mention demons when healing. When he did, it’s possible, to myself anyway, that he was addressing them according to their worldview. I personally think that some of what we call, “mental illnesses” are from people who are unrepentant of some sin in their hearts and it just took them over in the form of uncontrollable rage, bitterness, etc. In that sense they almost are possessed, because they allowed Satan so deeply in their hearts. The same with murderers and other sick, violent criminals. I know medical professionals who work in institutions who agree with me. I personally don’t think, from my knowledge of the scriptures, that Satan has the ability to create physical change. So I’m not really sure why Jesus healed the epileptic boy by rebuking a, “deaf and mute spirit”.

(RiderOnTheClouds) #19

Compared to Korvexius’ excellent response, this seems rather unconvincing given how science had well established the earth was round by the time of Jesus.

(Richard Wright) #20

Hello Reggie,

I agree that the video posted by Korvexius gave a convincing answer to your question. For what it’s worth, I’ve learned from doing research on Jewish sites that among Jewish learned me there were differing opinions on the shape of the earth in ancient Isreal. It seems that the Greeks knew for certain by 250 BC that the earth was spherical, but it took some time for that knowledge to be fully accepted by ANE cultures.