Thinking Theology

Karl Deenick

For lots of people the idea of thinking about theology seems pretty boring. But it shouldn't be like that. Theology is about knowing and loving God. In this podcast, join Karl Deenick, a pastor, theologian, writer and lecturer, as he digs deep into theology, the Bible and the Christian life, not just for the sake of it, but so we can love God more with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.

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Creation and Science
Nov 18 2021
23 mins
Creation and ScienceThe Actions of God: Creation
Links Two Ways to Live Episode IntroWhat does God do? In the last few episodes of Thinking Theology we’ve been thinking about what God is like: what is his nature and what is his character. But in this and the next few episodes we’re moving on to think about what God has done and what he continues to do.In this episode we’re thinking about what God has done in creating the world. What does the Bible tell us about creation and, importantly, how does that shape our life?That’s what we’re thinking about in this episode of Thinking Theology.Podcast IntroHi. My name is Karl Deenick. I’m a pastor, theologian, writer, and Bible college lecturer. Welcome to Thinking Theology, a podcast where we think about theology, the Bible and the Christian life, not just for the sake of it, but so we can love God more, with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.Creation in GenesisCreation is the first act of God in the Bible. We find it on the very first page of the Bible. We’re told,In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. (Genesis 1:1–2 NIV)It seems that what those first verses describe is an initial act of God in creating the initial matter from which creation would be organised. So God brings matter into existence but it is formless.Before God created the world, then, there was nothing. God created the world “out of nothing”. Or as theologians sometimes say, ex nihilo, which is Latin for out of nothing. God didn’t use pre-existing material but he created everything that is.We find that same idea in other parts of the Bible. So Hebrews 11:3 says,By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. (Hebrews 11:3 NIV)Of course, that might simply mean that the matter God used to create the world was merely invisible and he made it visible. However, other places are more explicit. So Revelation 4:11 says,“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” (Revelation 4:11 NIV)If God created all things, then nothing exists that he didn’t make.In fact, as the theologian John Frame points out, not only did God create out of nothing, he created into nothing. Not only did God create the matter out of which the universe was made, but he also created the space into which it went.[1]The rest of chapter 1 then describes God’s organisation of that matter. And it follows a very structured pattern to show the logic and order that God imposes on his world. So pattern is more or less:[2]1.     Announcement: “And God said,”2.     Command: “Let there be X.”3.     Separation and Structure: God orders the items he has brought into existence.[3]4.     Report: “And there was X.” (or equiv.)5.     Evaluation: “God saw that X was good.”6.     Chronological marker: “And there was evening and there was morning—the nth day.”So there is a careful structure within each day, but there is also a careful structure between the days.There is a pattern in the order in which things are created, such that day 1 pairs with day 4, day 2 with day 5, and day 3 with day 6.So on day 1 light is created but on day 4 the light bearers—the sun, moon, and stars are created.On day 2 the sky and the waters are separated. While on day 5 the sea and sky creatures are created.And on day 3 the dry land and the plants are created, while on day 6 animals and humans are created.Within that pattern, too, the seventh day stand on its own as special. The seventh day is a day of rest for God. Genesis 2:1–2 says,Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. (Genesis 2:1–2 NIV)The seventh day is a kind of capstone on the days that have gone before.The climax of the creation event, however, is the creation of human beings. God says in 1:26,“Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” (Genesis 1:26 NIV)A number of things in Genesis 1 highlight the special significance of human beings. First, when God comes to create human beings the pace of the chapter slows down. For the creation of everything else, even big things like the sun and the moon, they’re passed over pretty quickly, but when it comes to human beings Genesis 1 says a lot.Second, human beings are created as the result of a divine counsel. God says among himself, “Let us make man” (Gen 1:26). Nowhere else in the chapter is there such an obvious and significant deliberation by God.Third, human beings are the only thing in creation made in the image of God. Human beings are intended to reflect God and represent him. Strikingly, the same term used here to describe the image of God is the same one used later in the Bible to describe idols. Idols were intended to be images of gods. And, of course, God commanded not to make idols. But whereas idols are dead and lifeless objects that we make to represent what we think God should look like, God himself has created an image to represent and reflect him and that is human beings.Fourth, human beings are given the task of ruling over the rest of creation (Gen 1:28).And fifth, chapter 2 of Genesis contains a special parallel account that focusses in on the creation of Adam and Eve. If Genesis 1 is the wide-angle shot of the whole of creation. Genesis 2 is the zoom lens that narrows down to the creation of human beings.Lessons from CreationCreation is actually a really foundational doctrine in Christianity and underpins the whole of the Christian life.But what does God’s creation of the world teach us about God and ourselves and the world in which we live?There’s a few things that can be said.God Created on His OwnFirst, in Genesis 1, God creates entirely on his own. God doesn’t get help from anyone else. He does it by himself. And he does it for his own reasons. It was entirely his decision to create the world and to create it as he did. The world is an expression of God’s purposeful creativity.God Created by SpeakingSecond, God creates simply by speaking. God says, “Let there be…” and it happens. And as it has been pointed out, when God says, “Let there be…” he is not speaking to things that have in them the power to respond but his word itself carries the power. That is, when God says, “Let the water be gathered to one place,” the water doesn’t hear those words and respond with its own power, but God’s word makes it happen.As Psalm 33:6 says,By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth. (Psalm 33:6 NIV)Creation is Distinct from GodThird, creation is distinct from God. In episode 1 of this series, we encountered pantheism, which is the view that the universe is part of God or even that the universe itself is God. But the Bible clearly sets God above the universe, and the universe is something that God has made. It’s not part of him, it is his creation and is distinct from him.That’s quite distinct from many of the ancient creation myths that were around at the same time as Genesis. In those myths creation is not the ordered, careful work of one God, but creation is often the outcome of gods fighting with each other. The dead body of one god might become the earth. Part of it becomes the sky. The blood of another slaughtered god might become human beings. The sun and moon yet other gods. By comparison, as one scholar has pointed out, Genesis “appears as a thunderbolt: Israel’s god is the exclusive creator and sovereign of the entire cosmos.”[4]God Made the World GoodFourth, the world that God made was very good. The world was exactly as God intended it to be. God said, “I want it to be like this” and it was. And at the end of every day he looked back and he had accomplished all that he intended and he looked back at the end of six days and it was all the he had planned. Although, the world that we live in now is affected by human rebellion against God, the world that God originally purposed and made was perfect. It was free from sin, pain, misery and death.Creation is an Act of the TrinityFifth, creation is an act of the trinity. Although it is not explicit in Genesis 1, there are certainly strong hints. In verse 2, we find the Spirit hovering over the waters. We find God speaking and the powerful Word bringing things into being. So, too, in verse 26 we find God saying “Let us make man in our image.” There is a plurality in God. Nevertheless there is also a unity—in verse 26 humanity are created in “his” (singular), that is, God’s image.In the New Testament, those ideas become much more explicit.For example, in John 1, John clearly portrays Jesus as active in creation along with the Father. He writes,In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (John 1:1–3 NIV)Or in Colossians 1:16, Paul says,For in him [that is, Jesus] all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. (Colossians 1:16 NIV)Creation Establishes God’s AuthoritySixth, creation establishes God’s authority over the world and over us. Because God made us and everything, he has the right to dictate how the world ought to operate and how our lives ought to be lived. We belong to him. This world is his. We are his. We are his creatures—his creations.God says in Isaiah 45:12,It is I who made the earth and created mankind on it. My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshaled their starry hosts. (Isaiah 45:12 NIV)The implication is that God has the right as our creator to do as he wishes. He says earlier in verse 9 of the same chapter,“Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker, those who are nothing but potsherds among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’ Does your work say, ‘The potter has no hands’? (Isaiah 45:9 NIV)God is God because he made us. He owns us. He gets to decide how things work, not us.Romans 1 makes that clear too. Paul says there that although people know God from the world which he has made, we substitute created things and put them in the place of God. We worship and serve ourselves or each other, we break God’s plan and pattern for creation.The place that is most clearly seen, Paul says, is in homosexuality. Not because that is a worse sin than any other rebellion against God, but because it is such an obvious rejection of God’s pattern for the world. The very structure of the human body as male and female shows what God intended for sex.That foundation of God’s authority in creation is really important for communicating the gospel to people who aren’t Christians. That’s what makes the gospel summary, Two Ways to Live, so helpful. It begins by saying: “God is the loving ruler of the world. He made the world. He made us to rule the world under him.”But then it says, “We all reject the ruler, God, by trying to run life our own way without him. But we fail to rule ourselves or society or the world.”The consequence is that: “God won’t let us rebel forever. God’s punishment for rebellion is death and judgement.”Creation Establishes our SignificanceSo, too, creation establishes our significance.As we’ve seen, the highpoint of creation is the creation of human beings in the image of God.Human beings are not just another part of creation. We’re not just another creature. We’re not just the same as a horse or a dog. We’re not just random bits of matter that have collected together over billions of years. We’re the climax of God’s creative work. Not only that, we’ve been created to reflect God and to represent him.Creation establishes the incredible significance of us as human beings.Creation Establishes Our PurposeCreation also establishes our purpose.That’s because the Bible tells us that the purpose of creation was to manifest God’s glory. Isaiah 43:7 says,Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth— everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” (Isaiah 43:6–7 NIV)So, too, creation is often held up as a key motivation for us to praise and worship God. In Psalm 148 we’re told,Let them praise the name of the Lord, for at his command they were created, (Psalm 148:5 NIV)And in Revelation 4:11 we read,“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” (Revelation 4:11 NIV)In fact, in Romans 1:21, the core idea of sin that is mentioned is that, although God made the world and his eternal power are clearly on display in the world, we neither glorify him nor give thanks to him. At the heart of sin is our refusal to give God the glory he deserves and the thank him for everything that comes from his hand.Creation Sets the Pattern for Various Aspect of LifeCreation also sets the pattern for various aspects of life.For example, God’s creation work sets the pattern for work and rest.God says to the people in Exodus 20,Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God.… For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. (Exodus 20:8–11 NIV)Although, the law comes later, the pattern of six days work and one day rest is found in the fabric of creation.So, too, creation also establishes the pattern of marriage as a permanent relationship. As Jesus explains when the Pharisees ask him whether it’s right to divorce or not; Jesus says,“Haven’t you read … that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Matthew 19:4–6 NIV)Creation also grounds and establishes the relationship between men and women. As Paul explains in 1 Timothy 2:12–15,I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. (1 Timothy 2:12–13 NIV)Although the Bible insists that men and women are equal in dignity, it also stresses that there is a structure in their relationship in marriage and also in the church. A structure that reflects God’s order in creation.Creation also grounds humanity’s care and governance of the world.When he created human beings God entrusted us with the responsibility, according to Genesis 1: to,Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground. (Genesis 1:28 NIV)In theology, that’s often known as the creation mandate. It’s God’s commission to human beings to rule over his world under him. We are to cultivate and care for the world and to rule over it. Not in a domineering sense, but in a loving and caring sense.In a way, God has created a canvas for us and our task is to develop it. Of course, sin has destroyed our rule over the creation. Nevertheless, that was God’s initial purpose.Creation Teaches Us Our LimitationsFinally, a perhaps somewhat unexpected implication of creation is that it establishes the human limitations and the mystery of God.In the book of Job, Job suffers all kinds of misery and afflictions and he struggles to understand why. His friends give him lots of bad advice and Job contends with God and cries out to him to seek to understand.But God’s answer in the end is that some things are simply beyond us. And to make that point God points to his creation of the world.God says in Job 38:4,“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone— while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? “Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt’? (Job 38:4–11 NIV)The implication is, of course, that Job wasn’t there but God was. God and his ways are beyond us and creation reminds us of that.Especially in the 21st century, we like to think that we can understand the world and everything about it. Why things are the way they are and why things happen the way they do. But even the best science is limited. Yes, God has given us brains to observe the world and discover lots and lots of things. But at the end of the day, we also have to accept that many things are beyond us and we simply have to trust God.OutroOf course, that brings us to the question of how the Bible’s account of creation fits with science. We’ll come to that in the next episode of Thinking Theology.For the moment, it’s helpful simply to recognise how creation underpins so much of the Christian life and our perception of the world.Creation is the sole act of God. He made it for his own sake and for his own purpose. He made the world just by speaking. The world is separate from God but depends on God. God made the world good. And God’s creation of the world establishes his authority as well as our significance, our purpose, the pattern of our lives and our need to trust God in the mystery of life.Well that’s it for this episode of Thinking Theology.As I said, in the next episode, we’ll be thinking about how the Bible’s account of creation fits with the views of modern science.If you want to find more about the evangelistic resource, Two Ways to Live, you can find a link in the description.Please join me then.[1] John M. Frame, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2013), 192–93.[2] See Bruce K. Waltke and Cathy J. Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 56–57.[3] The order of this and the next are sometimes interchanged.[4] Raymond Van Leeuwen, brʾ, NIDOTTE 1:729.
Jun 16 2021
22 mins
The Character of God
Episode IntroOver the last couple of episodes we’ve thought about the nature of God or what we’ve called the non-moral attributes of God. That is, we’ve focussed on his being. God is present everywhere, he knows everything, and so on.But in this episode we’re beginning to think about the character of God. What God is like to relate to? What is he like in personal terms?That’s what we’re thinking about in this episode of Thinking Theology.Podcast IntroHi. My name is Karl Deenick. I’m a pastor, theologian, writer, and Bible college lecturer. Welcome to Thinking Theology, a podcast where we think about theology, the Bible and the Christian life, not just for the sake of it, but so we can love God more, with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.The Character of GodSo what is God like?In one sense, describing the character of God is a bottomless pit. We can always say more. In fact, the key task of theology and the main goal of studying the Bible is to know and understand and love the character of God more and more.One place to look in trying to understand the character of God is the names that he is given in the Bible.For example, Hagar calls God, “El Roi”—the God who sees me”Abraham calls God, “Yahweh Jireh”—the God who provides.The psalms often call God, “Yahweh Tsevaoth”, which means “Lord of Armies”.Jesus means “Yahweh is salvation”.All those names give us insight into who God is.But while there are lots of things to be said about the character of God, there are some aspects of his character that are given great prominence in the Bible. And in this episode, I want to think about four of those.God is HolyFirst of all, he’s holy.There are a few times in the Old Testament where people catch a glimpse of God. And one of those occasions in Isaiah 6.There in a vision, Isaiah sees the throne room of God. He writes,In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. (Isaiah 6:1 NIV)But what Isaiah hears is just as important as what he sees. The angels who are attending God cry out,“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isaiah 6:3 NIV)As has sometimes been noted, God is described in many ways in the Bible, but only here is he described using the same word three times. God is love. But he’s never described as “Love, love, love”. But he is described as “Holy, holy, holy.”The result of being confronted with the holiness of God is that Isaiah trembles with fear because he recognises his own sin and impurity in the face of the perfectly holy God. He says,“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:5 NIV)As one Bible commentator has said, Isaiah is condemned by what we might consider one of the mildest of sins, unclean lips—having said inappropriate things. Yet, for Isaiah, it’s enough to condemn him in the presence of God. Until, that is, God has one of his angels take a coal from the altar and touch Isaiah’s lips to cleanse them.The point is that God is completely and perfectly pure.As Psalm 145 says,The Lord is righteous in all his ways and faithful in all he does. (Psalm 145:17 NIV)But holiness also includes what you might call God’s “set-apartness”. In Isaiah 6, when Isaiah sees God, he sees him “high and lifted up”, exalted, but also far above us. Later in Isaiah 57, God says that he dwells in the “high and holy place”.God’s holiness makes him distinct from us. Not least because he is set apart from sinners. But also because of the sheer majesty and glory of his holiness.Exodus 15:11 says,Who among the gods is like you, Lord? Who is like you— majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders? (Exodus 15:11 NIV)And yet, although God’s holiness makes him glorious and distinct and worthy of our praise and honour, remarkably, God also calls us to be holy as he is holy (Lev 19:2) and perfect as he is perfect (Matt 5).In fact, part of the promise of the gospel is that God communicates and shares something of his holiness with us. The Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us and make us holy in the image of Jesus.That is even more extraordinary given that we are by nature sinners. But that’s the miracle of the gospel.In fact, although God is high and lifted up, he is also near to the lowly and contrite. We read in Isaiah 57,For this is what the high and exalted One says— he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite. (Isaiah 57:15 NIV)Part of the very definition of God’s holiness, what it means that his name is holy, is not only that he is high and lifted up but also, incredibly, that he dwells with the lowly and contrite who are sorry for their sin and who humble themselves and look to him for his mercy and grace.Mercy, it seems, is part of the very fabric of God’s holiness.God is RighteousThe next attribute of God’s character is his righteousness.Righteousness refers to God’s absolute justice and fairness.He rules the world in justice. He always does what is right.Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you. (Psalm 89:14 NIV)God always judges rightly. Psalm 98 celebrate that, saying,Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy; let them sing before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity. (Psalm 98:8–9 NIV)In a world where we aren’t always guaranteed that we’ll receive right and just decisions, it’s a great encouragement to know that God always judges rightly and equitably.The positive side, then, of God righteousness is his provision for and defence of his people and those who suffer unjustly.Deuteronomy 10 says,He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. (Deuteronomy 10:18 NIV)And Psalm 37:28 begins,For the Lord loves the just and will not forsake his faithful ones. (Psalm 37:28 NIV) But the second part of that verse goes on to spell out the other side of God’s righteousness, which is judgement. It says,Wrongdoers will be completely destroyed; the offspring of the wicked will perish. (Psalm 37:28 NIV)It’s tempting to call that side of God’s righteousness “negative”, but in a sense God’s judgement is also good. Judgement on the wicked is good for those who have suffered at their hands. Judgement on those who oppress the poor means deliverance for the poor.In other words, judgement is one of the ways that God upholds and defends his people and the poor and the oppressed.Nevertheless, the Bible also describes God’s judgement and punishment as his “strange work”. That is to say that in some sense it is not his natural mode of operation. We see that in Isaiah 28:21 where God coming in judgement against his own people is described in exactly those terms:The Lord will rise up as he did at Mount Perazim, he will rouse himself as in the Valley of Gibeon— to do his work, his strange work, and perform his task, his alien task. (Isaiah 28:21 NIV)God’s strange work in Isaiah 28 is his judgement.Likewise, in Lamentations 3, God says that he will come to afflict his people for their sin, nevertheless, he says,[1]For no one is cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone. (Lamentations 3:31–33 NIV)Although God is coming to afflict his own people, he doesn’t do so willingly but with great reluctance.It’s not until the New Testament, however, that we begin to understand how God’s justice and God’s mercy can possibly fit together. In fact, without the cross, it’s impossible to reconcile the justice and mercy of God.After all, how can God just overlook sin? How can he let some people get away with sin and not others?The answer is, of course, the cross. In the cross, God has punished the sins of his people so that justice and judgement is done in Jesus’ suffering while also showing mercy. Without the cross, and God’s punishment of sin in Jesus, God cannot be just and merciful.Paul says in Romans 3,God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— (Romans 3:25 NIV)The former sins God had left unpunished. But leaving them unpunished forever would be unjust. And so he sent Jesus as a sacrifice for the sins of those who belong to him. In that way, God upholds both his justice and his mercy.God is Kind to All He Has MadeSo, God is holy and he’s righteous.Next, God is kind to all he has made.We’ve just seen how God has a special concern for the poor, the widow and the orphan. Those who are the most vulnerable in society. God particularly  cares for them. And God particularly cares for his own people.But not only that, God even cares for the unjust and the evil.As Jesus says in Matthew 5, his Father,causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:45 NIV)Or according to Psalm 145,The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made. (Psalm 145:9 NIV)And it’s not just human beings for which God cares; he cares for all his creatures.One of the most beautiful statements of that comes in Psalm 84 which says,Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young— a place near your altar, Lord Almighty, my King and my God. (Psalm 84:3 NIV)Even the sparrow finds a place in God’s presence and under God’s care. Even a tiny little animal like that receives God’s loving care and attention.And, as Jesus says, if that’s true of sparrows, then it’s certainly true of us.Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Luke 12:6–7 NIV)God is Merciful and LovingFinally, God is merciful and loving.One of the most significant moments in the Old Testament is where God appears to Moses and shows him his glory. God says to Moses,I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. (Exodus 33:19 NIV)God tells Moses that he will proclaim his name in front of him and show him his goodness.To us, someone telling us their name doesn’t sound that exciting. It’s how we introduce ourselves. But that’s not what God is talking about. In ancient cultures a name wasn’t just a label you used to address someone, it told you about the person. When God says to Moses, I’m going to proclaim my name, he means that he’s going to tell Moses and show Moses exactly who he is and what is at the core of his being.And so in Exodus 34, God passes before Moses, who’s hidden in the cleft of the rock, and as God passes by he says,“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” (Exodus 34:6–7 NIV)In what does God’s goodness consist and what is at the very core of who he is?God’s goodness consists in his mercy and patience and forgiveness and love. It consists in him being slow to anger.That’s how God chooses to describe himself. That’s the most important thing about him; that he’s slow to anger, abounding in love and full of forgiveness to those who humble themselves before him.That description of God is so important that it comes up again and again in the Old Testament. For example, Psalm 103 records,The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:8–14 NIV)Of course, that mercy and grace comes to its fullest expression in Jesus—in his incarnation and in his death for sins.Yes, God is holy. Yes, God is just. But even more important, he’s merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. That is his name. That is at the very core of who he is.OutroWhat is God like? He’s holy, righteous, kind to all he has made, and merciful—slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.He is absolutely pure and set apart from us, but he’s also near to the humble and the contrite. He defends the cause of the weak and punishes the those who perpetrate injustice. He provides for the good and the evil. And he is forgiving and gracious, punishing sin, but also standing willing to receive all who come to him through Jesus.That’s it for this episode of Thinking Theology.In the next few episodes, we’ll be thinking about the actions of God, and we’ll begin by thinking about his work of creation.Please join me then.[1] Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers (Wheaton: Crossway, 2020), 135.
May 17 2021
16 mins
The Nature of God (Part 2)The Nature of God (Part 1)
Transcript(the following transcript may contain errors)Episode IntroYou and I know what it’s like to be a human being. We know that we can only ever be in one place at the one time. We know that one day we’re born without us even having any say in it. And then another day we’ll die.But what about God? What’s he like?That’s what we’re thinking about in this episode of Thinking Theology.Last time we began looking at the doctrine of God. In this episode we’re beginning to think about the nature of God. What are the attributes of God in his very being?Podcast IntroHi. My name is Karl Deenick. I’m a pastor, theologian, writer, and Bible college lecturer. Welcome to Thinking Theology, a podcast where we think about theology, the Bible and the Christian life, not just for the sake of it, but so we can love God more, with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.What Can We Say About the Nature of God?What can really say about the nature of God?Throughout the history of the church people have grappled with that very question. It’s a problematic topic in some ways, because as Zophar says to Job,“Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty? (Job 11:7 NIV)Zophar is, of course, right. By definition it’s impossible for us as humans to probe the limits of who God is and what it’s like to be God.As the theologian, Louis Berkhof writes,The Being of God is characterized by a depth, a fullness, a variety, and a glory far beyond our comprehension….[1]But to say that we can’t understand God completely is not to say that we can’t understand anything about God at all.As Paul says in Romans 1, even creation tells us something about God’s eternal power and glory. But the place where we come to know accurately about God is in the Bible. In the Bible God has revealed to us insights into who he is and what he is like.[2]The knowledge that the Bible gives us is partial, but it is nevertheless true.So, too, as Luther pointed out, the knowledge that we have of God does not describe so much what he is, but it describes the qualities or the characteristics of God. That is, we can say something about what he is like but we can’t really describe his essential being.[3] There are lots of attributes that people have used to describe God.One famous list comes from the 8th century theologian, John of Damascus.[4] Or Jono of Damascus as I like to call him. He described God as,uncreate[d], unbegotten, imperishable and immortal, everlasting, infinite, uncircumscribed, boundless, of infinite power, simple, uncompound, incorporeal, without flux, passionless, unchangeable, unalterable, unseen[5]So, too, theologians have often organised them in different ways.In this and the next few episodes we’re going to consider them under the headings of the nature of God and the character of God. The nature of God refers to the “non-moral” attributes of God and relate more to the being of God. While the character of God refers to the “moral” attributes of God and describe more what he is like to relate to in personal terms.The attributes I describe here follow closely the list given by the theologian John Feinberg in his book on the doctrine of God, No One Like Him. That book would be a good place to go if you want to dig into these more deeply. Feinberg lists 11 non-moral attributes of God and 9 moral attributes of God. We’ll look at the moral attributes of God this time and next time. And then we’ll consider the character of God in a couple of episodes time.The 11 non-moral attributes of God that he lists are: aseity (or self-existence), infinity, immensity and omnipresence, eternity, immutability, omnipotence, sovereignty, omniscience, wisdom, unity and simplicity.Self-existenceFirst, is what theologians often call “aseity” but a more helpful term is self-existence. Self-existence refers to the idea that God depends on no one else for his existence.In the last episode we saw that God just is. As Jesus says in John 5, he has life in himself. He says,For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. (John 5:26 NIV)So too, Paul says in Acts 17,The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. (Acts 17:24–25 NIV) Everything is dependent on God. And God is dependent on nothing.EternityThe next attribute is eternity. God is eternal. He has always existed and will always exist. There was never a time when he didn’t exist.There are lots of passages that speak about that.For example, Psalm 90 says,Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. (Psalm 90:2 NIV)Or Psalm 93,Your throne was established long ago; you are from all eternity. (Psalm 93:2 NIV)Or Psalm 102,In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end. (Psalm 102:25–27 NIV)Habakkuk 1:12 says,Lord, are you not from everlasting? My God, my Holy One, you will never die. (Habakkuk 1:12 NIV)In Revelation 1 we read,“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:8 NIV) In Hebrews 7 it describes Jesus saying,Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life…he remains a priest forever. (Hebrews 7:3 NIV)Or again in chapter 13,Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8 NIV) So, too, God’s characteristics are described as enduring forever. For example, Psalm 111:3 says,Glorious and majestic are his deeds, and his righteousness endures forever. (Psalm 111:3 NIV)Psalm 103,But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children… (Psalm 103:17 NIV) The eternity of God is also bound up with the name that he gives to Moses: “I am”. He always was and always will be. As Jesus says to the religious leaders,“Very truly I tell you…before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:58 NIV)Jesus is not just saying that he existed before Abraham. He’s saying that, as God, he has always been: he just is.In thinking about the eternity of God, one question that arises is whether God is eternal simply in the sense that he has always been and will always be, or whether he is eternal in the sense that he is outside time. That is, is his eternity temporal or atemporal eternity.In truth, the Bible doesn’t really tell us. Some passages might seem to.So, for example, 2 Peter 3:8 says,But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. (2 Peter 3:8 NIV) But as John Feinberg points out, all the verse is saying is that God perceives time differently to us. It does not explain why he perceives it differently to us.[6]Similarly, in Psalm 90:4 we’re told,A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. (Psalm 90:4 NIV)Again, this verse only tells us how God perceives time, not how he relates to it. A thousand years might just seem like a day because it’s next to nothing in the scale of eternity.That said, my cautious inclination is to think that God’s eternity is temporal. But it’s important to be clear what that means. It all depends on how you think about time. God clearly doesn’t exist within time understood as the spinning of the earth on its access. Neither does God exist within time understood as in modern physics as the oscillations of the cesium-133 atom. But it could still make sense that within God himself is a notion of sequence. That is, it may be that time is not a limitation that is imposed on us because of our creatureliness, but that time (as we experience it, anyway) is actually a reflection of the character of God.That would certainly make sense of the fact that always within the Bible order matters and things taking place in time matters. That is, the nature of our relationship to God changed after the cross. The sins left unpunished were dealt with, the Holy Spirit was poured out. God’s interaction with us is always historical and depends on certain events having taken place.Nevertheless, the Bible’s lack of detail on the subject of how God relates to time suggests that we ought to be careful.I’m often surprised how many people seek to answer riddles in the theology by noting that God sits outside time. But not only does the Bible not speak clearly to that issue, the Bible also doesn’t encourage us to seek to answer theological questions by observing that God is outside time. If that was a profitable way of reflecting on God’s engagement with the world, the Bible could have set us that example, but it doesn’t. And that ought to urge us to be cautious.OmnipresenceThe Bible also describes God as omnipresent, or present everywhere.So Psalm 139 it reflects on the fact that it is impossible to escape God or to end up somewhere where God can’t reach us. It says,Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. (Psalm 139:7–12 NIV) An idea that is related to omnipresence is what is known as God’s immensity. So in 1 Kings 8, at the commissioning of the temple, Solomon says,“But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! (1 Kings 8:27 NIV)It’s not simply that God can reach everywhere, but his being is such that he cannot be contained by space.Moreover, those two ideas come together in Jeremiah 23, which says,“Am I only a God nearby,” declares the Lord, “and not a God far away? Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?” declares the Lord. “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 23:23–24 NIV)The reason there’s no place that we can go where God cannot find us is because God’s is present in every place. He is omnipresent.And yet, the presence of God is also a more complicated idea than that too.There are clearly times and ways in which God is especially present. So God can say to Moses in Exodus 33,My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest. (Exodus 33:14 NIV)Or David can write,Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. (Psalm 51:11 NIV)So, too, Jesus says,Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. (John 14:23 NIV)Or,where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them. (Matthew 18:20 NIV)So, too, when Adam and Eve are forced out of the Garden on account of their sin, they are driven from the presence of God. And Cain, after murdering his brother, goes out from the Lord’s presence and lives east of Eden, according to Genesis 4:16.There is a sense, then, in which God is present everywhere, but he is present in special ways in certain places and with certain people.John Feinberg distinguishes between God’s ontological presence and God’s relational presence. That is, God is present everywhere in his being, but his relationship to the creation and the people varies in respect of how we stand in relation to him through Jesus—whether we are his enemies on account of our sin, or his children on account of Jesus’ death and resurrection in our place.For example, it’s a mistake to say, as people sometimes do, that hell is a place where God is absent. Rather, hell is the place where God is present in judgement. Whereas the new creation is the place where God will be present with his people in love, grace and mercy.OmnipotenceGod is also omnipotent, or all-powerful.The biblical expression for that is “almighty”. In the New Testament, picking up on a word that is used in the Greek version of the Old Testament, God is called, pantokratōr, which literally means all-mighty.But whether using that word or other words, time and again in the Bible God is described as being all powerful.Paul says in Romans 1,For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen…. (Romans 1:20 NIV)Or Job says,“I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. (Job 42:2 NIV) So too, Jesus says to his disciples in the Great Commission,All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (Matthew 28:18 NIV)So too Jesus says to his disciples in Matthew 19,With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. (Matthew 19:26 NIV)Paul describes Jesus as,far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. (Ephesians 1:21 NIV)Isaiah 14 says,For the Lord Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him? His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back? (Isaiah 14:27 NIV)Or Isaiah 43,Yes, and from ancient days I am he. No one can deliver out of my hand. When I act, who can reverse it?” (Isaiah 43:13 NIV) So, too, in Hebrews we’re told that Christ upholds all things (Heb 1:3), and in Colossians that “in him all things hold together” (Col 1:17).But in saying that God is almighty and all powerful, we also need to be careful to clarify exactly what we mean by that. Can God do absolutely anything? Can he, for example, sin? Can he die? Can he create another God?Importantly, the Bible also tells us that some things are impossible for God.God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. (Hebrews 6:18 NIV) if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself. (2 Timothy 2:13 NIV) When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; (James 1:13 NIV)In other words, omnipotence does not refer to God’s power to do anything at all, but God’s power to do anything and everything that is consistent with his nature and character.[7] But far from being a limitation that is actually the perfection of his power.SovereigntyRelated to God’s omnipotence is God’s sovereignty. Sovereignty refers to God’s control over everything. That is, not only is God all powerful, but everything that that takes place, takes place within his will and purpose.For example, theoretically, God could be all powerful, but choose at points, not to exercise that power. God could, perhaps, have created the world and then let it run and decided not to intervene. That view is referred to as deism. We came across that in the last episode. In deism, God is like a watchmaker who makes the watch and then lets it run. But that’s not the view of God that the Bible presents.Another view is that while God is all powerful, perhaps, he limits the use of his power so as not to crush human free-will. That view is often described as Arminianism, referring to famous proponent of that view Jacob Arminius, who was around at the time of the Reformation.[8]But the Bible presents God as being in control of everything with his purpose and will standing, in some way, behind all that happens, even our decisions.Paul writes in Ephesians,In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will…. (Ephesians 1:11 NIV)Or Psalm 115 says,Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him. (Psalm 115:3 NIV)Or Psalm 135,I know that the Lord is great, that our Lord is greater than all gods. The Lord does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths. (Psalm 135:5–7 NIV)Or Job says of God,I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. (Job 42:2 NIV)So, too, God’s plan, purpose and power stand behind even our human acts and human decisions.Paul says in Acts 17,‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ (Acts 17:28 NIV)Proverbs 16:9 tells us that,In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps. (Proverbs 16:9 NIV) Salvation, too, is grounded in God’s choice rather than human desire or effort. Paul says in Romans 9,For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. (Romans 9:15–16 NIV) Finally, even evil is not outside God’s control. Famously Joseph says to his brothers in Genesis 50, that while they intended their actions for evil, God intended their actions for good.How the sovereignty of God fits within human responsibility and also with evil is a complex subject that we’ll return to in a few episodes time when we look at providence or God’s control over the world.But for the moment it’s helpful simply to note, that not only is God all powerful, but he is sovereign over all things, everything that happens flows in someway from his purpose and will. Moreover, whatever God chooses to do is unconstrained. No one compels him to do one thing or another. His decisions are his own and arise from his own plans and motivations.[9]ApplicationGod is self-existent, eternal, omnipresent, all powerful and sovereign.And while those attributes might seem at face value a little bit complicated at times or even a bit dry, they’re really important for us to understand. That’s because they each of them impacts the way we relate to and trust God.God’s self-existence means he is utterly reliable. He depends on no one else. Therefore, we can always depend on him.God’s eternity means that God never goes away. He is not like family and friends who one day will die. Unlike them, God will never leave us nor forsake us.God’s omnipresence means, as we saw from Psalm 139, that we can never escape God and no one and nothing can ever take us somewhere that God isn’t with us.God’s omnipotence means that nothing we face is beyond God’s power.And his Sovereignty means that whatever happens, God is working all things together for the good of those who love him.Far from being academic, understanding the nature of God is deeply, deeply practical.OutroThat’s it for this episode of Thinking Theology.Join me next time as we think the rest of the non-moral attributes of God: omniscience, wisdom, immutability, infinity, unity and simplicity.Please join me then.[1] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1958), 42.[2] Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 43.[3] Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 41, 43. [4] See Gerald Lewis Bray, The Doctrine of God, Contours of Christian Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 81.[5] John Damascene, “An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith,” in St. Hilary of Poitiers, John of Damascus, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. S. D. F. Salmond, vol. 9b, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1899), 6.[6] John S. Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God, Foundations of Evangelical Theology (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001), 263.[7] Feinberg, No One Like Him, 288[8] Theses examples are taken from Feinberg, No One Like Him, 294.[9] Feinberg, No One Like Him, 294.
Feb 17 2021
23 mins
The God Who Is
Transcript(the following transcript may contain errors)Episode IntroWhat is the most important question of theology? Surely, it’s the question, who is God? Who is the God who has revealed himself in the Bible and in Jesus? Who is he? What is he like? What has he done and what is he doing? Those are the questions of what is often called theology proper. The part of theology that looks at the person of God.Knowing God is the most important thing that we can ever do. Knowing God is not arbitrary or irrelevant. It’s not a point of academic interest. We want to know God because he made us and sustains us. We want to know God because God wants us to know him. We want to know God because he loves us. And we want to know God because knowing God helps us to love God, relate to God and enjoy God.In season 1 of Thinking Theology we looked at what theology is and then we looked at the foundation of theology which is the Bible. In season 2 of Thinking Theology we’re beginning by going to the very heart of theology which is God himself. In the next few episodes will be examining who God is, what he’s like, what he does, and the three persons of the trinity, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.But today we’re beginning with the core facts of the God who is.Podcast IntroHi. My name is Karl Deenick. I’m a pastor, theologian, writer, and Bible college lecturer. Welcome to Thinking Theology, a podcast where we think about theology, the Bible and the Christian life, not just for the sake of it, but so we can love God more, with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.The God Who IsAs Don Carson points out in his book, The God Who Is There, one of the most assumptions of the Bible is that God simply is.[1] The Bible begins with the words, “In the beginning God…”. In the beginning, before anything else was made, God simply was.God is what we call, self-existent. Or as Jesus says, God has “life in himself” (John 5:26). He depends on no one else or nothing else to exist. In the beginning, God simply was. He describes himself to Moses as “I am” (Exod 3:14). He just is. He always was and he always will be.But although God just is, everything else that exists has been made and has been made by God. So Paul writes in Colossians of how God the Father created everything that is through God the Son. Paul writes,The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:15–17 NIV)Everything, whether we can see it or not, was made by God the Father through the Son, Jesus. Although Jesus is described as the firstborn over all creation, that doesn’t mean that the Father created Jesus first. Rather it’s about inheritance. Everything that is, belongs to Jesus. He has the inheritance rights for everything as God’s eternal Son. “Firstborn” is really another way of saying “heir”.We see too in Isaiah 40 that God is the maker of everything and he rules over everything. It says in verse 25,“To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing. (Isaiah 40:25–26 NIV)God is not just another part of the creation. He is not simply another thing that was made. God simply is. He existed before everything else and he made everything that we see, hear and touch.That counters a common idea that some people have of God. Some people think that didn’t make everything but God is in everything, or, in fact, that everything is God. That idea is called “pantheism”. It’s a bit like the force in Star Wars. The force is part of everything. In that view, everything is part of the one divine reality. It’s the same idea which undergirds Hinduism.In pantheism, everything is a little bit god. The chair would be a little bit god, your cat would be a little bit god. You and I would be a little bit god.But the God we meet in the pages of the Bible is not like that. God says in Isaiah 40, not that he is part of everything, but that he made everything. And he’s distinct from everything. No one can compare to him. No one is like him. No one is equal to him. He’s separate. He’s exalted above the highest heavens. He doesn’t need anything in our world or from us. No, instead, people are like grasshoppers to him, like tiny insects. And he brings the great and powerful rulers of the world to nothing.But if one error is to see God as part of everything, another sort of opposite error is to see God as totally distant and disconnected from the world. That view of God is called “deism”. In deism, God made the world but then left the world to get on with its own business.The classic illustration is of a watchmaker and a watch. The God of deism made the world like a watchmaker makes a watch, and then he sort of wound it up and let it go. So in deism, God is the maker of the world, but having made the world, he then has nothing more to do with the world. In deism, God is for all intents and purposes irrelevant to our daily lives.But again, the God we meet in the Bible is not like that. Again in Isaiah 40:27, it says,Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God”? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. (Isaiah 40:27–28 NIV)God says he’s not ignorant of what is going on in his world. We might sometimes feel as though God has no idea what’s going on in our life.” But God says, “That’s not true.” God knows everything and is involved in everything.And not only is God not ignorant of our individual lives and individual circumstances, he is intimately involved in his world and with his people. He gives strength to the weak and comforts the afflicted. So verse 29 of Isaiah 40 continues,He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. (Isaiah 40:29–31 NIV)The Bible is full of accounts of God intervening in the world. He hasn’t left the world to run its course. He is guiding and shepherding everything to achieve his appointed purpose. The most obvious example of God’s intimate love and care for the world in the incarnation—in God coming into our world in the person of Jesus. In Jesus, God entered the daily grind of our world, to rescue people. God did that because he loves and cares for his world.The God of the Bible, the God who is there, is both high and lifted up, far above everything, in control of everything. But he is also intimately and personally involved in everything as well.He Alone is GodBut God is not only a god. He is not one of many competing gods. The Bible shows us that God is the God. He is the only God.Later in 45:18, God says,“I am the Lord, and there is no other.… Ignorant are those who carry about idols of wood, who pray to gods that cannot save.… And there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me. (Isaiah 45:18b–21 NIV)God says that he is God alone, and there is no other God apart from him.That idea lies at the heart of the first of the Ten Commandments, too:“You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3 NIV)God says there is no other God besides him. There is no other Saviour, no other rescuer.And there is no one else to whom we owe our allegiance. God says in Isaiah 45:22,“Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. They  will say of me, ‘In the Lord alone are deliverance and strength.’” All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame. But all the descendants of Israel will find deliverance in the Lord and will make their boast in him. (Isaiah 45:22–25 NIV)Every knee will bow, every tongue will confess, eventually, that God is God and there is no other. Everyone will do that either willingly or unwillingly.Because God is God, he will not let his glory or authority be taken by anyone else.Part of the very definition of what it means to be God is that we owe him our allegiance.But the problem is that as human beings we seem to be incurably drawn to putting other things in the place of God.John Calvin famously said that our hearts are idol factories. That is, we constantly invent and seek out things other than God to serve and trust.In Isaiah 45, God talks about people making idols of wood. And people would pray to those bits of timber as if those dead bits of wood could save them. Or people would bow down to those bits of wood and venerate them as gods when they’re nothing more than inanimate objects.Of course, we may not be so stupid these days as to pray to and bow down to bits of timber, but we can easily install other things in the place of God. Things we think will save us and so we trust them rather than trust God. Things like money or people. It can also be things that we end up worshipping and giving our lives to. Things like our careers or dreams or aspirations. We worship and serve those rather than God.But no one else deserves our allegiance and nothing else deserves our worship except God alone.God is God, and there is no God but him.He Is God and We Are NotYet perhaps the greatest competitor for the position of God is us. We ourselves are the greatest competitor to God, not in the sense that we give God a run for his money, but in the sense that we are most prone to try and make ourselves god. But that is plainly ridiculous as the Bible points out.We see that in Isaiah 40, in verses 12–14,Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance? Who can fathom the Spirit of the Lord, or instruct the Lord as his counselor? Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge, or showed him the path of understanding? (Isaiah 40:12–14 NIV)God’s point is: who of you can claim to do what I’ve done? Who can compete with God’s power? What human being has measured the water in the sea or the expanse of the universe? Who of us has put the mountains on our kitchen scales to see how much they weighed or counted the grains of sands on the beach, even just on one beach? Or who of us has such insight into the world that we could give God advice on what to do? Who of us has ever helped out God with maths problem or helped him solve a scientific equation? None of us.And yet we so easily put ourselves in the place of God. We trust in our own power rather than God’s power. We take our own advice rather than God’s advice.We so easily try to assume for ourselves the prerogatives of God; even when we know that it’s profoundly stupid to do that. That was the great sin of Adam and Eve which plunged the rest of us into the same misery—they tried to be like God.But God is God and there is no one like him. That, almost by definition, is part of what it means for God to be God.He is Who He is, and Not Who We Want Him to BeThe final thing that we need to understand as we begin to think about God, is that God is who he is, rather than who we want him to be.That might seem like an obvious point, but it’s actually crucial to grasp in coming to understand who God is.At the heart of idolatry, often, is not simply putting something in the place of God, but often it can be refashioning God into an image that we like or prefer.We see that in verse 18 of Isaiah 40,With whom, then, will you compare God? To what image will you liken him? As for an idol, a metalworker casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and fashions silver chains for it. A person too poor to present such an offering selects wood that will not rot; they look for a skilled worker to set up an idol that will not topple. (Isaiah 40:18–20 NIV)Here in these verses the issue is not replacing God, but people looking for some image to which they can compare God. They think that God is like an idol, overlaid with gold. They think that the idol represents and displays what God is like.In the history of God’s people, we see that attitude time and again. The most famous example is after God rescued his people from slavery in Egypt. In response, the people gathered up all their gold and turned it into a golden calf. And when they’d done that, the high priest Aaron said to the people “Here is your god who brought you out of Egypt.” He didn’t say, “Here is a different god to add to the collection.” But “Here is your god who brought you out of Egypt.” In other words, “Here he is, this is what he looks like.”Aaron wanted the people to think that the golden calf told the people what God was like: who he was, and how they could know him. But it was a complete lie. God isn’t an inanimate calf made out of gold. It was a foolish attempt to make God more accessible and maybe even more relatable, but like so often it actually robbed people of the true God who is.And while most people are not be melting down their jewellery to remake God, it’s still possible for us to remake god in our minds as how we want him to be rather than as he really is. People re-imagine God as a God who is all love without judgement. Or they imagine God as a God who wants us to have our best like now, rather than the God who calls us to take up our cross and follow Jesus.Others re-imagine God as a god who is happy for us to stay in our sin, rather than being the God who came to rescue us from the grip of sin.People often say, “I could never believe in a God like that.” Which is another way of saying, “God must fit what I think he should be rather than what he actually is.”But the God Who is, isn’t a god that we can just make up or refashion according to our latest desire.Of course, the good news is that we don’t need to make up who we think God is because he’s made himself known to us in the Bible and most especially in the person and work the Son, Jesus, whom we meet in the Bible.So John writes at the beginning of his Gospel:The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.… No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. (John 1:14–18 NIV)God hasn’t left us to work out who he is or to invent who he is from our imaginations or from our observations of the world. He has made himself known through the Bible and most especially through Jesus. And he has made himself known so that we can know him and have relationship with him.As Jesus says to his disciples in John 14,“Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. (John 14:23 NIV)As we think more about who God is over the next few episodes of Thinking Theology, it’s important to remember that the aim is not simply to know about God but to know God through Jesus.OutroWho is God? God just is. He’s always been and he always will be. He made everything, he rules over everything and he is intimately involved in everything. He alone is God and we are not, and he has made himself known to us through the Bible and especially through the Son, Jesus, so that we can know him.That’s it for this episode of Thinking Theology.Join me next time as we think about the nature of God. That is, what is he like?Please join me then.[1] D. A. Carson, The God Who Is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story (Grand Rapids: Baker,  2010), 18.
Jan 26 2021
20 mins
Thinking about the Covid Vaccine
LinksYou can find out more about Vaccines and the use of fetal cells here:https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/the-faqs-fetal-cells-covid-19-vaccines-treatments/Or about my guest Elissa Deenick here:https://www.garvan.org.au/people/elideehttps://med.unsw.edu.au/our-people/elissa-deenickTranscript(the following transcript was automatically generated from a transcription service and may contain errors)Karl Deenick (00:00):Living as faithful Christians in the world means not only understanding the Bible, but also understanding the world through the lens of the Bible and thinking wisely about the world that God has made and in which God has put us. And so here on Thinking Theology. We want to think not just about classical theological topics, but also bring theology and biblical wisdom to bear on important topics and issues in the world around us. And one of the most important topics and issues from this year has been COVID-19 and the potentially forthcoming COVID vaccine. Some people have significant reservations about vaccines, and it can be hard to know what's right. And what isn't. So today we're thinking about COVID-19 and vaccines, and we're thinking about those things in the light of the Bible. And to do that, we're speaking with our first ever guest on Thinking Theology. My sister Associate Professor Dr Elissa Deenick, who is a research immunologist with the University of N ew South Wales and the Garvan Institute in Sydney.Karl Deenick (01:11):Hi, my name's Karl Deenick. I'm a pastor theologian writer and Bible college lecturer. Welcome to Thinking Theology, a podcast where we think about theology, the Bible and the Christian life, not just for the sake of it, but so we can love God more with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.Karl Deenick (01:32):Elissa, thanks for joining us on Thinking Theology. You're a research immunologist now. I didn't know what that meant until you started doing it. So I'm guessing lots of other people don't know what that means. What is that? What is an immunologist? What's a research immunologist.Elissa Deenick (01:57):Yeah. So an immunologist is someone who studies the immune system and the immune system is the part of your body that fights off infection be that viruses or bacteria or fungus or all those things that can make you sick. So as a research immunologist, I'm interested in finding out new things about how the immune system works. And in particular, for me I study people who have problems with their immune system, which means that they can't fight off infection properly. So they keep getting really severe or constant infections.Karl Deenick (02:37):So there are people whose immune systems do a good job at fighting infection you're saying, and then other people who, for some reason, that doesn't work so well.Elissa Deenick (02:45):Yeah, that's true. So for most of us, we think about, you know, we barely even noticed the constant, bacteria and viruses and fungi that are in the environment around us, but there are people who have almost no immune system or just parts of their immune system that are defective. And that means that they're unable to fight these infections off. And that might mean that they're constantly in hospital or they're constantly on drugs or for some of those people actually they end up dying because they get such severe infections.Karl Deenick (03:24):So is that a, is that a common thing? What, what causes those kinds of immune problems?Elissa Deenick (03:32):There are different levels of severity. So most of the ones that I study, these are people who have a genetic conditions, so problems with their DNA, which then impact the functioning of their immune system. And they're actually kind of over 400 different kind of gene defects that can have that lead to problems with your immune system. But many of them are incredibly rare, like three or four people in the world. Whereas some of them are a much more common. And then of course there are other people who have immune defects because they're on drugs that suppress their immune system. So people who have had organ transplants, so you have to suppress the immune system so your immune system doesn't reject that new organ or people who, for example, have auto immune diseases who are on drugs to kind of suppress their immune system attacking their body. And that means that those people too, can't infect fight infection very well either.Karl Deenick (04:31):Yeah. Right. So, I mean, obviously there's been a lot of talk about vaccines at the moment and that's why we've got you on thinking theology — because of COVID and the vaccine rates that's going on with COVID. I mean, I guess many of us probably have no idea about how vaccines work. We've seen, you know, videos and whatever media clips on the news maybe, but how do vaccines work? And, kind of just at the layman level.Elissa Deenick (05:00):Yeah. So vaccines are really about teaching your immune system to recognize a particular virus or bacteria. So because our immune system has this really tricky job where it has to be able to fight off like hundreds and thousands of different bacteria or viruses that you might come into contact with in your life. So the way it does this is by kind of randomly developing these different immune cells, which all of them kind of fight, are ready, kind of sitting there ready to fight off a particular infection. But that means when any particular infection comes along, you've got to find the cell. That's good for finding that infection. And you've got to grow up enough of those cells so that they can fight off the infection that's there. So basically what a vaccine does is it comes along and it kind of activates and expands those cells which are good for fighting off infection, so that you've got lots of them kind of sitting there already primed and ready to go. So that now when you encounter that infection, you've got way more kind of fighters to fight off that infection. So you can kind of do it much more quickly so that you never have to get sick.Karl Deenick (06:28):So is it kind of like, I don't know, searching, searching your computer for a file. And then once you found that you suddenly print off like a whole lot of copies or something like that, is that sort of what it's like?Elissa Deenick (06:38):Yeah. It's like that. So particularly vaccines, actually work by getting your body to generate something which you may have heard of because people have been talking about them quite a lot called antibodies. And these are these little Y shaped molecules, which kind of are able to grab onto a virus or bacteria, but they're all different. So they all grab onto different bacteria or viruses. So part of what when you get that vaccine and you activate your immune cells is that you pump out a whole lot of these little Y shaped antibodies, which are then floating around your blood. And so as soon as that virus or that bacteria comes into your body, they, they grab onto that and kind of coat the virus or the bacteria and kind of stop it from doing any damage. So yeah, like in the way you print off lots of pages, you print off lots of these antibodies and they're circulating all around your body.Karl Deenick (07:36):So how is it different then to have a vaccine than it is to not have a vaccine? Like, you know, is your body doing anything different in terms of fighting off the infection? Is it just, just that it knows ahead of time, what it's looking for? Is that the difference?Elissa Deenick (07:53):Yeah, the difference is that really you've got, you've got a big headstart. So you can imagine if you have a virus that comes in and you might not get exposed to many, many kind of viruses, you know, virus particles, when someone costs on you, but those will start replicating. And, you know, you can go from having, you know, 10 20 to having hundreds of thousands in a really short time. Now you can imagine that if you have never seen it before, and you've only got a few cells to fight it and it takes a while for them to find it. And then they've got to, it's like a race where one's replicating and the other one's kind of, and you've got to try and make sure that you're making a response faster than the virus is replicating. So actually, if you give your body a head start and you have, you know, way more cells, you have these antibodies already, then the virus doesn't have a chance to kind of build up before you can control it.Elissa Deenick (08:57):And that's particularly important, you know? So if you get just a normal cold it's not such a problem, if the virus kind of starts winning in the race, cause it's not going to do too much damage to your body before your immune system kicks in. But if you have a virus that has the potential to really hurt your body, then you actually want to shut that down and stop it as soon as possible. And actually best case scenario, what you want to actually do is actually completely prevented from actually ever establishing itself in your body. So viruses actually unlike bacteria, which can kind of grow in their own. So, you know, you can have bacteria growing on a surface, a virus actually needs to get inside a cell to actually start. And then it takes over the cell and kind of turns that cell into a factory for producing more copies of the virus. So if you have like a really good vaccine, actually what it does is produces so many of those little Y shaped antibodies that they can coat the virus before the virus can even actually get inside the cell and start producing more copies of it. And that's like the best case scenario for blocking infection that you get it before it even gets into the cells of the body.Karl Deenick (10:14):So, so you're saying that not all vaccines do that then like some, some vaccines are more effective and some vaccines are less effective. Is that right?Elissa Deenick (10:26):Yeah that's kind of true. But it also depends. Immunology is complex. It also depends where the virus came in. So I've talked to before about how those antibodies can travel around the body and the blood, and they are at really high levels in the blood. They're not as at higher levels in your nose and in your lungs. So to get into your nose and your lungs they've kind of got to get from the blood and then get across the skin cells kind of into the, into those things. So if you have high levels in the blood, the levels in your nose and in your lungs are going to be a bit lower. So if you don't get high enough levels getting out until you nose, there may not be high enough levels kind of in your nose when the virus hits there to completely coat the virus and stop it infecting.Elissa Deenick (11:17):So that's why it's sometimes harder to get a good vaccine to respiratory infections because of the way it comes in. So this has come up in terms of when we've been talking about the coronavirus vaccine. So you would have heard the news about the three vaccines that have just come out, which have kind of 70 to 95% effectiveness, but that's effectiveness at stopping the symptoms of the disease. So in these vaccine trials, they haven't actually yet tested and reported whether those people may be were infected with the virus. And, but the antibodies like stopped it from getting so bad that you developed symptoms. So we don't know whether it's completely stopped the virus getting into the body or whether it's just kind of stopped it early enough before you really got sick.Karl Deenick (12:15):And so what's the what's the ramifications of that. If, it, it doesn't stop, you know, the virus completely but only kind of dampens down the symptoms and so on.Elissa Deenick (12:27):Well, the good thing is if it stops the symptoms, then hopefully it's going to stop people getting so sick that they die, which is clearly the problem with any virus. You don't want people to die or to get these kind of long-term effects that you may have heard of where people kind of are sick for a long time after they've had the virus. So it's good in that sense. If you're still getting infected though, but just not getting symptoms, the problem with that is that you could potentially still pass it on to someone else. So if I'm vaccinated, I might get the virus, I don't get any symptoms, but if I then hang out with you and you're not vaccinated, I could still pass the virus on to you and you could get sick because you haven't had the vaccine and you don't have the protection.Elissa Deenick (13:21):So it means you, you would have heard, you know, probably a lot of talk this year about herd immunity. And that's this concept where if you have enough people who have been vaccinated and vaccinated to the point that they can't be infected, then they can no longer pass it on to other people. And so if like you have a really good vaccine where you can't get infected, you can't pass it on. Then actually, even if you're not vaccinated, then you're protected because I'll never get infected and I'll never have the virus to pass it onto you. Whereas if you only have a vaccine that protects from symptoms, then everybody needs to be vaccinated to be protected. And that's a problem because as we talked about earlier, there are some people who have bad immune systems, so will never make a good response to a vaccine. And so those people are still vulnerable in that case.Karl Deenick (14:23):Yeah. Right. Like you said, immunology clearly is complex. So there's a number of different vaccines that are going around at the moment that are sort of, or in contention that people are talking about. Is there much difference between them, like, will some be better than others, do you think in, in some of the ways that you've just sort of highlighted,Elissa Deenick (14:48):It's hard to know at the, it looks like other two RNA [vaccines] that have been reported to have kind of effectiveness in kind of the 90% range are a little bit better than the Oxford vaccine, which is a vaccine that uses a viral vector. But really we probably need to say more of those results to truly know, but there are other things about those vaccines that make them kind of good or bad in terms of, for example, the Oxford vaccine is cheaper to make and it doesn't need to be kept as cold. So that's easier to distribute to lots of people. And in the same way, kind of the, you may have heard of the Queensland university vaccine, which actually isn't as far through trials, but which is kind of a different kind of vaccine again. And which is again, is, is doesn't require the same cold storage is easier to produce. And so it can be distributed more easily, but into, in terms of how effective they are in terms of producing a good antibody response and protecting you from disease, we're still kind of waiting on the results of the trials to really know the answers to that.Karl Deenick (16:12):So, I mean, I guess one of the questions maybe that some people have, I don't know, is do we really need a vaccine? I mean, won't our bodies and many people's bodies in the end, just work out how to defeat it itself and we'll get to that level of herd immunity without vaccination.Elissa Deenick (16:34):Yeah. Well, that's true. If you're willing to let a lot of people die or get really sick in the meantime. You know, we live in a time where actually, we're not very used to people dying from infectious disease because we have vaccines and we have antibiotics, but it wasn't that long ago in developed countries, and even now, still in developing countries where actually a huge number of people would die. So, you know, people would have six, seven children and only one would survive into adulthood because as much as our immune system is pretty good, it can fight off things, it doesn't always win that race between the growth of the virus or the bacteria and our immune response. And sometimes our body is just overwhelmed. So kind of looking at the Corona virus, you know, kind of the estimates are, I think about 1% of people who get it will die.Elissa Deenick (17:43):And that of course depends on how old you are. But that's an awful lot of people to die on the way to getting herd immunity. And the problem is not just the people who die, but viruses are tricky little things, and they have unexpected consequences on the body. So, you know, there's a lot of data coming out that the Corona virus, you know, can cause brain damage, heart damage, clotting problems, you know, it can just have a whole lot of effects that we don't even know about now. So, you really don't want to take the risk of seeing if your immune system wins in the race to fight it off because the consequences of it, if it doesn't, are just not worth it.Karl Deenick (18:36):Yeah. It's interesting what you say too, about how we are just so used to living in a world where people, you know, outlive childhood, if you like. I often think of the quite well-known puritan theologian John Owen, I think every single one of his children died. And I think his first wife as well. So we're talking in the 1700s or something there. And that's just something that we're not familiar with any more. It does show you something about the medical advances that we've clearly experienced over the last century, or so at least. I mean, I guess at a theological level, and this is where we start to get into the thinking theology kind of thing, you know, some people might say, well, but didn't God create us with bodies, you know, to fight off infection.Elissa Deenick (19:26):Yeah. And, and that's true. You know, we do have immune segment fights infection. But we've got to remember the fall. That when, you know, Adam and Eve sinned, death came into the world and with that presumably an ineffective immune system as well. So yeah, I've also heard people say, surely we don't need vaccines because you know, our immune system should be able to fight it off, because God would have created us with a good body. But, you know, we die because sin came into the world. Our immune system has problems because of that as well. But, you know, some people might say, you know, didn't God create us, you know, to live. Surely you shouldn't need to have your appendix taken out because, you know, didn't God create you to survive okay with an appendix. But, you know, I had appendicitis, I had to take it out. This is part of the fall, part of the broken world, part of our broken bodies. But God in his mercy, I think has given us medical advances, scientific advances, which have allowed us to develop therapies that help to overcome some of those things.Karl Deenick (20:52):Yeah. I think you and I have talked about this at other times as well, that it's that idea of having a theology of creation without a theology of the fall, but God might a good world. Absolutely. Yeah. But it's a world which is marred by sin, marred by the consequences of sin and we have to hold those two things together.Karl Deenick (21:11):So, I mean, is there evidence that vaccines really do work? Do you think? From, you know, not just the COVID vaccine, but I guess throughout the history of the world? Is there evidence that vaccines have an efficacy?Elissa Deenick (21:31):Yeah. There's endless, endless evidence. We've eradicated, smallpox due to vaccination. I mean, that's astounding that this disease that used to ravage the world has now been eliminated except for a few small stocks that are found, you know, in, in labs in the world. Because we vaccinated people, people couldn't become infected. And so then it died out. You know, you think about polio and kind of the number of people that kids, several generations ago, who were like, you know, hospitals full of kids, you know, in iron lungs. And yet now almost no one in the world has, you know, there are a few small outbreaks in the world, but generally speaking, we just don't see polio in the world. And that same story is seen over and over again. And I mean, the clinical trials that we've just had for Corona virus clearly show it that, you know, people who didn't have the vaccine, you know, a hundred or something, people got it. People who did have the vaccine only eight or nine, got it. Like this is the power of, you know, kind of teaching your immune system to react to these things so that when the infection comes along, you can fight it off and you just don't have to worry about it in the same way.Karl Deenick (23:04):Yeah. Yeah. So I guess pushing on into maybe some of the criticisms, if you like, that come up around vaccines and vaccination. I mean, some people, one of the, one of the classic kind of concerns, I suppose, that some people expressed is that there have been suggested links between vaccination and autism. Is there any truth to that claim? Where, where has that come from that idea?Elissa Deenick (23:32):Well, really this idea came from a paper that was published by a guy, Andrew Wakefield, many years ago, which where he, you know, did this study and he said that there was, you know, a link between autism and vaccines. But since then, that that study has been discredited. You know, he was shown to have kind of conflicts of interest in what he was doing and they didn't kind of carry out the study properly. And like, beyond that other people since then have like carried out much bigger studies, looking at whether vaccination increase the risk of autism and have shown that there's no evidence at all of an increased risk of autism from vaccination. But sadly one man's flawed study has kind of created this idea, which now continues on, even though that study has now been discredited.Karl Deenick (24:39):Why do you think that is, do you have any sense of, of why that is, why people still hang on to that, that one study when other studies later on have come on, come along and discredited it. I mean,Elissa Deenick (24:53):I think there are multiple things that play into it. I'm not an expert on kind of, you know, the sociology of these things, but I, I think, one, scientific papers are, are difficult to understand and interpret. You know, it, it actually requires a lot of study and expertise to fully understand it. Like I'm an immunologist, but even within the field of immunology, there are papers that I can read and I can kind of critique and really understand deeply. And there are other papers that I kind of understand, but actually I, even as an immunologist, if it's not my area of expertise in immunology, I find difficult to fully understand and critique. So if that's true of me kind of reviewing these papers, it's even more difficult, I think for the general public often to read a scientific paper and to understand what's a good credible paper and, and what's not.Elissa Deenick (25:58):So I think that's part of the problem people's ability to judge what is good evidence and what's not. I think there's also, I mean, having kind of an autistic child can, can be difficult. And I think people then want answers about kind of why this happened. And science doesn't actually have that many good answers yet of why one child is autistic and another isn't. And so then people are looking for answers and maybe they hold onto this as an answer because they don't have other kind of better answers. Yeah. And, you know, we could go into social media and, and kind of those platforms and how they kind of spread disinformation as well. But I think to some extent actually part of it is driven by people looking for answers and kind of hope, but not quite knowing where to look.Karl Deenick (27:00):Yeah. That's interesting looking for hope. That's so true. And I mean, I, I think we are taught to engage in the world, but like you say, a lot of things are just beyond us. You know, like, like you said, even some things in your field are beyond you and, and you see things on the internet and in a media article or on someone's blog post and it just seems so simple and so straightforward, but often it does require some kind of expertise to understand it and to be able to evaluate it. And I think to some degree of trust in people who are, who are able to do it, and to respect their expertise in it. I mean, in our society, I think at the moment we have kind of an erosion of trust, whether that's in governments or science or whatever it is. And so people are just very skeptical all round, I think, and that has implications then for things like this.Elissa Deenick (27:56):Yeah. I think that's true. I think we, we, we don't know anymore kind of who to look for for expertise and we can, you know, kind of convince ourselves that if I just do a bit of reading, like then, you know, I can judge it. But one of the interesting things about about research, and I've spent kind of 20 years in immunology research, is that actually the more you research, the more you realize how, how much we still don't understand actually. And I think that's true that the more, you know, about a subject, the more you kind of actually realize your limitations.Karl Deenick (28:47):Yeah, absolutely. I think people say that about PhDs, don't say that the end result of the PhD is just realizing how much you don't know.Karl Deenick (28:53):I guess another thing that's often mentioned in connection with vaccines which is maybe to some people even more disturbing is just that people often say that there is aborted fetuses are used in the production of vaccines. So is that true? What's the story behind that?Elissa Deenick (29:19):Yeah. This is based on a few cell lines that are routinely used in, in medical research. So, particularly the Oxford vaccine uses in its production, and some of the other vaccines used kind of in their development, a cell line, which is known as HEK293. And this is a cell line...Karl Deenick (29:50):To the cool people, right.Elissa Deenick (29:52):It's called HEK because it's human embryonic kidney cells. So this was a cell line that was actually developed more than 40 years ago before either you or I was born. So normally human cells and most, most cells can only divide a certain number of times before they kind of give up the ghost and they won't divide anymore. So people create what are called cell lines, and these are cells that they've kind of done something to so that they can keep dividing endlessly. So more than 40 years ago this cell line, there was a guy in the Netherlands who got some tissue from an aborted fetus. And actually, we don't know. So often when we hear the word aborted, we think of kind of, someone choose, chose to have an abortion though the term spontaneous abortion is another word for a miscarriage. So kind of in medical science terms, you might use the word aborted for either either a spontaneous abortion, i.e., miscarriage or, you know, an abortion by choice.Elissa Deenick (31:15):So someone got tissue from a fetus that was aborted and then took some of the cells from that. And they've now been, kind of, changed in a way that they've been growing and dividing in culture ever since. So people use this cell line in medical research because it's been around for so long and because we know how it operates. And as I said earlier, viruses can't grow unlike bacteria, which can grow on a surface, viruses can't grow on their own. They've got to be inside a cell and take over that cell and grow. So if you ever want to grow viruses, you need to have cells to grow them in. So this cell line has been used to grow viruses over the last 40 plus years. And, and then it's used in the production of these vaccines.Karl Deenick (32:18):So we don't, we don't know the circumstances in which the fetus was aborted, I take it. Like, we don't know whether it was a spontaneous...Elissa Deenick (32:31):Not as far as, as I'm aware. I think in the original paper that wasn't stated. Maybe if you went back to the guy who did it, he might be able to tell you. But, it's, it's not clear. And even, kind of, beyond that. You know, as Christians that makes us, if it, it was kind of an elective abortion, that makes I think many of us very uncomfortable. But I think the way that I've approached this issue is to think about the fact that this was a cell line that was produced many years ago. We're not entirely sure of the origin, but even if it did come from an, an elective abortion, it's not like the manufacturers of this virus or the, sorry, of these vaccines or the developers of these vaccines played any role in what happened 40 years ago.Elissa Deenick (33:42):And in the same way that you might say, you know, if someone was murdered, that's a terrible days deed, but we'd still want to use that person's organs, you know, for organ donation, if that was possible to save lives, I, I kind of feel, though I guess each Christian has to kind of work through this for themselves, that this cell line was created a long time ago. And it wasn't as if a child was aborted to make the cell line. It was just, you know, a cell line, that was produced as a secondary, you know, using what resulted from that. And so to use that now is not to contribute to any kind of crime or misdeed, but it is only to use what was previously generated and which now is able to do great good. And in some ways, I guess, kind of, kind of change what, you know, was a loss of life into something more positive.Karl Deenick (34:58):Yeah. That's really interesting that that comparison with a murder, I mean, obviously to murder someone in order to take their organs is just, you know, just an awful crime—heinous. But in the case where maybe that has happened and then to be able to take that evil act that somebody else has intended and purposed, and then to bring good out of that can actually be a positive thing. Like you say, good can come from that.Karl Deenick (35:30):There's was a good article recently on The Gospel Coalition by Joe Carter about that actually, about some of the complexities of this year, this issue that goes into a little bit more detail as well.Karl Deenick (35:41):So, I mean, it sounds to me the most important thing that you're saying is it's not as though in the production of vaccines that people are daily, you know, aborting new fetuses in order to create vaccines. You're saying that 40 years ago there was sales taken from a fetus in circumstances that we maybe don't really know about, good or evil, and now those cells are just replicating. And there's no, it's not really any longer the original, it's not the original fetal tissue, is it?Elissa Deenick (36:21):No. And I mean, you would almost certainly find those cells in almost every kind of research institute around the world. I mean, that's how widespread they are. And to some extent actually the cells keep getting used because actually they're already there and it means you don't have to create new cell lines from whatever source. Like you can use this well-defined, kind of well-tested source and, you know, no one, no one needs to think about ever making kind of that kind of thing again.Karl Deenick (37:08):So, the last question then, I guess, Elissa that we, well I have for you is, I mean, how do we as Christians think about this COVID vaccine then? I mean, it sounds like, I mean, I'm guessing that you're going to say we should go out and get it, is that what we should be thinking about it? And doing so as quickly as possible? Or, you know, should we be concerned maybe actually about how quickly governments are kind of speeding these things through regulation? Yeah. How do we think about that as Christians?Elissa Deenick (37:40):Yeah, look, I think, you know, one, we have to be thankful for the people who actually volunteered to be part of the trials that will, you know, allow these hopefully to come into production. You know, we, we often talk about the safety of vaccines and some people are concerned about that and certainly you don't want any vaccine to go into public distribution without being well tested. So in one sense, it's a beautiful sacrifice and service by the people who, you know, volunteered to be part of these trials before we had, you know, large scale evidence that they were safe because they saw that actually this was something that could benefit many people beyond them. Secondly, you know, you know, we want to wait and see the final results of the clinical trials that are coming through and really have the good evidence that they are both effective and safe.Elissa Deenick (38:53):But you know, if we have that kind of evidence, I think I would encourage everyone, unless, you know, you're one of those rare people who has kind of an underlying immune condition, to go and get it. Because, you know, I think there is, there, there is some fear kind of amongst people that, you know, there are potential side effects. But you've got to think about the tens of thousands of people that have already been involved in these trials, and as far as we know from the current results, and this will become more clear lately, later, sorry, there has been very few severe side effects. Like just things like, you know, a bit of fever, a bit of a sore arm, which is entirely what you expect if your immune system is activated. That's, you know, a fever is part of your immune system being activated. You compare that to the actual disease where you're getting 1% of people dying and even at younger ages, you're getting, you know, less people dying, but people with severe things. So I think you've got to, you know, think about actually kind of the numbers in terms of what we know about how bad the disease is and what we know about kind of the vaccine and its safety there.Elissa Deenick (40:24):But I would also encourage people to go and be vaccinated, particularly if we find out that these are, kind of vaccines that protect you from spreading the disease, because actually for this vaccine and kind of for any vaccine that has that effect, this is in a sense a service to those who have defective immune systems and can't make a response. Like if I can be vaccinated and stop myself from being someone who's a spreader then I can actually protect those who themselves can't make a good immune response and be kind of protected from that. So yeah, that would, that would be my advice.Karl Deenick (41:12):Well, there you go. That's all we should do. It's true though, isn't it, because, I mean, I think if some of the people of my church, I think of one particular person whose immune system was compromised because of cancer treatment, for instance, you know, and there are people like that who are terribly at risk, because, from virus because of that. So if we, as a, as a community, you can, can protect them by receiving the vaccine, well that's, that is a great thing, obviously then too. And like you say, the risk one in a hundred, 1% of people that, you know, dying from COVID, as opposed to very few side effects seems quite positive.Elissa Deenick (41:58):And I, I would just say as well that, you know, you talked about the, the short time to kind of development of these vaccines and that has caused people, I think, concerns about, did we have enough time to kind of, you know, work out the safety and that kind of thing. And certainly these current clinical trials are giving us insight into that as well. The other thing to remember is that, of course, as we've developed these vaccines, while the kind of particular vaccine that's developed against Coronavirus is, is new, a lot of the techniques that have been used to do that are themselves; have been around for longer. So, you know, the beauty of kind of vaccines is that you kind of, we have an idea as immunologists of like, these are the things we need to put into a vaccine to get a good immune response and produce those antibodies. And then to some extent we can swap in, okay, let's swap in a bit of the Coronavirus, let's swap in a bit of tetanus, you know, that kind of thing. It's not as if we start from complete scratch and have no idea about kind of the vaccines. There is a wealth of background knowledge that has led us to this point which has allowed us to then kind of produce these now.Karl Deenick (43:34):So it's kind of working off an existing basis of treatments and understanding, I guess. Yeah.Elissa Deenick (43:39):Yeah.Karl Deenick (43:39):Well, thanks, Elissa being part of Thinking Theology being my first ever guest. It's good to always invite family because they're probably less likely to say no. But thank you for sharing your expertise with us and your reflections as well on what is a topic that lots of people are thinking and talking about. Thanks for being with us.Elissa Deenick (44:00):Thanks for having me.
Dec 2 2020
44 mins
Does God Still Speak?
Episode Intro“God told me that he wants you to a missionary.” “God has put it on my heart to pray for you.”What do we do with statements like that?In the last few episodes of Thinking Theology we’ve been looking at God’s words in the Bible. The Bible is God’s words written for his people, by his Spirit, about his Son. The Bible is God’s authoritative word and we need to listen. The Bible is God’s powerful word.But does God still speak? And does he speak to us outside the Bible?That’s what we’re thinking about in this episode of Thinking Theology.Does God still speak through people? What about prophecy? Does God still prophesy through people? Or does he only speak to us through the Bible?Podcast IntroHi. My name is Karl Deenick. I’m a pastor, theologian, writer, and Bible college lecturer. Welcome to Thinking Theology, a podcast where we think about theology, the Bible and the Christian life, not just for the sake of it, but so we can love God more, with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.Prophecy is about JesusIn thinking about how and whether God still speaks, a good place to start is with Acts 2.Acts 2 is the account of God pouring out the Holy Spirit in fulfilment of his promise in the Old Testament. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection has opened the way for God to remake humanity in the image of Jesus. And that begins on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2 as the Spirit is poured out on believers and the Spirit unites them with Jesus and all that he has accomplished on their behalf.Peter and the other disciples are gathered together when a sound like the blowing of a violent wind suddenly comes upon them. They see tongues of fire coming down from heaven and resting on each of them. And when the neighbours hear and see what’s happening, a crowd begins to form.But then miraculously the disciples begin to speak in other languages that they hadn’t known before. And the crowd who are listening are absolutely astonished.It’s at that point that Peter says, that what was happening was the fulfilment of something Joel prophesied in the Old Testament. Peter says in Acts 2:17–18,In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. (Acts 2:17–18 NIV)Peter says that what was happening on the day of Pentecost was not only the beginning of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the people who trust in Jesus. But it was also the beginning of a great prophetic movement. In the past God had spoken through a few prophets here and there but now with the pouring out of the Holy Spirit all kinds of people will see visions and dreams and will prophesy.But what Peter means by that is really, really important to understand. If we’re not careful what we’ll do is import our understanding of what we think that means, rather than looking at the text of Acts 2 to understand exactly what Peter means.And what’s really interesting is that Peter says that what he and the other apostles are doing in Acts 2 is prophesying and fulfilling Joel’s prophecy.But if you read Acts 2, there are no dreams or visions that the apostle’s share and there are no predictions of what will happen in the future. There’s no words about what God will do in this person’s life or that person’s life.Rather what you get in Acts 2 is Peter explaining how Jesus is the Messiah and how Jesus has come in fulfilment of the Old Testament.So Peter says in verse 29,“Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet….So David was a prophet. But what did David prophesy about?Peter says,But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. (Acts 2:29–33 NIV)David’s role as a prophet was to look ahead to the coming of Jesus and to his death and resurrection.Peter’s role and the role of his fellow apostles was not to speak about what was to come so much as to be witnesses of Jesus’ death and resurrection.They speak about Jesus who has come. And the message that they were speaking to the crowds was the message of the Spirit who, Peter says, “you now see and hear.”Similarly, Peter writes in his first letter, in 1 Peter 1:10,Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow.So the prophets in the Old Testament spoke about “this salvation”. That is, the one Peter has outlined in the verses just before. The salvation which is through faith in the crucified and risen Jesus, the Son of God. The Spirit of Christ in the prophets was pointing to the sufferings of Jesus and the glories that would follow.But then Peter goes on to say,It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things. (1 Peter 1:10–12 NIV)So the same Holy Spirit that was given to the prophets in the Old Testament to speak about the Messiah who was to come; that same Holy Spirit has now empowered the preaching of the gospel.Peter says, “Even the angels long to look into these things.”The mistake that we can make, I think, in thinking about prophecy is that we think that the greatest mystery in life is what we will do and what will happened to us and how God will use us. But in the Bible the greatest mystery is the mystery about Christ. That is, the message of the gospel. That through his own dying on a cross, God would save a people for himself.It’s called the mystery of God because for ages past is was kept hidden. It was spoken about in shadows and in mystery by the prophets of the Old Testament, but it’s now been revealed in the preaching of the gospel. And everywhere that the gospel is preached and brought to bear on the lives of people, there prophetic ministry continues. When God speaks through people to make the gospel of Jesus known, the work of prophecy continues.So listen to what Paul says in 16:25–26. He writes,Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith…. (Romans 16:25–26 NIV)What the Bible is saying is that prophecy is fundamentally about Jesus. It’s about the revelation of the mystery that was hidden for ages past and which has now been revealed.In fact, Revelation 19:10 gives this rather remarkable definition of prophecy. It says,For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. (Revelation 19:10 ESV)To say that prophecy is about the testimony of Jesus Christ doesn’t mean that prophecy is only about evangelism and telling people who don’t know Jesus about him. It’s a bit like saying that the Bible is about Jesus.Prophecy broadly understood is not just evangelism. It’s showing people how the Old Testament is fulfilled in Christ. It’s challenging people to repent and believe in Christ. It’s showing people the new life that Christ has called us to live in obedience to him. It’s challenging people to take up their cross and follow Christ.Prophecy is the word about Christ which challenges, rebukes, encourages, equips, trains, makes wise for salvation, which is really the purpose of the whole Bible.God Gives Us His Spirit So That We Can Speak About JesusSo prophecy is primarily about the testimony to Jesus Christ.But not only is that the heart of prophecy, but that’s also the key reason that God has given his Spirit to his people. That is, so that every Christian can speak words about Jesus.In seeing that, it helps to look at what God said to some of the Old Testament prophets and then to also look at how that is paralleled in the New Testament.So God says to Moses in Exodus 4:11–12,“Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” (Exodus 4:11–12 NIV) Or in Deuteronomy 18 God tells Moses,I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him. (Deuteronomy 18:18 NIV)Or God says to Jeremiah in Jeremiah 1,“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”But Jeremiah says,“Alas, Sovereign Lord … I do not know how to speak; I am too young.” But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord. Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth.” (Jeremiah 1:4–9 NIV)But now listen to these words in the New Testament from Matthew 10. Jesus says,On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. (Matthew 10:18–20 NIV)What is striking is that in the OT when the prophets spoke it was by the Holy Spirit that they spoke. It was the Holy Spirit who gave them the words to speak. But now Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will give words to his disciples. Again, not to tell the future, but to proclaim Christ.And you see the same thing in the book of Acts. When the Holy Spirit comes on people with power they don’t speak a new message about the future but they proclaim the gospel about Jesus.So Jesus says in Acts 1:8,But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 NIV)Or in Acts 4:8 we’re told,Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them… (Acts 4:8 NIV)And then Peter preaches a gospel sermon.Or in Acts 4:31, it says,After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. (Acts 4:31 NIV)Similarly, Acts 11:23–24 tells us about Barnabas:When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord. (Acts 11:23–24 NIV)Does God still speak? Yes, God still speaks. He uses us to speak. In the past God used a few prophets to speak about the coming of Jesus, but now that Jesus has come, God pours out his Spirit on all believers so that they can speak about Jesus.The most exciting and wonderful blessings that the Spirit brings to our lives is the power and ability to speak words about Jesus into a lost world.Christians often think, “Well, God could never use me because I don’t know the right things to say.” But God has given us his Spirit for exactly that purpose to empower us to speak.If we know that gospel we can make it know to others as well. We can make known to them what they didn’t know before. And we can do that because God has given us his Spirit for exactly that purpose.Does God Give People Insight into the Future?So the heart of prophecy is speaking the truth about Jesus. And God empowers every Christian with his Spirit to do exactly that.But doesn’t answer the question of whether God still ever gives people special insight into future like he did in the past?I think it’s reasonable to suppose that God still can and does at times prompt people with respect to the future.There doesn’t seem to be any reason to suppose that he wouldn’t do that any longer. And there are certainly a few examples of that in the New Testament.There are examples of the Holy Spirit leading people in plans and in decisions. We see that in Acts, as the Holy Spirit leads Paul and others regarding where to do their missionary work. So in Acts 13 it says,While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” (Acts 13:2 NIV)And it does seem in experience, too, that the Holy Spirit does prompt and prod us to do certain things.I remember a friend of mine was going for a walk one morning and she walked past a man waiting at a bus stop, and she thought to herself, “I should talk to that man.” She kept walking and then she thought, “No, I really think I should go back and talk to that man.” And so she went back and asked him if he knew Jesus or something like that. At which point he broke down and by the time the bus came this man wanted to trust and follow Jesus.I remember in my own experience too, I once had the overwhelming conviction while I was reading a part of the Bible that I should go and talk to a particular and make sure they were ready to die and to make sure that they really trusted in Jesus. Their life didn’t seem to be in immediate danger but I felt very convicted that I should do it so I prayed and went. We had a wonderful conversation and we prayed together. And two or three weeks later they were admitted to hospital suddenly and within about 48 hours they had died.The Holy Spirit certainly prompts and stirs us to do things and we ought to be responsive to those things.But we also need to remember that impressions, thoughts, ideas, and strong emotions are not the sure word of God. Feelings and ideas and impressions can be wrong and misleading. And so we need to test them against the Bible and hold them loosely. We can’t trust them in the way that we can trust the sure words of God in the Bible.But more than that, we also need to keep absolutely crystal clear that the reason God has given us his Spirit is not so that we can do some neat party tricks, or so that we can know God’s plans for our lives or the lives of others.God’s great gift of the Spirit is for the purpose of making his great gospel known. God has spoken so that we would know his Son, Jesus, and so that others would know him too.If that disappears from our understanding of what it means to speak prophetically then we’ve missed the point.How Does the Spirit Equip Us to Speak?But a final question, then, is how God puts his words in our mouths. How does he do that? How does the Holy Spirit equip us to speak about Jesus?Well, of course, God can do that directly. He can put words into our minds and hearts to speak. But one of the key ways that God equips and trains us to speak is through the Bible.It was the Holy Spirit who caused the Bible to be written down for us. And the Holy Spirit has not suddenly decided to abandon the Bible.The Bible is not a dead book. The Bible is the living word of God. And the Holy Spirit still speaks to us through the Bible.We tend to think that supernatural insight must be something that comes to us spontaneously. But according to the Bible, even just to understand the Bible is supernatural insight.Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1 that we only understand the gospel because God has given us the Holy Spirit.We saw earlier those words of Peter, in 1 Peter 1:10, where he says,Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care…. (1 Peter 1:10 NIV)The prophets searched intently and with the greatest care. They didn’t just put their feet up and wait for the next revelation. They searched and combed through the Bible.And one thing you notice when you read the prophets is how steeped they are in the Bible. They knew the parts of the Bible that they had inside out. And the words that God gave them to speak were applications of the Bible. The apostles constantly refer to the Old Testament in their evangelism and in their letters. You couldn’t do that without knowing the Bible really well.It’s entirely possible that God could give us some spontaneous, supernatural insight into what the Bible means. But almost the entire emphasis of the New and Old Testaments is that God prepares people slowly to speak for him by teaching them and through them studying his Word.It’s a mistake to think that God is only speaking through us when we say something unprepared and spontaneous. As though God is only involved in our lives at the last minutes and has been absent from our lives for the long years of formation and correction that we’ve already lived.OutroDoes God still speak? Yes. God still speaks to us in the Bible. And in the Bible the Holy Spirit equips us to speak words to people. God puts his words in our mouths to build up the church, to proclaim the good news about Jesus, to call people to repentance, to train us for every good work and to make us wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.That’s it for this episode of Thinking Theology. And that’s it for this year of Thinking Theology.There will be a special bonus episode in the next week or so dealing with the current pressing issue of vaccination and how we as Christians should think about that. In that episode I’ll be speaking with my sister, Associate Professor Dr Elissa Deenick, who is a research immunologist with the University of New South Wales and the Garvan Institute. She’ll be joining me to talk about vaccines, Covid and Christianity. So look out for that.And next year we’ll be continuing on with Thinking Theology by looking at who God is and what he’s like.Please join me then.
Nov 25 2020
22 mins
The Power of the BibleThe Clarity of the BibleThe Authority of the BibleWhat is the Bible?Introducing Thinking Theology Daily BibleThe Reliability of the New Testament (Part 2)The Reliability of the New Testament (Part 1)Bonus: What's With That Music?The Reliability of the Old TestamentWhere Does the New Testament Come From? (Part 2)Where Does the New Testament Come From? (Part 1)Where Does the Old Testament Come From?