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Pages 5-7: spring 1992 IMPOSSIBLE FOR GOD TO LIE? AN ANSWER Michael P. Hughes Quite often those who wish to discredit the Bible form an idea, then do their very best to find "proof" to support that idea. This is what Mr. Till has done many times before, and it is what he has done in his article "Impos- sible For God to Lie?" Mr. Till has decided that the Bible cannot be true. Since it claims to be true, he must find something that "proves" that it is not true. In this supposed contradiction, though, I don't believe Mr. Till has made an honest attempt to explain the verses in question at all. He has simply quoted passages and said, "See, God lies." This, of course, requires no amount of study whatsoever. I must say that this doesn't seem to be a method of study that would be used by a "critical thinker," yet here we have it. Farrell, just a question. What if scientists approached their studies in the same manner that you approached your "study" of the Bible? We would probably still be flying kites to discover (use?) electricity! Between his diatribes about circular reasoning and using the Bible to support the Bible, (by the way is it also wrong to use science to support science), Mr. Till brought into question three biblical passages that he main- tains prove that God lies, therefore proving that the Bible is not inerrant. The first of these that I wish to deal with is the account in Judges 20. He is particularly concerned about two verses, 18 and 23, in which Israel asked counsel of God. God first told Judah to go against Benjamin, and they were defeated. They then asked God if they should persist in their actions. God told them to continue, and again they were severely defeated. This, we are told, is proof that God lies. Mr. Till is not happy with the idea that God did not say that they would be successful. He uses the "what if" scenario of someone who can see into the future giving bad advice about stocks. I hate hypothetical "what if" scenarios like this. They are usually not very relevant, and this one is no different. Since no one has the ability to see infallibly into the future except God, the example is totally invalid! Let me ask one question though. Suppose that Mr. Jones knew that I was going to do whatever I wanted regardless of his "advice," and his response to me was in a resigned manner. Would he then still be guilty of lying, if indeed he was to begin with? This certainly seems to be the case in the account under question. I call your attention to Judges 21:25, "In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes." This was not the first time that the writer of the book of Judges made this observation. He stated the very same thing in Judges 17:6 and 18:1. Actually, this seemed to be the attitude of the general populace of Israel all through the book of Judges. That same attitude seemed to be quite prevalent in this account also. Note the attitude exhibited in verse nine, "(B)ut now this shall be the thing which we will do to Gibeah; we will go up by lot against it." One can see the obvious attitude here. There is no counsel with God, no question of whether they were right or not; they just decided to act. They did finally seek counsel with God, but not until the eve of the battle. Even then it was not truly to see what God wanted, but simply to ask Him which tribe should go first. This also showed their attitude. They 1 needed only one tribe for this little affair, so what did they need God for except as arbitrator as to who should have the privilege of being the dis- ciplinarians here? With this type of attitude it really would not have mattered what God said, since, as so often happens, Israel would not have listened had they not liked the answer. What better way to teach them a lesson than to let them go their own way. This is not an implausible answer to explain the occurrence here and allow the inerrancy of the Bible to stand. Of course, one can be like those Israel- ites and believe (or do) that which is right in their own eyes, in which case the only plausible explanation will be that which they chose to believe, in spite of anything that sincere study might suggest! The other two accounts that Mr. Till presented as evidence of his allega- tions concerned a lying spirit. In these two passages, 1 Kings 22:19-23 and 2 Kings 19: 6-7, something was allowed by God; therefore, says Mr. Till, He is guilty of sin. We, of course, recognize the significance of these accusations. If God has lied, then (1) He can't be God, for God can't sin, and (2) if He lied, then the Bible is not inerrant, for it says that God cannot lie (Titus 1:2; Heb. 6:18). Mr. Till has already been given one explanation of these two passages, which he did not like. That explanation is basically that God allowed some- thing to happen and is therefore accredited with the attribute of having done that thing. A good example of this is the account of Israel's exodus from their captiv- ity in Egypt. Several times throughout this account, we are told that God either intended to or actually hardened Pharaoh's heart.Yet no one who seri- ously studies the Bible with a desire to know God's truth would venture forth with the idea that Pharaoh's heart was literally hardened by God so that he would not do as God wished. It is understood that God allowed Pharaoh to exercise his will and thus ignored God's wishes. In 2 Thessalonians 2:10-11, we read, "And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie." In this passage, we read that God will send strong delusions so that people will believe a lie, yet in James we are told, "Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: but every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust and enticed" (James 1:13-14). Now how does one reconcile these two passages and the ones of the Old Testament so that all is in agreement? Naturally, Mr. Till would say that it cannot be done. I disagree. God allows things to happen. He allows men to choose which path they will follow. He allows men to be deceived by others. He allows Satan to have a foothold in this world at this present time and in the past. Since God is omnipotent, it is often said that he does something when in fact he has simply allowed man to exercise choice. What we read in 1 Kings 22 and 2 Kings 19 is nothing more than that. These passages do not prove that God is a liar; rather they prove that man has a choice, that God in His wisdom has allowed that choice regardless of the consequences. 2 Farrell, you also have made a choice. God allowed that choice, even though it pains him. Many of us pray that you will repent of that choice and return to the truth that you once embraced. (Michael Hughes' address is Route 3, Box 924, Camdenton, MO 65020- 9803.) EDITOR'S NOTE: Mr. Hughes' accused me of first forming an idea about the Bible and then looking for proof to support that idea. I must remind him that I was once a preacher and missionary for the same church that he is a member of. At that time, I had an idea about the Bible, which was the same as the one he presently has. I believed that the Bible was the inspired, inerrant word of God. Despite what he and his colleagues may accuse me of, I did not suddenly decide one day to see if I could find proof of errancy in the Bible. In my case, the Bible condemned itself. I studied it intently. The discrepancies were there for me to see, and I saw them, to such a degree that my conscience would not permit me to continue preaching something I knew wasn't true. Can Mr. Hughes truthfully say that he has examined the inerrancy issue from both sides, as I have done? I seriously doubt that he can. How then can he accuse me of first forming an idea and then looking for proof to support it? If anybody has done that, he has. Does he expect us to believe that his article was objectively researched? Did he not approach the task of writing that article with a view to finding something--just anything halfway sensible--that he could say to keep his precious inerrancy doctrine intact? Of course, he did. He knows it, I know it, and the readers know it too. So until he can present proof that he has objectively and impartially studied the inerrancy issue, he has no room to accuse me or anyone of unobjectively trying to prove preconceived ideas and opinions. If scientists approached their studies in the same manner that I do, he asserted, we would probably still be flying kites to discover electricity, but I fear that we would still be making stone tools, if scientists had used the same approach that Mr. Hughes and his inerrancy colleagues apply to biblical interpretation. Hughes claimed that the key to understanding the story in Judges 20 that seems to present Yahweh in a bad light is as simple as understanding the manner in which Yahweh was speaking when the Israelites asked for his advice. He was speaking with resignation to people who had already made up their minds and would probably have carried out their plan regardless of what Yahweh might have said to them. So, according to Hughes' scenario, Yahweh was simply saying, "Yes, yes, go ahead and go against Benjamin; you're determined to do it anyway, so just do it." The problem with Hughes' solution is that it depends upon his having properly interpreted the tone in which a written statement was said. I have taught college literature courses for over twenty years, and, as any experi- enced teacher of literature knows, I know that correct interpretation of tone is difficult when the writer has not expressly stated that the tone was sincer- ity, sarcasm, resignation, etc. Mr. Hughes hates hypothetical scenarios, but his interpretation of this biblical scene is about as hypothetical as any could be. It depends entirely upon an arbitrary assertion that the tone of Yahweh's statements was resignation. The text itself gives no support to this interpretation, because it indi- cates that the Israelites had not yet made a definite decision the first time they asked counsel of Yahweh: And the children of Israel arose, and went up to Bethel, and asked counsel of God; and they said, Who shall go up for us first to battle against the children of Benjamin? And Yahweh said, Judah shall go up first (V:18, ASV with Yahweh substituted for Jehovah). 3 Notice that they did not ask, "Shall we go up against Benjamin?" In other words, they were not asking for divine approval of what they had already decided. They were asking Yahweh to designate or choose a specific tribe to make the attack. In this respect, they were doing exactly what was customar- ily done in Israelite society when a course of action was under consideration. They asked for advice from their tribal war god, and the advice that he gave them resulted in the death of 22,000 men. Hughes sees support for this interpretation in the fact that the book of Judges says three times that "every man did that which was right in his own eyes" in those days, but the context of this story hardly supports his theo- ry. If these were people determined to do what was right in their own eyes, why would they have sought the counsel of Yahweh? The fact that they did, not just once but three times, indicates that they were typically superstitious Israelites who believed that the advice of Yahweh should be sought in every important aspect of life, and especially in a matter as important as a battle plan. (Examples of seeking the counsel of Yahweh can be found in 1 Samuel 10:22; 22:10,13; 30:8; 2 Samuel 2:1; 5:19,23 and other passages too numerous to list.) If Phinehas, the priest through whom the counsel of Yahweh was being channeled in Judges 20 (v:28), had told the people that Yahweh had said not to go up to battle, they would have superstitiously acquiesced. They in fact indicated a willingness to do so on their third visit to Bethel: "Shall I yet again go out to battle against the children of Benjamin my brother, or shall I cease" (v: 28)? If what they were doing was wrong, why didn't God just tell them to cease? Furthermore, if their conduct was so terribly wrong, why did God eventually allow them to succeed? These are questions Mr. Hughes' interpretation fails to answer. He applied the same principle to the fanciful little yarn about the "lying spirit." God didn't deceive Ahab and Jehoshaphat; he simply allowed them to fight a battle they had already made up their minds to fight. Well, his theory won't hold up here either. Jehoshaphat was so undecided about what to do that he had rejected the advice of 400 prophets. He insisted on con- sulting at least one more. That hardly sounds like the conduct of a man whose mind was already set. Furthermore, the prophet Micaiah plainly said in concluding his story that "Yahweh has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these prophets of yours" (1 Kings 22:23). In the incident involving the king of Assyria, the message of Yahweh clearly said, "I [Yahweh] will put a spirit in him, and he shall hear tidings, and shall return to his own land; and I [Yahweh] will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land" (2 Kings 19:7). To argue that these were simply matters of God letting people do what they had already made up their minds to do is ridiculous. The obvious intent of both these statements was to convey the impression that God had inter- vened in the affairs of these men to lure them (see NOTE, P. 15) by decep- tive means to their deaths. The last biblical example that Hughes should cite to shore up his theory is the one about the hardening of Pharaoh's heart. If he thinks that no serious student of the Bible would "venture forth with the idea that Pharaoh's heart was literally hardened by God so that he would not do as God wished," then he should read the story again: Then Yahweh said to Moses, "Go to Pharaoh, for it is I who have made his heart and his courtiers stubborn, so that I could work these signs of mine among them; so that you can tell your sons and your grandsons how I made fools of the Egyptians and what signs I performed among them, to let you know that I am Yahweh" (Ex. 10:1, Jerusalem Bible). If I can understand simple language, this passage is saying that Yahweh himself hardened Pharaoh's heart to give Yahweh the opportunity to show his stuff and leave the Israelites with some fireside tales to tell their children and grandchildren. 4 Hughes resorted to the old fundamentalist ploy of pitting scripture against scripture. "Your passage can't mean what you say it means, because over here in another place it says thus and so." We have repeatedly pointed out that this tactic is an attempt to prove inerrancy by assuming inerrancy. It proves nothing except that we are right when we say that the Bible contra- dicts itself. ******************************** FREE SUBSCRIPTION: A free one-year subscription to The Skeptical Review can be obtained by writing to P. O. Box 617, Canton, IL 61520-0617. 5


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