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Tragic Suicide Note: A Tale of Intent

I make my living interpreting. As a pastor, one of my main responsibilities is to study the Bible and help people understand how to apply it to our lives. The most important part of that process is understanding the intent of the original author. So the question of intent is a part of my everyday life. It would be irresponsible and selfish of me to insert my own opinions and feelings into a sermon and represent them as Biblical fact. Every responsible pastor works hard to ensure that what is taught from God’s platform on a given Sunday is God’s opinion, faithful to the intent of the Bible’s author.

The importance of intent does not only weigh on pastors, though. Whether we know it or not, all of us wrestle with the deep and sometimes confusing process of interpretation. Here are two examples that have forced their way into our lives: the debate on gun control and the debate on the national anthem. My purpose is not to weigh in on either issue. There are literally millions of voices sharing their opinions on all sides right now. The reason I decided to weigh in is that I see that the main, most important tool in a pastor’s toolkit can (and should) be used in both conversations, and probably others as well. So I present to you a parable…

Once there was a wealthy bachelor. He had everything that life could offer, except for love. Don’t get me wrong, he received plenty of attention from would-be lovers. But the chemistry was just never right. Except once.

Linda was wonderful. Her laugh was sublime. Her wit was quick, yet gentle. She loved her nieces and nephews, and she seemed to sincerely care for the wealthy bachelor for his own sake, not his money. They dated for several months and things seemed to be going perfectly, until they had a tragic misunderstanding.

It was a stormy evening, and the power was out in the entire neighborhood where the bachelor lived. The fire was lit in the fireplace, and several candles burned on tables around his richly adorned living room. He had been planning a wedding proposal for Linda and was busy with the details, at the same time trying to rebuff a previous romantic interest.  But there was a problem: she wouldn’t take the hint, despite a face-to-face conversation, and multiple phone calls and text messages. So in frustration and desperation, the bachelor crafted a cutting message and shot it to her in a text: “We’re through. There is someone else now. Don’t try to contact me again. It’s over. Do you understand? OVER. Whatever we had was not real and there will never be anything between us again.”

Satisfied that the unpleasant task was done and he could now focus on the real love of his life, the bachelor set his phone down and gazed into space for a moment. Closure. Peace. It was over.

Then his phone vibrated. What’s this? How could she have misinterpreted his message? But no…it wasn’t the other woman, it was Linda. He had somehow missed a phone call from her and was now listening to a voicemail…she was clearly upset, her voice quavering, breath raspy. “I don’t know where we went wrong. I didn’t realize you were seeing someone else…I’m so embarrassed…”

The blood drained from his face as the truth of his error washed over the bachelor. He had sent his pointed text message to Linda instead of the other woman! He tried to call Linda, but his battery was now dead, and the storm had knocked out his landline! Over the next hours, our tragic lovers tried to reconnect and straighten things out, but misunderstanding upon misunderstanding created an ever-higher barrier between them. By the next morning there was no hope for repair. They had both lost.

Months went by, and the bachelor suffered with regret. Nothing seemed to have the power to alleviate the creeping depression. Eventually, he found himself writing a suicide note which was not entirely coherent. Later, police and lawyers struggled to know how to handle his estate. He had no living relatives, and the only personal connection that he mentioned was cryptic and vague: the note ended like this: “I will always love her.”

Of course, neither Linda nor the woman who was supposed to be dumped could be certain to whom the note referred. Each of them would have stood to inherit a great fortune, but the intent of the bachelor was unclear. Both would benefit from being the intended beneficiary, but in a probate court, their opinions would mean nothing without corroborating evidence. Facts are more important than feelings.

Which brings me to the point: intent is everything. This is a much needed message in the current media atmosphere. From the largest news outlets to the most obscure tweets, we are seeing the words of public figures dissected, twisted and misrepresented like no other time. Why? We like straw-men. We want to believe the worst about our enemies. We are often angry, and seeking further justification for our anger. It is inconvenient to practice objectivity, because it means that we have to question our presuppositions. But it is so important.

Here’s an exercise that can quickly illustrate the power of a fallacious straw-man argument: google the name of the political candidate that you didn’t vote for in the last election. Read the first article or two and ask yourself the following:  Is the person who is the subject of the article quoted directly? Is the source of the quote given? Is there a link to a full transcript of what they said? If the answer to any or all of those questions is “no”, you are probably dealing with a straw man article. BUT…its probably tempting to accept it at face value, because you didn’t like that candidate. What happens when you google the other candidate? Does the media treat them with the same level of scrutiny? You see, the truly objective media consumer will evaluate each article with the same level of skepticism, whether they like the subject of the article or not. Don’t give any media outlet the benefit of the doubt! Work hard to find out what the subject of the article INTENDED to communicate. Why? Because you would want the same treatment if it was you being quoted.

When we proffer or consume a straw-man argument, what we are saying is “I don’t really care what you meant. What say you meant is terrible.” What we should be saying to one another is “What did you mean when you said, ‘x, y, z’?”.

How does this question change things in the gun-control debate? Or the national anthem at NFL games?  It’s your job to find out. And don’t be afraid to go back to the song-writer of the national anthem or the folks who drafted the 2nd Amendment. Pastors go back way further than that every single Sunday.

 

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The American Church: Media Victim?

Say the words “church” today and, depending on your hearers, one of several images will enter their minds.  This is because the church is diverse. Fifty states, diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, diverse cultural backgrounds, diverse theological emphasis. Many people view this diversity as evidence that the church is not unified, and therefore its foundational claims are false. This is a non-sequitur, and while some disunity is negative, the diversity in the American church today can be viewed from the positive end of things as well: in gospel centered Christianity, we are united on essentials and (on our good days) gracious when it comes to non-essentials.  The current generation of churches, in fact, have moved in a decidedly “non-denominational” direction, in part because of the bad taste of unneccessary division in decades past. But I digress…

The ugly version of the church that is so beloved by the American media is a straw-man. Not that the church is without its problems, but when public perception of the church is fed by news stories of only the worst actors in the church (think pedophiles, gay-bashers, con-men and the like), and the good stories are ignored, the result is a skewed understanding of who the church really is.

The ugliness is there, don’t get me wrong. I’ve seen it and, to my shame, contributed in some ways. There are evil men in church leadership. There are prideful wolves with dubious motives, heads full of knowledge and hearts full of greed. There are those who have an overdeveloped “us vs. them” mentality. There are those hypocrites who are content to have cute religious gatherings with music and give not a care to the broken world of poverty and pain outside the walls of the church. There are all of these things and more, including the unholy alliance of “evangelicals” to unsavory political characters. But those things aren’t new, nor are they the end of the story.

There are also redeemed souls who, while not perfect, are the essence of Christ. They are humble, kind, and forgiving, because they have been forgiven. There are salt-of-the-earth men and women who faithfully and selflessly serve their congregations and communities for DECADES with little thanks and no expectation of earthly reward. I know them. Norm, Jerry, Suzy, and dozens of others who simply follow Jesus because they have been transformed by the power of his life in us.

There are young people, too. Not enough, but they are there: bright and full of potential, signing away their culturally perceived rights to earn a comfortable lifestyle in exchange for serving Jesus in the third world. I know a young man who has funded several of his own trips to Lesvos to assist refugees fleeing from ISIS. I know a young mother who had it made as a real estate agent, and left her home and extended family to establish an eco-farm in rural Cambodia. I know a young couple who left their familiar surroundings to learn Mandarin and share the love of Jesus in Taiwan, and a Woman who spent close to twenty years ministering to poor people in central China.

The dramatic stories of overseas missionary sacrifice sometimes eclipse the ordinary, stateside brilliance of Jesus-followers together, but they are there as well.  Families who host soup kitchens, week after week, year after year. Couples who foster and adopt. People who give generously, no, scandalously because they have been freed from greed and believe sincerely that nothing belongs to them. Pastors who labor in small churches for years with no expectation of increased pay: many need to work second and third jobs to make ends meet.

There are more than anecdotes: there is statistical support to show that Christians and churches generally make a positive impact on their community.  http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2011/03/31/what-do-churches-contribute-to-the-community/

Once upon a time, this was common knowledge.  That’s one reason why churches have always been tax-free in the United States. Is it any wonder that when public opinion turns against the church, the voices calling for the end of church exemption get louder and louder?

Let’s not be naive.  The church has always enjoyed unpredictable popularity. We have rightfully earned the skepticism of those outside. A group of people associated with the Spanish inquisition (however loosely) should be. So what if the majority of us are decent, hard-working people who give back to the community? Even on our best days, Jesus promised that the world would hate us…(John 15:18). Why wouldn’t the stigma of our past and present shame hang over us?

We can’t be too concerned about public opinion. I have encountered people who would craft the strategy of their outreach based on the perception of the community. This, I believe is a mistake. We are to serve Christ first and let him take care of our reputation. What if we are misrepresented?  “Blessed are you when others revile you, and persecute you, and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”

The Well-Tuned Car and the Awful Driver

Some general observations on politics:
Conservatives emphasize personal responsibility. We need that. Liberals emphasize social responsibility. We need that too.
Conservatives celebrate the hero. Heroes deserve recognition. Liberals are advocates of the victim. Victims deserve an advocate.
Conservatives love freedom. Liberals love safety. Whether we can have both is debatable.
Both conservatives and liberals have faith in mankind: liberals have faith that man is essentially good. Conservatives have faith that man will fail us at every possible point.
Because of this fundamental disagreement on the essential goodness of man, liberals and conservatives will always be at odds. Here’s how:
Liberals will constantly blame the system when things don’t go right. Sometimes the system is to blame, but usually it’s individual people that are to blame. The liberal approach to politics has typically been to grow government programs in order to address problems that are fundamentally human: laziness, greed, selfishness, racism, hypocrisy, etc. This approach is like getting a mechanic to fix a perfectly good car when the problem is the driver. Conservatives aren’t above the problems of humanity (laziness, greed, selfishness, hypocrisy), but they generally recognize that the solution is not to set up a government program, vis-a-vis Mrs. Clinton; “I believe what we need in America today is more love and kindness.”
Certainly we do, Mrs. Clinton. But the Federal government has an abysmal record of dispensing love and kindness, unless you mean dollars and cents.
This political cycle doesn’t promise to provide us with a viable conservative answer to Clinton’s saccharine plan for improvement of the human condition. In fact, even when conservatives had everything they wanted, (during the Reagan administration), the country was still plagued with problems: laziness, greed, selfishness and hypocrisy. Even if we contend that the economy was growing under Reagan, we must ask: is economic stability and growth the final measure of human flourishing?
My point is this: the human condition is not bettered when we have more money and live longer, but when humans behave betterly. (I would prefer a full life of fifty years amongst fine, upstanding people than eighty with scum, wouldn’t you?) But there has never been a system of government that has been able to address the poor behavior of humans. We have tried rehabilitation of every kind: education, housing programs, youth enrichment programs, vocational assistance and government health-care. Have we succeeded? Is there less racism today than there was twenty years ago? Is there less violent crime? Less tax-fraud or embezzlement?
Liberalism and humanism tout the grand achievements of mankind: discovery of DNA. Manned missions to the moon. The erradication of smallpox. What we have failed to do is to master the human soul. Along with our lofty achievements, we have managed to devise huger and more efficient ways of destroying one another. The industrial revolution wasn’t the next step forward in evolution, it only magnified the existing potential of mankind: both for good and evil. And 200 some-odd years later we are in the same place as ever–trying to fix the car when the driver is the problem.
What then is the answer? The only avenue to alter the human condition is to change the affections and motivations of the human heart. The Jesus of the Bible offers the only solution to the broken human heart: be born again. With Jesus, it might not even matter what car we were driving (which political system we use to get along). Communism would work, if the communists were hard working and honest. Capitalism would work, if the capitalists were generous instead of greedy. Democracy would work if the democrats weren’t corrupt. Anarchy might even work, if the anarchists were well behaved and kind! But there is only one person with the power to make those kinds of people: Jesus. And the offer of heart change only comes on his terms: absolute surrender! Will you surrender to him today?

Created to Worship

worship-black-whiteHumans are made to worship. You can see this played out everywhere there are people. We worship the sky, the sun, animals, statues…even each other. Even in this day, when our culture has largely lost the concept of worship, we still worship. Money, celebrities, classic cars…all these and more have the power to absorb our attention and affection. Carl Sagan, celebrated host of the original “Cosmos” series demonstrated a visceral awe at the created universe that has been called Pantheism. That’s worship. Even the Humanist movement, which is blatantly non-spiritual, worships the human. Have you seen “Interstellar”?

What the Bible shows us is that we don’t truly understand ourselves; truly find ourselves until we find the proper object of our worship. The Apostle Paul, in Acts 17 publicly spoke to the Athenians gathered at the Areopagus. They were professional worshipers, crafting idols to represent every conceivable deity under the sun and above it. They had even set up a shrine to “the unknown God”, just so they wouldn’t offend anyone by leaving them out. (Picture your grandmother at Christmas, trying to make sure all of the grandchildren have received equally valuable gifts.)

Referring to that shrine, Paul said “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it…made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us.”

Yet he is actually not far from each one of us.

Worship is that the heart of who we are. We cannot deny the impulse to lose ourselves in awe and wonder. The promise of the gospel is that when we find the proper object of worship (or rather are found by him), we are complete. This is why in scripture we are warned so consistently against idolatry. Its like God is saying “I am actually not far from you. Don’t settle for that counterfeit!”

Not only does idolatry rob you and I of the fullness of life that comes when we find the proper object of worship, it grieves the heart of God. Picture a husband or wife cuddling up to a picture of their spouse instead of the living, breathing version. (This shouldn’t be too hard, since pornography creates the opportunity for that scenario). Doesn’t it strike you as absurd? The spouse who is left out may experience feelings of jealousy. This is God when we pour our affections out on something other than him: the jilted spouse.

That isn’t to say that there is no space in the Christian life for relationships, pursuits and interests other than Christ. The healthiest married couples do not live in a social vacuum: they enjoy other friendships, good books, and hobbies, all in their proper context. God made pleasure. He made us in such a way that we would enjoy a sunset over the mountains, but he intends for the awe that is generated to be channeled into worship for Him, not worship of the sun. God made us artistic beings, but we should not worship the art. He made food for us to enjoy, but we should not worship our stomachs. He invented sex, but it was intended to reflect the intimacy we might have with him; not replace it.

In short, “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17). Much of our confusion, dysfunction and pain comes from worshiping the gift instead of the giver.

 

Choose Your Battle Wisely: Self or Society?

I heard an earth-shattering observation that concerns the two main approaches to life in Western society. According to the observer, religious communities generally raise children to believe that man is basically evil and the purpose of religion is for for man to battle the evil in his heart. Communities that raise their children in the absence of religion tend to emphasize the need for change in society rather than the need for personal change. The battle, according to this theory, is either within oneself, or without.

While we can grant that there are exceptions to this rule, it seems to be a great way to begin to explain many phenomena in American culture. Can you find religious groups that are interested in making an impact in society? Certainly. Are there non-religious folks who emphasize self-help? Of course. There will always be outliers, but the theory is a helpful tool in understanding competing worldviews in the mainstream.

Call me cynical, but each approach offers false hope. The child who was reared in religious circles often finds himself disillusioned with the church (or whatever tradition she was raised in). In spite of all his effort, he is no less sinful than he was last year, or the year before. Likewise, the social activist will often run out of steam when his ideals are rejected at the polling station…or when the ideals are implemented, but fail because of the human element.

Which philosophy is right? Is it the human heart that needs correction, or society? Where is the failure?

In short, both. While a multitude of societal ills would be cured if real heart change has occurred, Social Action is not necessarily a bad thing. It just seems to treat the symptom rather than the disease. But neither approach (self-improvement or social action) will work. If you have not been down one of these paths and found yourself exhausted and disillusioned, you need only look to history and see the legions of examples of folks who have failed to improve the individual or the group. Real change begins with the heart. If my own experience is any indication, the human heart resists change like water resists oil!

Historically, how can one change the human heart? The Bible says that we are born into sin, powerless to change the evil inclinations that are part of the fabric of human souls. We are cursed. The only hope is for something more powerful than evil to work its power from within. This isn’t possible by imposing an ethical code! Good preaching cannot change the heart! Good education and social reform have proven powerless in the battle against evil–just look at crime rates in communities with lots of social programs.

What must we do? Jesus was sent to defeat the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). He once told a prominent wise man that the only way to see the Kingdom of God is to be born again (John 3). The only agent of change in the human heart is its creator. How is this different from battling the evil in our own hearts? Self-improvement is a scam. God’s improvement comes with the promise of power, renewal and love. And when individuals are transformed by God’s power, societies tend to change as well.

10 Myths About Missions

Courtesy of The Gospel Coalition:

http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/10-historical-myths-about-world-christianity

Jennifer Roback Morse lectures on sex and sexuality at Harvard University

WINTERY KNIGHT

Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse

Dr. Morse delivers a talk based on her book “Smart Sex” at Harvard University.

The MP3 file is here. (21 Mb)

Topics:

  • the hook-up culture and its effects on men and women
  • cohabitation and its effect on marriage stability
  • balancing marriage, family and career
  • single motherhood by choice and IVF
  • donor-conceived children
  • modern sex: a sterile, recreation activity
  • the real purposes of sex: procreation and spousal unity
  • the hormone oxytocin: when it is secreted and what it does
  • the hormone vassopressin: when it is secreted and what it does
  • the sexual revolution and the commoditization of sex
  • the consumer view of sex vs the organic view of sex
  • fatherlessness and multi-partner fertility
  • how the “sex-without-relationship” view harms children

52 minutes of lecture, 33 minutes of Q&A from the Harvard students. The Q&A is worth listening to – the first question is from a gay…

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Denton on Explanatory Power of Evolution

Michael Denton, in highly technical terms, questions the explanatory power of evolution for speciation…as far as i can tell.  He explains that while microevolution, which is an observable process, is a scientific certainty, the transitional forms which would provide supporting evidence for macroevolution are absent.  He also appeals to several examples of complex biological processes and abstract biological features which provide no survival benefit, bringing into question the possibility that they developed in response to survival pressures.  This is the first in a three part series.

http://inference-review.com/article/evolution-a-theory-in-crisis-revisited-part-one/

Objections: Hasn’t the Bible Been Changed Over Thousands of Years?

The Christian faith is based on the Bible.  The Bible is our ultimate authority, because in it, God has specifically uncovered His plan for mankind.  A lot rests on the Bible.  If it is untrue in its fundamental claims or otherwise, we who follow it are “of all people, most to be pitied.” 1 Corinthians 15:19.  This leads many people, both Christian and otherwise to ask a crucial question regarding the Bible: is it true?

Let’s look at three important questions that relate to whether the Bible is true:

Hasn’t the Bible changed over time?

The popular illustration of the telephone game serves to discredit the reliability of the Bible.  But is that actually how the Bible came to us today?

One of the first rules of translating ancient documents is to use the oldest sources possible.  The reason for this is that the older a document is, the closer to the original document it is.  Later copies have potential to have copying errors, modifications by editors and such.  In this sense, the “telephone” illustration is correct.  For this reason, translators are forever evaluating source documents.

Not only do they ask “how old it it?” and “How close to the original?”, they are concerned about two other criteria.  How many copies are there?  A higher number can demonstrates that the piece was widely accepted and in high demand.  Lastly, how much variation is there between copies?  This is where the “telephone” principle comes in.  Lots of variation gives us room for doubt about the content of the original, little variation gives translators a higher degree of certainty about what the original work contained.

To summarize, older, more numerous and consistent works give us a greater degree of certainty about what the original documents contained.

The graphic below is a handy chart showing what sources translators have used over time:

BibleComplChart

Notice that more recent translations don’t rely on previous translation work to build newer translations, as the “telephone” analogy would lead us to believe.  Rather, modern translations go to the oldest sources possible, in order to preserve the original sense of the Biblical texts.

How reliable are the sources?  How do Biblical manuscripts compare with other ancient works?  When you use the 3 main criteria (age, number and internal consistency), the New testament is hundreds of percent more accurate than other ancient documents!  Check out the graphic below:

ntgraphic

As you can see, the New Testament is in a category all alone in terms of its reliability.  No other ancient document comes close to this degree of reliability.  This should put the “Telephone game” analogy soundly to bed.

 

Spawn of DaVinci Code (A Response to “Three Answers to Good and Evil That Were Cut From The Bible”)

kulhanek_job

Contemporary Bible critics are generating heaps of online and other discussion with their claims: Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene  The early church doctored the Canon because of political pressures.  The Canon was really information control; a cover-up.  The central figure of Christianity was a fabricated myth, based on repeating themes in Pagan religions.  The problem with these claims is that most of them are exaggerated, misrepresentations of actual history or complete fabrications.  They often rely heavily on the genetic fallacy, dismissing conservative scholarship on the topic simply because it was authored by conservatives.  Bart Ehrman, himself a former Christian, discusses part of this issue in his 2012 article in the Huffington Post, which you can find here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bart-d-ehrman/did-jesus-exist_b_1349544.html More recently, Huffington published an article titled, “Three Answers to Good and Evil That Were Cut From the Bible” by Dr. Joel Hoffman.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-joel-hoffman/three-answers-to-good-and_b_5748286.html

Hoffman’s work falls neatly into the category of sensational “click-bait misinformation described above.  Like Dan Brown’s “DaVinci Code”, the piece presumes from the start that the Bible is flawed.  The difference between Hoffman’s work and Brown’s is that Hoffman’s pretends to be scholarly commentary, while Brown doesn’t hide the fact that he writes fiction.  Dr. Hoffman’s article is academically and theologically disappointing for three reasons.

First, he demonstrates either a willful obscuring or a fundamental ignorance of the meaning of Deuteronomy.  Hoffman attempts to portray the Pentateuchal sermon as a meta narrative explanation on suffering, while it is obviously a legal “suzerainty” covenant, similar to others in its day.  The covenant agreement in Deuteronomy applied to the ancient Hebrews, whom God had chosen for himself and delivered from Egypt.  It wasn’t a set of universal axioms, as Hoffman claims.  Simply put, Deuteronomy was a set of promises between two parties (the Israelites and God) and those two parties alone.

Second, Hoffman doesn’t even attempt to address the conservative position on Canon, but presents his case as though any ancient writing that one might fancy has an equal footing with the traditional Canon.  This is a typical maneuver for skeptical religious scholars of late, as well as many in the New Atheist school: they either ignore, insult or mischaracterize conservative scholarship without actually addressing it.  Admittedly, Hoffman’s tone is not at all caustic toward conventional Christian thinking, except in the fact that he assumes from the start that we have been wrong all along, and never shows us why.  It’s an arrogant assumption, which essentially says, Conventional Christian thinking on the Canon is wrong.  Why?  I don’t have to explain, it just is.  

Perhaps Hoffman would resort to the genetic fallacy?  The Canon is wrong because the early Church had a hand in its formation.  Well, he doesn’t explicitly state that, so it becomes difficult to follow his reasoning without reading between the lines.  Like this one, concerning the Book of Enoch:  “Written before the Book of Daniel and quoted in the Book of Jude, Enoch was amongst the most beloved and popular writings in antiquity, but it was whitewashed from mainstream religion in the first millennium AD.”  That sentence is a prime example of the subtle undermining of two hundred or more years of conservative scholarship on the Canon.  Let’s briefly dissect three different items:

One. “Written before the Book of Daniel…”  Is there a consensus on the dating of Enoch?  What about Daniel?  What Hoffman is not telling his readers is that the entire premise of liberal vs. conservative scholarship hinges on the dates when the books were authored.  Earlier dates have been the official position of the church since the church fathers, some of whom personally knew the authors, first wrote about scripture.  Their position was only questioned during the time of the enlightenment: nearly two millenia after the books were actually written.  How does it stand to reason that the enlightenment thinkers (who would categorically deny the possibility of a miracle, and thus had a vested interest in explaining the existence of scripture in a non-miraculous light) were in a better position to evaluate the authenticity of ancient documents than the people who wrote about them, essentially before the ink was dry on the page?  (C.S. Lewis wrote a great essay on that topic here: http://orthodox-web.tripod.com/papers/fern_seed.html) Hoffman’s tone of finality and lack of explanation on these points is intellectually dishonest and inappropriate for a popular platform such as Huffpo.

Two. “…whitewashed from mainstream religion…”  In so many words, Hoffman accuses the church of mishandling the Canon.  What were their criteria for Canonization?  What books would have qualified if Hoffman had his say-so?  Which, if any, would be excluded, and why?  Again, **crickets**

Three.  “…whitewashed from mainstream religion in the first millennium AD.”  What?  As an historical statement this is so broad and vague that it hardly means anything.  Of course, it is a popular piece, but still…Who did the whitewashing?  How was it done?  Did they tell people to have the book burnt?  Did they stop producing more copies?  Did they ban its sale?  Did they just not endorse it?

The first two disappointments covered in this post (misrepresentation of Deuteronomy and silence on central Canon issues) are really nothing compared to the third.  Hoffman’s characterization of orthodox Christian teaching on suffering is sadly incomplete.  The irony is that his premise accuses the orthodox position of the same thing, viz. the title: “Three Answers to Good and Evil that Were Cut From The Bible”.  Astonishingly, Hoffman’s version of the Biblical teaching on suffering includes no mention of the Messiah.

Why is the Messiah a fundamental in the Biblical meta-narrative on good, evil and suffering?  He is the central character in Bible.  He is mentioned in nearly every Canonical book.  One of his stated purposes is to “defeat the works of the devil.”  In the battle for the soul of humanity, no one person figures more prominently.

Of all the reasons that the Messiah is relevant, nay, central to this conversation, the most important reason is the Messiah’s answer to suffering: the Messianic ministry of presence.  The ministry of presence essentially works like this: I, the eternally pre-existent, all-powerful, all-knowing, omnipresent Messiah will be with you.  Many Messianic predictions in the Old Testament concern his suffering.  Many also concern his proximity to the brokenness of mankind.  One of His best nicknames is “Immanuel, God with us.”  Daniel chapter 3 demonstrates this principle perfectly: He didn’t rescue Nebuchadnezzar’s victims from the fire, but he joined them.  

It might be said that he Bible doesn’t clearly answer the “why” of suffering, although there are some clues.  What it does is offer the more important answer of “whom?”  To whom shall I turn when the world is caving in on itself?  The God-man who knows all about suffering because He’s traveled the road to hell and back on my behalf.  The one who has all my tears in a bottle and knows the number of hairs on my head.  The one who has promised ultimate justice in response to temporal injustice.  Delayed gratification for the faithful, rest for the weary, forgiveness for the guilty and rescue for the prisoner.  The Messiah is the ultimate answer to the condition of man.  To my knowledge, no other major religion has this central feature: a deity who loves us and identifies with us.

Hoffman portrays a neutered and gutted version of the Biblical answer to suffering.  His straw-man version has dissonant, disjointed voices that either offer moral platitudes or lamentations over the dismal state of the world.  In reality, the Orthodox Canon recognizes the fallen nature of the world and promises a remedy in the form of a rider on a white horse who has already begun His work of restoration in the hearts of his people and will finish it by re-creating the Heavens and the Earth, complete and without suffering.

Dr. Hoffman doubtless generated some conversation, probably sold a few copies of his book.  Huffington Post has probably benefited from his material by selling advertising embedded in his article.  But has the truth been told, or is it buried beneath the layers of DaVinci Code-styled click-bait?

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