A Personal Apologetic: Introduction to Biblical Prophecy

Some of the strongest evidence for the existence of God and the inspiration of the Bible comes from prophecy fulfillment. In the next couple of posts, I’m going to give what I believe to be the the biggest examples of verifiable modern-day prophecy fulfillment. But first, I want to show what sets biblical prophecy apart from the predictive statements of other sources. My purpose in this post is not to prove prophecy is real, but to lay the groundwork for the following posts in understanding what biblical prophecy is about.

Most people think prophecy is primarily about the prediction of future events. The predictive element is seen in many religions and belief systems, from Chinese Chen to Nostradamus, to the claims of other modern day seers and prophets (such as those of the Watchtower organization). Prophecy, however, is more accurately defined as one or more messages that have been communicated supernaturally through a prophet, whether those messages include predictive statements or not. In other words, a prophet claims to be merely a spokesman for the supernatural source of his message.

Biblical prophecies also include predictive elements, but those elements are not given merely to inform us what the future holds. Most prophecy in the Bible is in the form of promises from God about what He will do or cause to happen in the near or distant future. In other words, it is not so much God telling us what will happen in the future, but what He will do in the future. The events prophesied are usually so far-fetched or impossible that their fulfillment would be seen by witnesses as acts of God, not just chance. 1

That prophecy fulfillment is about the evident working of God can be seen in a phrase associated with many prophecies. It generally takes the form, “…then you will know that I am YHWH (Jehovah).2 This phrase implies the fulfillment of the prophecy is not so much about the predicted event, but about the existence, character, and nature of God. So if you happen to witness a biblical prophecy fulfillment, you should take it to heart that God exists and is actively involved in events here on earth.

Because biblical prophecy is about God revealing Himself, the predicted events need to be understood by their plain common-sense meanings, so that the fulfillment, when it happens, is obvious and can be eye-witnessed by anyone. 3 There have been attempts among some cults and some branches of the Christian church to interpret biblical prophecies figuratively, symbolically, or ‘spiritually’. For example, Jehovah Witnesses claim Jesus returned in 1914, but the return was invisible. Such interpretation ignores the plain meaning of the biblical text (Revelation 1:7), and waters the prophecy down, making its fulfillment non-provable and open to interpretation. Prophetic fulfillments recorded in the Bible were always literal, so even the non-believing witnesses would be able to recognize the fulfillment 4. We need to expect any prophetic fulfillments today to follow the same pattern: the fulfillment must follow the plain-sense understanding of the prophecy.

As I said, this post is only a quick overview of what biblical prophecy is about. I haven’t yet attempted to prove the accuracy of any prophecy. I also haven’t tried to address the claims of skeptics, which can be summarized as follows:

• The prophecy was written vaguely, making the fulfillment open to interpretation.

• The prophecy was written after the event happened (‘vaticinium ex eventu‘).

• The fulfillment was coincidental, the result of random chance.

• The prophecy was purposely fulfilled to make the Bible seem true.

• The Bible writers lied about the fulfillment.

These sound like strong arguments, but are only baseless accusations made by those who are unwilling to investigate the evidence. Such claims require blind faith on the part of the doubter. In the following posts, I will address these allegations as I cover two closely related areas of biblical prophecy fulfillment of which we have public knowledge.

Notes:

  1. Some examples of unlikely or impossible prophecies are in 2 Kings 3:16-25, Isaiah 4:17, and Luke 24:7 (Daniel 9:26, Isaiah 53:8,10).
  2. A few examples are in Exodus 6:7-8, 14:4, 1 Samuel 17:47, 1 Kings 20:28, Ezekiel 25:5, 38:16.
  3. Symbolism may be involved in a prophecy, but the meaning of the symbols always points to an event that is witnessable when it happens. For example, Daniel chapter 8 contains a prophecy of the Greek empire, symbolized by a goat with a big horn, which is replaced with four smaller horns. Daniel 8:21-22 explains the horns symbolize the kings of the Greek empire. While the symbol itself (the goat) was not fulfilled, the meaning of the symbol was fulfilled literally, first in Alexander the Great, then in the divided kingdom ruled by Ptolemy, Cassander, Lysimachus and Seleucus.
  4. A couple of examples: 2 Kings 7:1-2, 16-20, and 1 Kings 21:19, 22:37-38. The only exceptions have to do with prophecies that explicitly state the fulfillment is not on earth, i.e. Luke 22:69, Acts 7:55, and Colossians 3:1.

More Mazes For Sale

Sample mug mazeI just added my most recently drawn mazes to my Zazzle store. You can now get them on T-shirts and mugs.

In case you don’t know, I’ve had a couple of maze posters available on Zazzle.com for quite some time. At one point, at least one of them appeared first when searching for the keyword ‘mazes’. Click here to go the the store.

New Maze: “Three”

I just finished my second multi-maze. This one has three openings. By picking any one opening as a start and any other as a finish, you have six combinations of openings. In other words, this is six mazes in one! Each solution is relatively easy since I had to squeeze six different paths in the space of one maze.

I plan my next multi-maze to be the Starry Night maze I mentioned back in January. This one will have four openings: a 12-in-one maze!

New Maze: “Two”

Here’s another new maze. This one is a bit harder than the previous, and it’s the first of it’s kind. Instead of a normal start and finish, there are two openings labeled ’1′ and ’2. First, find your way from ’1′ to ’2′, then find your way from ’2′ back to ’1′. Because of the bridges and arrows, you can’t take the same route back through the maze. So, it’s two different mazes in one!

New Maze: “One”

I just added a new maze to my maze page. It’s small so it would fit in my company’s newsletter. This is the first new maze on this site since 1996, and it’s the first in a series. I just finished drawing the second (a harder one), and I’ll be posting it after I color it.

As with all my mazes, there are bridges that allow paths to go over or under one another without intersecting, and one-way paths where you cannot go against the arrows.

What Doesn’t Produce Righteousness

…for the anger of man doesn’t produce the righteousness of God.

- James 1:20

It’s a familiar verse… one that is easy, in hindsight, to apply to the rash actions of a believer who has let his temper fly with disastrous results. Those who have a temper problem may acknowledge the truth of this verse when everything is going according to plan. But awareness of such truth seems to flee when they need it the most.

Those of us who do not have a problem blowing up may think we are safe here. Yet, we can take the word ‘anger’ out, replace it with another word, and the verse will address our weaknesses also.

…the love of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

…the apathy of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

…the work of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

…the wisdom of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

The truth is, nothing that is of us will produce the righteousness of God. God has to make us righteous – both positionally and practically.

But of him, you are in Christ Jesus, who was made to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption: that, according as it is written, “He who boasts, let him boast in the Lord.”

- 1 Corinthians 1:30-31

A Personal Apologetic: Corrupt Beings

The world of nature we live in is amazingly complex and well-tuned, from the macroscopic (general cycle of life) level, down to the microscopic level. Virtually all of life works to keep the system in balance and flourishing. In one part of the cycle, bees pollinate flowers so plants can produce fruit. Animals eat the fruit, and in doing so scatter the seeds so the plants can reproduce elsewhere. All of the participants in the cycle benefit. It appears simple when you look at the overall picture, but it is mind-bogglingly complex when you examine the role individual creatures play to keep the cycle going. 1

When we add man into the equation, however, nature tends to get out of balance. We pollute the air, the ground, and the water supply, we deforest, we eliminate some species and transport other invasive species, we wage wars, and so on. If evolution has so fine-tuned the workings of nature over billions of years, why are we, the supposed apex of evolution, so destructive to ourselves and the world around us?

For all the natural problems we cause, they are merely symptoms of a more severe moral condition. While we have a moral sense, corrupted as it is, we can’t even live up to our own ideas of right and wrong. This manifests itself through everything from breaking the speed limit, not wearing our seatbelts, and cheating on our taxes, to bribery and political scandals in the highest levels of government, to terrorism, torture, sexual slavery, murder… you name it. Animals are not moral creatures, yet overall, they behave better than we do!

Yes, we humans aren’t perfect. But most of us prefer not to get into the specifics (especially when it becomes personal). When we admit to failings, we usually refer to the occasional ‘minor’ moral infraction (such as telling a lie or stealing a pencil from the office), or something non-moral (such as breaking one’s diet). We believe most people, even hardened criminals, are essentially good deep down inside, and that the good just needs opportunity to express itself.

But this view of ourselves is just self-deception. Read today’s newspaper. It’s full of reports of crime across all levels of society. Criminals come both educated and uneducated, rich and poor, religious and non-religious, black and white, from the highest government offices down to the homeless living on the street. And the newspapers only cover a tiny fraction of our illegal or immoral activities.

Materialists explain our moral nature as just one more thing that came about through evolution. If we favor what is good and beneficial, it would certainly be advantageous to our species and increase our chances of survival. But why is it so difficult to do what is good and beneficial? Everything else that supposedly evolved about nature and ourselves is finely tuned. Why does it take more self-control to do the right thing than to do the wrong thing… even when we agree the right thing is beneficial?

I don’t see how evolution can explain our corrupt nature, because doing wrong always has a detrimental effect on our species. For all the progress we have made over the decades and centuries in terms of education, science, technology, medicine, infrastructure, and the like, mankind is still going down the proverbial toilet.

The Bible, on the other hand, doesn’t try to gloss over who we are. It is full of accounts of people like us today who were greedy, selfish, deceptive, violent, sexually immoral, robbers, murderers, etc. The Bible describes our nature as “sinful”, meaning we’re unwilling and unable to live in a way that is in harmony with God intent and the rest of creation. When I examine myself, I find my nature exactly matches what the Bible says about me. One of the four founders of Johns Hopkins Hospital (now the university) also recognized the same thing:

“Perhaps one of my strongest reasons for believing the Bible is that it reveals to me, as no other book in the world could do, that which appeals to me as a physician, a diagnosis of my spiritual condition. It shows me clearly what I am by nature—one lost in sin and alienated from the life that is in God. I find in it a consistent and wonderful revelation, from Genesis to Revelation, of the character of God, a God far removed from any of my natural imaginings.”

- Howard A. Kelly, M.D.

Notes:

  1. Take a look at the life cycle of the lancet fluke (Dicrocoelium dendriticum) for example.

“Have this mind in you…”

“Have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus…”

- Philippians 2:5

This phrase begins the best known hymn of the early church, a hymn of praise to Jesus who humbled Himself to the level of a slave, and died a slave’s death, to reconcile us to God. But we tend to overlook this command for all the good doctrine about our Savior that follows it. And when we consider obeying it, we think only in generalities.

Next time you spend time in the gospels reading about Jesus, frequently recall this phrase: “Have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” Every time you see Jesus heal the sick, instruct His disciples, speak of the kingdom of God, deal with those who oppose Him, etc., ask yourself why He did what He did or said what He said, then ask the Holy Spirit to transform your mind to think the same way. Discover the mind of Christ, then have the same mind in you.

A Personal Apologetic: Morality and Justice

{Again, I have a two part argument. This first part is about man’s moral inclination and a general desire for justice. I don’t consider it as strong an argument as that from consciousness, but I feel it is strong enough to include here. The second part will be about the difference between what man believes morally and how he acts.}

Man is a moral being. Regardless of a belief in the existence of God, everyone believes some things are right and other things are wrong. We might have significant differences of opinion on these things, but we do have opinions.

If God does not exist, there are no absolute moral standards. Each of us can then define right and wrong however we please. What is moral to you may be immoral to me, or vice versa, and each of our opinions would be equally as valid.

Unfortunately, society tends to self-destruct if everyone acts on his own personal mores. If I intend to kill you, believing it is my right, but you believe it’s wrong for me to kill you, there is no absolute standard you can appeal to that says you’re right and I’m wrong. Your belief that I am wrong has no more weight than my belief that I am right. (Lest you think this is an extreme example, it is exactly the case with those who promote genocide or abortion today.) It’s pointless for one side to convince the other to do the right thing if the right thing is purely man’s opinion.

To prevent the breakdown of society, each nation has a government that enacts laws and subjects its citizens to those laws. Everyone operates under the same moral code. This sounds like a good solution in theory, but it raises some questions in my mind.

Where does a government get its authority from? Generally, authority is passed down from a higher to a lower. In the United States, the federal government gives authority for individual states to rule, and states give authority to town and city governments. But where did our federal government get its authority from? Our founding fathers believed it came from God 1. However, if there is no God, authority can only come through consensus of the people or rebellion against a previous government.

Concensus might appear to be good grounds for authority, however every sizeable nation is going to have citizens who oppose the rule of their government. (Subjective morality implies there will be differences of opinion on moral matters.) What makes such opposition wrong if right and wrong are subjective? If man can make up his own mind on moral and ethical issues, then the actions of rebels are no more wrong than the actions of those who obey their nation’s laws.

With no God, eventually even consensus fails, and authority can only be obtained or retained by force. The stronger party gets to make up the rules: might makes right. With subjective morality, we eventually end up with oppressive governments like China and North Korea.

Even if every citizen supports their government and obeys its laws, this world consists of more than one nation, each having their own set of laws. One nation has one law, another has an opposite law, and who’s to say which one is right? What is good in one culture is seen as evil in another, and vice versa. If the majority of nations say slavery is good, what right would the minority have to condemn the majority? If there is no authority higher than man, then one person, as well as one nation, has no right to condemn another for slavery, murder, genocide, or any other moral or ethical issue. Whatever man says is right at the moment becomes right… at least until he changes his mind.

So far, I’ve only mentioned a few problems I see with subjective morality. None of these require the existence of God to somehow make everything right. We could be living in a world with unsolvable moral dilemmas. Neither do these problems disprove the existence of God. It only says man chooses to ignore Him if He exists. However, my argument really doesn’t center on such dilemmas.

The big question in my mind is if man is a product of chance, not having been purposely created by God, why should he have any sense of right and wrong at all? Why do virtually all people agree on certain moral issues? And why is it, when we see what we believe is wrong, we want to see justice done: we want it made right?

What does it matter if somebody steals something from you? Why do you get upset? Surely, there is more to it than just because, “It’s mine!” When people are wronged, they naturally want to see justice done, not just have things restored to normal. (Spend some time in a room with several young children and one toy and see how their sense of justice expresses itself!) This is our normal way of thinking, and if we don’t think this way now, it’s only because we had to unlearn it in the past.

True, different cultures have superficially different ideas of what is right and wrong. Not too long ago, betrayal and murder even of friends was considered normal in one culture in Papua New Guinea 2. Killing a friend was a sign of coming of age. However, even this culture knew murder is wrong. If you were to ask the person being murdered if it was morally right, I’m sure you would get an enthusiastic “Of course not!” for an answer. He certainly didn’t think the “right thing” was being done to him. And deep down inside, the one doing the killing believes the same, for he would also think it wrong if the tables were turned and someone tried to murder him. Whether we’re talking about murder, theft, adultery, or whatever, the victim almost always has a truer sense of right and wrong than the perpetrator.

This sense of fairness can be changed or perverted, but not eliminated.

The materialist believes our universe came about by chance, not by the will of God or for His purpose. So what does it matter to a materialist that other people believe in God and want to share their beliefs with others? If the universe is purposeless, what does it matter if everyone becomes a Christian, a Muslim, or whatever. Everybody dies in in the end. If you’re happier believing a lie, what’s the problem? And yet, it angers an atheist to see a Christian promote his ‘dogma’. In an age of moral relativism where an increasing number of people insist there is no absolute right and wrong, what gives them to right to judge Christians?

The Bible, on the other hand, portrays men as moral creatures, created in the likeness of God. Since God is righteous, we were made to reflect His righteousness. (Right and wrong are not really a matter of opinion.) Our likeness to our Creator has since been corrupted, and our sense of right and wrong has been perverted through our disobedience to God. But we are still moral beings: we still have a sense of right and wrong. And we prefer the right, desiring wrong-doers to come to justice. Even in secular books and movies, we want to see the good guy win. This desire is evidence we were created by God. C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity:

“Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

Although we do not always see justice fulfilled in this life, there will eventually come a time when justice will happen and all wrong will be punished. Everyone will eventually appear before the judgment seat of Christ to receive the results of what they have done here on earth.

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

- 2 Corinthians 5:10

Notes:

  1. Notice in the Declaration of Independence how they appealed to God in justifying their secession from England: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights … appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions…”
  2. Peace Child, Don Richardson

A Personal Apologetic: Independently Conscious

(In the previous post, I talked about how our material existence is insufficient to explain self-awareness in general. While I think that argument was fairly strong, it might not be enough to convince a skeptic. So, in the following post I’ll use a stronger one based on something the skeptic is a constant witness of: his own personal and unique self-awareness.)

Our bodies are made of atoms and molecules. Each of us has the same kinds of molecules. There’s nothing special about the oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and other elements that make up our bodies. They are common, everyday elements. Just the proportions are slightly different for each of us.

If we are the same in physical essence, why do I have a first-person conscious experience of living in and through my body, but I don’t have that same experience through your body? And why do you have a first-person conscious experience of living in and through your body, but not through my body? In other words, why is my self-awareness linked to the molecules that make up my particular body, and your self-awareness linked with the molecules that make up yours? We are all made up of the same stuff. Just think of all the billions of humans that are alive now and have lived in the past, each made of the same kind of matter. Why should your consciousness be associated only with your particular body right now?

If consciousness is energy, the same holds true. Each of us runs on the same kinds of energy. There is no special “me” biochemical reaction or electrical impulses that I have but you don’t.

Consciousness also can’t be explained purely in terms of one’s brain function, although I believe that functioning necessary to be aware of the physical world and interact with it. Without the immaterial side of us (the spirit), we would have no first-person experience of consciousness. All we would have is a brain with no self-awareness, effectively wired so that, like an adroid, it always responds in a predictable way for a given input. Consciousness-wise, it would be like before you existed when you were not aware of anything in the universe.

If we are the same in physical essence, there has to be something that transcends our physical bodies that makes us individually and uniquely conscious. You are I are both independently self-aware. I will never experience your consciousness, and you will never experience mine.

Materialistic science’s explanation for self-awareness is a matter of faith. It is assumed that when a living organism’s brain becomes developed enough, self-consciousness somehow just happens. This is exactly the kind of thinking religious people are faulted for. But nothing just happens.

In a purely material existence, whatever happens (including whatever you do, say, or think) can only be explained as the result of purely materialistic causes that came before it. This is the foundation of modern scientific thought. It is what leads a scientist to search for a material explanation for every observed phenomenon 1.

I also believe every event has a cause – but my pool of causes is not limited to the material universe. I also include the possibility of spiritual causes. These are not random excuses merely to cover the unexplained. They also follow laws that we can observe and benefit by if we are aware of them 2. All of these causes are rooted in who God is, what He does, and what He decrees. He is the ultimate Cause for every thing, including the creation of our individual souls by which we experience consciousness.

Notes:

  1. One exception is the cause for the theoretical “big bang”. Alan Guth’s inflationary universe theory says the universe came out of a “random vacuum fluctuation”, a fluctuation that happened without a cause. Many scientists believe this, even though it goes against their mantra that every event has a materialistic cause.
  2. Some examples of spiritual laws we can rely on are given in Galatians 6:8, Philippians 4:6-7, and John 7:17.