Monday, September 30, 2013 4th Century of Church of Ss. Sergius and Bacchus in Ma'loula, Syria Destroyed by Obama Backed "Free-Syrian Army" (aka Al Qaeda)

 Ma'loula, September 29, 2013

Militants have destroyed the ancient Christian Church of Holy Martyrs Sergius and Bacchus in Ma'loula and have stolen or demolished its world-famous icons. A correspondent of ITAR-TASS agency saw it for himself on September 29.

This construction, which was the oldest in the Middle East, had been built in the early 4th century. There was a convent here lately; but after the coming of the terrorists and militants of Al-Nusra Front a month ago the sisters found refuge in the Convent of St. Thecla, Equal-to-the-Apostles, where at the present time they are taking shelter from the militants together with 40 orphaned children. It is still impossible to come up to this convent because of the heavy fire of snipers who do not even spare journalists.

The Church of Sts Sergius and Bacchus became "guilty" because of the building of the "Safir" hotel near it, where earlier numerous Christian pilgrims and tourists used to stay, but then Muslim extremists took their positions there. The Syrian army has almost leveled the hotel to the ground but the militants are still taking cover in its cellars and in neighboring grottos, converted into cells. Where monks used to live in ancient times, now there is sustained artillery fire.

A unique icon of Sts. Sergius and Bacchus painted in the 13th century, which was situated just at the entrance, has been lost forever. The iconostasis and its central icon, painted in the 13th century, have been destroyed together with the icons of the Mother of God and Christ "the Archpastor". The latter always evoked the surprise of researchers because it depicted Christ in a long robe of silk with golden threads which is more typical to Damascus of the 18th century than to the period of the beginnings of Christianity. There is no altar of Sts. Sergius and Bacchus any more. It was semicircular with a low edge—the legacy of pagan altars. Now only debris remains of it.

It is difficult to predict how much of the scientists’ time and strength it will take to calculate all damage; however, in the view of a layman, the church cannot be restored. The main cross fell from the dome, wall paintings were destroyed, shot down and slashed by debris, while the walls themselves were either destroyed or disfigured by holes of shells. At the same time, the militants are continuing to shoot down the remaining church walls with mortar.

According to the report of the soldiers to the ITAR-TASS correspondent, they managed to rescue one icon, though it was damaged by debris as well. It is currently at the house of one Syrian serviceman, and the government bodies are aware of it. But which icon it is, the soldiers could not explain.

In the ancient town of Ma'loula the Syrian army is continuing its clean-up operation against terrorists who have hidden in mountain gorges and are unwilling to leave the town. The military feel certain that the operation will prove successful; however, they say they do not rule out that the militants can out of revenge shoot down not only the Convent of St Thecla, Equal-to-the-Apostles, but also five other Churches of the town whose residents were the last in the world to speak Aramaic. It is possible that some of them will return to their homes, but the former Ma'loula has been lost to mankind forever.

30 / 09 / 2013

Friday, September 27, 2013

Stump the Priest: What about Slavery in the Bible?

 Uncle Tom and Simon Legree

Question: "I often hear the argument that the Bible approved of slavery and that either this means that the Bible should be dismissed as having any validity, or that things evolve over time, and so just as we no longer allow slavery, perhaps we should change our views on homosexuality. How should we respond?"

To answer this question we have to consider why slavery came into existence in the first place, what the Scriptures actually say, and how it came to be that most forms of slavery came to end in the civilized world.

Why Slavery Came into Existence

Slavery was a result of the fall of man. Because of human sin, men fought with one another, and some were forced into slavery. Prior to the 19th century, Slavery was a universal fact of life in every part of the world, including Africa.

Imagine for a moment that you were a member of an Indian tribe prior to the time of Christopher Columbus, and your tribe is attacked by a neighboring tribe. In the course of that battle, your tribe captures some members of the opposing tribe. Now what do you do with them? You don't have a prison system. You can't call for United Nations Peace-keepers to take them into custody. You really have three choices: 1). You could let them go, but then these same people would be back at war with your tribe, and perhaps will kill or capture members of your tribe next, and may not be so generous. 2). You could kill them all, but all human beings have a natural aversion to killing other human beings. 3). Your only other option is to keep them as captives. Eventually, you may trade them back to the other tribe in a prisoner exchange, but at least for some time they are now on your hands. Now your tribe is barely able to feed it's members, much less feed idle prisoners, and so you put them to work, so that they can be productive and help to earn their keep. So now you have slaves... people subjected to involuntary servitude. It is only when you have strong nation states that you begin to have other options when it comes when dealing with those captured in warfare.

And it should be pointed out that even today, though we have eliminated most forms of slavery, our Constitution still allows for involuntary servitude as a punishment for a crime. We do not pay prisoners minimum wage, and yet we do put them to work to help earn their keep. We also still have the potential for a military draft -- and though many will object to this being a form of involuntary servitude, it is in fact involuntary, by definition, it does involve work, including fighting on the battlefield and risking your own life, and if you refuse to submit to the draft, you can be placed in prison, where you can still be compelled to work involuntarily.

What Does the Bible Actually Say About Slavery?

No where in scripture do you find slavery endorsed as a good thing. No where is it mandated that anyone should own slaves. In fact, if you read the book of Exodus, you will find that Slavery is presented as an evil. The Law of Moses addresses slavery, but it put restrictions on how slaves could be treated. The law put limits on how long an Israelite could be kept as a slave, and laid down  rules on how slaves could be treated. In contrast, in ancient Rome, for example, the head of a family not only could kill his slaves for any reason, but he could kill or enslave members of his own family. He had absolute power over everyone in his family, and over any slave owned by his family. Slaves were considered to be living tools, having no more rights than a shovel or a hammer.

In the New Testament, St. Paul does say that slaves should obey their masters as they would the Lord -- and this is often cited out of context to discredit Scripture. However, the context also states that masters were to treat their slaves as their brothers. Now, one may object, "How can a master treat a slave as a brother and leave him as a slave?" The answer is that a truly Christian master would have no slave in the real sense of that term. And a Christian slave would no longer be a slave if he is serving such a master out of Christian love. And a Christian slave who was serving an unbelieving master had the hope of winning his master by his love and humility.

But of course many, perhaps most Christian slave owners failed to live up to the teachings of St. Paul, but this also created the discomfort with slavery that eventually ended it.

How Most Forms of Slavery Come to an End in the Civilized World?

As I said, slavery was a universal fact of life prior to the 19th century (though bans on forms of slavery in Europe and other Christian lands have a long history)... but what changed? Out of all the religions of the world, a movement to end slavery arose... and that movement was spawned by the Christian religion. Christians, like William Wilberforce of England, and Charles Finney of the United States campaigned against Slavery. A book entitled "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was written by a Christian author, which appealed to the Christian sensibilities of the American public, and pointed out how even well intentioned Christian slave owners who considered their slaves to be part of their family nevertheless participated in a system that included unspeakable brutality, separated husbands from their wives, and parents from their children, and included the sexual abuse of women slaves. And in the character of Uncle Tom, who is a Christlike figure who is both humble, but also unbending when asked to participate in evil, the American public was moved to bring about the end of Slavery in America. There was also the Christian Tsar Alexander II, the Tsar Liberator, who ended serfdom in Russia, and did it without a civil war.

It is extremely ironic that Christianity should be especially attacked because of the fact that there is mention of slavery in the Bible, when it was Christianity that moved a slave-holding world to see the evils of slavery in the first place, and inspired them to end it. Islam still embraces slavery to this day, and yet Black Muslims act as if the reverse were true, and that it was Islam that was so much opposed to Slavery... when it fact the slave trade began largely with Muslim slave traders selling slaves to European Slave-traders. And if you are an atheist, there is no moral foundation for opposition to slavery... any more than you could be morally opposed to a cheetah eating an antelope. The strong make use of the weak as they see fit. And in fact, in militant atheist countries, Slave labor has always been and remains an accepted means of production.

And those who wish to compare the issue of slavery with homosexuality has a big problem. The Scriptures nowhere mandate slavery, or endorse it as a good thing; but the Scriptures clearly teach that homosexual sex is inherently sinful.

For more on that, I would recommend you read "Slavery, Homosexuality, and the Bible: A Response," by Robert A. J. Gagnon, Ph.D.

For more information:

Does God Approve of Slavery According to the Bible? by Rich Deem
Does God condone slavery in the Bible? (Old Testament), by Glen Miller
Does God condone slavery in the Bible? (New Testament), by Glen Miller
Stump the Priest: Laws about Slavery, by Fr. John Whiteford

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Being Frank

 An Obama backed Terrorist, making sport of the loot from a Syrian Church that has been ransacked.

Frank Schaeffer has had a long career as a writer and speaker, and if you have followed him over the years, you know that his primary writing and speaking mode is righteous indignation, peppered liberally with sarcasm, and spiked with a penchant for gross exaggeration of the views of those he disagrees with. That righteous indignation was once directed at those who kill babies for money -- the abortion industry. When he converted to Orthodoxy, his indignation was also turned on the Protestants from whence he came, to whom his father, Francis Schaeffer remains a highly regarded figure. In more recent years, he has become a pro-Obama, pro-homosexual, and anti-war advocate (at least when George Bush was waging the wars), and so now supports the very people in the abortion industry that he was once so righteously indignant about. How one goes from being in favor of blockading abortion clinics, to supporting a president who opposed laws that would protect babies born alive in botched abortions is beyond comprehension.

In his most recent blog post, he has now taken aim against not only the "religious right" (a favorite target of his in recent years), but now even the Orthodox Church that he still is ostensibly a member of is in his cross-hairs -- because they support Russia's laws restricting the promotion of homosexuality.

I looked over his blog to see if he had expressed any concern for his Orthodox Christian brothers and sisters in Syria, who are being raped, murdered, and run out of their ancient homes by Al Qaeda terrorists, who are armed and supported by Barack Obama, but there was not a word. Tens of thousands of Syrian Christians are now dead, millions are refugees, and not a word of concern. He also expresses no concern over the Coptic Christians of Egypt, who are similarly suffering at the hands of supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood regime that Obama helped to put into power. But who is Frank Schaeffer concerned about today? Homosexuals in Russia. Where is his righteous indignation directed at today? The American religious right, and the Orthodox Church.

Vladimir Putin, on the other hand has been one of the lone voices on the international stage that has expressed concern for the Christians of Egypt and Syria. Whatever else one may think of Putin, the Christians of Egypt and Syria have a much higher opinion of Putin right now than they do of Obama. And it should pointed out that Frank Schaeffer's own opinion of Putin has not always been so negative.

When George Bush invaded Iraq, and then the subsequent guerrilla war resulted in a mass exodus of Iraq's Christian population, at least he could say no one saw that coming. However, Obama knows what is going on in Egypt and Syria, and he knows what would happen to the Christians of Syria if he bombed the Syrian government, and the Al Qaeda terrorists he is arming took power... he just doesn't seem to care; and unfortunately, neither does Frank Schaeffer, it would seem.

The laws on the books today in Russia regarding homosexuals are more liberal than the laws we had here in the United States just 40 years ago. It is not a crime in Russia to be a homosexual. It is only a crime for them to propagandize minors. They are also not allowed to have gay pride parades... which in the United States are obscene displays of perversion in the streets of almost every major city in America. And "Natasha's Two Mommies" is not a book read to children in kindergarten in Russia. This, Frank Schaeffer finds more of a concern than the murder of Christians in Syria with the aid and comfort of his beloved Barack Obama.

The Russian Orthodox Church, as Frank well knows, suffered horrendously under the Soviet Union. The Church is therefore not inclined to antagonize the state unnecessarily... especially when that state is on the right side of a question. The Church has spoken against the government when it has taken positions contrary to that of the Church -- for example, Putin was for some time opposed to introducing instruction about Russia's religious heritage, while the Church was a strong advocate of that idea. In the end, the government introduced such courses, and so now parents can choose between courses that study Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Judaism, or Buddhism -- which are the primary religions in Russia. But when the Russian government passes laws that restrict homosexual propaganda, the Church has no reason to oppose those laws, and good reason to support them, since they reflect traditional Christian morality. The Orthodox Church is not going to change its views on homosexuality, since the Scriptures, the Fathers, and the Canons are unambiguous on the subject. Of course Orthodox Christians cannot support thugs that beat up homosexuals in the street. But in the United States we now have homosexuals beating up those that disagree with them in the streets, and we hear nothing from Frank about that.

Frank cites two Orthodox Christian clergymen as being "pro-gay": "Archbishop" Lazar Puhalo, and Fr. Antony Hughes. And suggests that they represent a hopeful trend in the Orthodox Church. However, if Frank read the article about Lazar Puhalo that he linked, he should be aware of the fact that he is a crank, with a very checkered history. He was never an active priest, bishop, or Archbishop in any legitimate Orthodox Church. He was a deacon in ROCOR before he was deposed for disobedience, and began his career as a vagante bishop, and was only received by the OCA as a retired Archbishop as an act of economia-- a decision that was controversial even within the OCA. His views range from being slightly off, to the outlandish, and so he is hardly a mainstream bishop.  I know less about Fr. Antony Hughes, but I know that the Bishops of the Antiochian Archdiocese have little patience for anyone who challenges the teachings of the Church that homosexual acts are inherently sinful, and that only a repentant homosexual who is struggling against that sin may receive communion. The views of the Orthodox Church on the question of homosexuality are known, and are not up for debate. 

You can read about a Roman Catholic mother who was beaten, raped, and murdered by a homosexual because she had persuaded her son to end his homosexual relationship with him:

You can see a video of a gay mob in the Castro District of San Francisco which attacked a group of Christians that were praying peacefully together:

You can see a video of a gay mob beating up a Christian at a Gay Pride rally in Seattle:  

I am sure most gays oppose such things, just like most Christians oppose gays being beaten.

Also, as I pointed out in a recent post, homosexual activists in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, are using the power of the state to destroy those who do not agree with the homosexual lifestyle in general or gay marriage in particular, if they will not be coerced into either remaining silent about their views or to participate professionally in a gay marriage. In states that have legalized gay marriage, homosexuality is now being taught as normal to even very young children, regardless of the wishes or views of their parents.

Since homosexuals are not proving to be very tolerant of those who disagree with them, now that they have achieved mainstream acceptance in the west, I don't blame Russians for wanting to nip the whole thing in the bud now, so that they don't go down the road to Sodom and Gomorrah too. And it is also interesting that homosexual activists are now focusing their wrath on Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church, but while they will picket an Orthodox Church in San Francisco, for some reason they have not begun picketing mosques to protest the fact that homosexuals are routinely given the death penalty in Muslim countries.

However, whatever grievances gays in Russia, or Christians in the west may have, they are all small potatoes compared with the suffering of Christians in Egypt and Syria at the hands of terrorist groups that have been funded, supported, and defended by the Obama administration. It is a shame that Frank Schaeffer does not use his considerable oratorical and polemical skills to defend Christians who are being threatened, abused, beaten, raped, tortured, beheaded, displaced and butchered by the millions.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Sunday, September 22, 2013

So Gay Marriage Won't Impose Anything on the Rest of Us?

1). If you are a photographer who does not want to take pictures for a gay wedding, either submit to the gay mafia, or be put out of business: N.M. Supreme Court: Photographers Can't Refuse Gay Weddings.

2). If you are a florist, and don't want to decorate a gay wedding, either submit to the gay mafia, or be put out of business:

3). If you own a vacation guest house, and don't want to rent a room with a double bed to a gay couple, you will either submit to the gay mafia, or be put out of business:

Christian guesthouse owners who refused to allow a gay couple a double room because of their religious beliefs say the controversy has forced them to sell up.

4). If you are a 19 year veteran Master Sergeant in the Air Force, and you don't think an airman who said that he personally didn't believe in gay marriage should be subjected to discipline, you with either submit to your Lesbian commanders wishes, or be relieved of your duties: AF sgt. claims he was fired for religious views on gays.

5. If you own a Bakery, and don't want to do a gay wedding cake, you will either submit to the gay mafia, or be shut down: Oregon Bakery Closes Over Owners' Refusal to Serve Gay Wedding.

6. Does your Church own a retreat center, and would rather not have gay weddings served there? If so, you will either get your minds right and allow the gays to have their marriage on your Church property, or you will be sued, and lose: Judge Rules Christian facility cannot ban same-sex civil union ceremony on its own premises.

And given that this is what they are doing when they still have not forced gay marriage down the throats of every state in the union, just wait until they have. Then you will really get to see what the gay mafia means by diversity and tolerance.

Update: I posted a link to this article on a forum, and a homosexual activist responded that it was simply the price of progress, and the march of equal protection under the law. Here is my reply:

So if you had a black photographer, and the Ku Klux Klan wanted to hire her to photograph a cross burning, she should be put out of business if she refused to take the job?

If the Gay Atheists of America owned a retreat center, and the Family Research Council wanted to rent it and hold a seminar on how homosexuals are spreading disease in America, they should be forced by the courts to rent to them?

If a Gay Atheist soldier were to say publicly that they didn't believe in Sacramental Christian marriage, he should be subject to discipline?

Why not just respect everyone's property rights, and let them do with their own property what they wish, and how about we allow people freedom of association, and freedom of speech, rather than putting people out of business because they don't agree with us?

Using the power of the state to destroy people who you disagree with is not likely to win lots of friends for the gay community. If they want tolerance, they might want to start practicing it.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Stump the Priest: Is an Eternal Hell Fair?

Question: I have heard from both atheists and inquirers this question: how can we reconcile the idea of a loving God with the idea of an eternal hell? Wouldn't a loving God give those in hell another chance to accept Him, and escape hell, once they have experienced it? Or, it does not seem fair that God would send people to suffer for all eternity for the finite sins they commit in this life. I have heard an Orthodox priest suggest that everyone will be given an opportunity to accept or reject Christ at the Parousia.

Let me address this question in three parts:

1. Does the Church teach that hell is eternal? 

I have previously mentioned the problems with the English word "hell", but if by "hell" you mean Gehenna,  then the answer is unequivocally "yes." In the early Church, Origen speculated that perhaps God might eventually save everyone, and so suggested the possibility that no one, not even the Devil himself, would be eternally damned. This teaching was specifically anathematized at the Fifth Ecumenical Council.

St. Paul wrote: "since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power" (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9).

Commenting on these verses, St. John Chrysostom wrote:

"There are many men, who form good hopes not by abstaining from their sins, but by thinking that hell is not so terrible as it is said to be, but milder than what is threatened, and temporary, not eternal; and about this they philosophize much. But I could show from many reasons, and conclude from the very expressions concerning hell, that it is not only not milder, but much more terrible than is threatened. But I do not now intend to discourse concerning these things. For the fear even from bare words is sufficient, though we do not fully unfold their meaning. But that it is not temporary, hear Paul now saying, concerning those who know not God, and who do not believe in the Gospel, that “they shall suffer punishment, even eternal destruction.” How then is that temporary which is everlasting? “From the face of the Lord,” he says. What is this? He here wishes to say how easily it might be. For since they were then much puffed up, there is no need, he says, of much trouble; it is enough that God comes and is seen, and all are involved in punishment and vengeance. His coming only to some indeed will be Light, but to others vengeance" (Homily 3, 2nd Thessalonians).

2. Are we going to be given a second chance to repent after death?

I have no idea on what the priest you heard may be basing his claim that everyone will be given one more chance to repent after death. In the parable of the Rich Fool, one does not get the impression that he had another chance coming.

The Prophet Isaiah wrote: "Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near" (Isaiah 55:6).

St. Paul says in 2nd Corinthians: "We then, as workers together with Him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain. (For He saith, “I have heard thee at an accepted time, and in the day of salvation have I succored thee.” Behold, now is the accepted time! Behold, now is the day of salvation!) (2 Corinthians 6:1-2).

St. Basil the Great, commented on this verse in his longer Rule:

"Now is the acceptable time," says the apostle, "now is the day of salvation." This is the time for repentance; the next life for reward. Now is the time to endure; then will be the day of consolation.: Now God is the helper of such as turn aside from the evil way; then He will be the dread and unerring inquisitor of the thoughts and words and deeds of mankind. Now we enjoy His longanimity; then we shall know his just judgment, when we have risen, some to never ending punishment, others to life everlasting, and everyone shall receiving according to his works." (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament, vol. VII, 1-2 Corinthians, p. 255).

I have never seen anything in the Scriptures, or in the writings of the Fathers and Saints of the Church that would substantiate such an idea.

3. How can a good God send anyone to hell?

On one level, we can say that God does not send anyone to hell... at least not against their will. People make choices, and many choose to reject God, and by doing so, send themselves to hell. 

The Scriptures make it clear that just as the rewards in heaven will not be the same, but will be according to our works; so too will the punishments in hell be in accordance with the works of the individual. Christ said: "And that servant, which knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more" (Luke 12:47-48).

God desires that all be saved (1 Timothy 2:4) and is not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9), but he allows his creatures to choose for themselves whether they will choose life or death (Deuteronomy 30:19).

The Prophet Ezekiel wrote: "Say unto them: ‘As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?’  Therefore, thou son of man, say unto the children of thy people: ‘The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him in the day of his transgression. As for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall thereby in the day that he turneth from his wickedness, neither shall the righteous be able to live for his righteousness in the day that he sinneth.’  When I shall say to the righteous that he shall surely live, if he trust to his own righteousness and commit iniquity, all his righteousnesses shall not be remembered; but for his iniquity that he hath committed, he shall die for it.  Again, when I say unto the wicked, ‘Thou shalt surely die,’ if he turn from his sin and do that which is lawful and right, if the wicked restore the pledge, give back that which he had robbed, walk in the statutes of life without committing iniquity, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of his sins that he hath committed shall be mentioned unto him. He hath done that which is lawful and right: he shall surely live.  “Yet the children of thy people say, ‘The way of the Lord is not fair.But as for them, their way is not fair. When the righteous turneth from his righteousness and committeth iniquity, he shall even die thereby.  But if the wicked turn from his wickedness and do that which is lawful and right, he shall live thereby. Yet ye say, ‘The way of the Lord is not fair.’ O ye house of Israel, I will judge you every one according to his ways” (Ezekiel 33:11-20).

When we question God's justice, we are like a toddler who does not understand his parents' discipline, and thinks that they are being unfair... only the difference between us and God is infinitely greater.

As God said through the Prophet Isaiah: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,” saith the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:7-9).

On the day of judgment, no one will be able to say that anyone received an unjust punishment, but will rather say "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether" (Psalms 18[19]:9).

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Stump the Priest: The Problem of Evil

Question: A major argument that I hear from atheists against the existence of God is that there cannot be an all-loving, all-knowing, all-powerful God, because such a being would not permit the evil, pain and suffering that exist in our world. What is the Orthodox response to this "problem of evil"?

This argument is often used to argue against the existence of God, but in reality it is an argument against the goodness of God. If God was the kind of God the Deists envisioned, He would simply not concern Himself with the problem of evil.

The problem of evil is one that is often raised, and there are many good answers for it. For example, C. S. Lewis wrote the book "The Problem of Pain", which covers this question very thoroughly, and I think is well worth reading.

The usual argument points out that the only way that God could prevent evil from existing would be to deny his creatures freedom of choice.

Some also deny the premise of the question, by pointing out that there has only been one good man in human history, and He volunteered to suffer. Suffering is the result of the fall of man, and all creation has suffered as a result of that fall. Christ suffered for us to redeem us from the curse that came as a result of the fall.

In Scripture, the closest thing you find to a treatment of the problem of evil is the Book of Job. In that book, a righteous man suffers, and then struggles with the question of why. The reader is let in on the fact that God is allowing Satan to bring calamities upon Job as a test, but God's answer to Job is essentially to point out that Job is in no position to question God, or to understand his judgments. In the end, Job accepts God's answer and is once again greatly blessed by God, but God never gives Job the answer to the question of "Why?"

The fact is that we know that God is good, because He has revealed Himself to be such. We know that He is all-loving, because He became man and suffered for our sakes. Why bad things may happen to us is often unclear to us. Sometimes, we eventually come to know why. In many cases, however, we will never know, this side of eternity. But we do know that all things work together for good for those who love God (Romans 8:28). God can even take the evil choices of men, and use them for good. As Righteous Joseph, who had been sold into slavery by his brothers, came to realize -- though his brothers had "meant evil" against him; "God meant it for good..." (Genesis 50:20).

David Bentley Hart discusses the problem of evil in this video:

This video summarizes C.S. Lewis's answer to this question:

Dr. Hart on the "New Atheists"

See also this article by Dr. Hart: "God and the Problem of Evil."

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Stump the Priest: Giants in the Bible?

Question: “I wonder, how are we to think of the Giants from the Old Testament? Can it be that there was another race of beings that were drowned in the great flood? Why would God do this? Were they made in his image as well? What was their purpose? Is the evidence of them in the archeological record presented in recent years true?”

The first mention of giants found in Scripture is in Genesis 6:1-4:

“And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose. And the Lord said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years. There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.”

There are a few early Christian writers that took this to refer to demons mating with humans, and producing giants, but most of the Fathers rejected this interpretation, and said that the "Sons of God" are those of the godly line of Seth, who mated with women of the ungodly line of Cain.

Fr. Seraphim (Rose) notes:

"Some have speculated that the 'sons of God' were heavenly beings or angels. The Holy Fathers were aware of this interpretation and they refuted it, saying that angels cannot beget men." [Here a footnote adds the following: "The identification of the 'sons of God' as angels or heavenly beings was based in part on the apocryphal book of Enoch....Some of the early Christian writers mistakenly accepted this interpretation....The first extant Christian reference to the 'sons of God' as descendants of Seth is in the Five Books of Chronology by the early Christian writer Julius Africanus (A.D. 200-245) (Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 6, p. 131). This interpretation became the consistent teaching of the Church, being set forth on theological grounds by St. John Chrysostom (Commentary on Genesis 22:6-7), St. Ephraim the Syrian (Commentary on Genesis 6:3, Hymns on the Nativity 1:48, Hymns on Faith 46:9, Hymns against Heresies 19:1-8, and Hymns on Paradise 1:11), St. John Cassian (Conferences 8:20-21), Blessed Augustine (City of God 15:23), St. Gregory Palamas ('Topics of Natural and Theological Science' 62), St. Athanasius (Four Discourses against the Arians 4:22), St. Cyril of Alexandria, and others."] (GENESIS, CREATION and EARLY MAN, page 244, quoted by "Angels Marry Women? Nephilim, sons of God, and Genesis 6:1-5" By Robert E. Gentet).

And so the giants of Scripture were not a different species, but simply men who were extraordinarily large. The best known giant in the Bible is Goliath. If the Hebrew Masoretic text is taken at face value, Goliath would have been 9 feet 9 inches tall (six cubits and a span). However, according to the Septuagint and Dead Sea Scrolls texts, he was 6 feet 9 inches tall (four cubits and a span) [see J. Daniel Hays, "Reconsidering the Height of Goliath", JETS 48/4].

The tallest man in modern history was Robert Pershing Wadlow, who was just over 8 feet 11 inches:

Robert Wadlow compared to his father, Harold Franklin Wadlow

Assuming the Septuagint text is correct, Goliath would have to look up  to Robert Wadlow, who was more than 2 feet taller than he was.