In our last Solid Ground, instead of focusing on one big issue, we looked at a number of smaller ones. I called it a mélange—a mixture of odds and ends. This month, I’ll continue that pattern with more short treatments on a variety of topics.
How Much Sin Can God Forgive?
A number of years ago, the death of Jeffrey Dahmer created a stir on radio talk shows. Dahmer had been convicted of brutal murders of homosexuals and cannibalism—crimes so ugly, they caused civilized people to shudder. Dahmer learned that prison life sometimes metes out its own brand of justice. While in jail, he was beaten to death by inmates.
The thing that made Jeffrey Dahmer’s case notable for talk radio was that while in prison, he apparently committed his life to Christ and was baptized. Jeffrey Dahmer—homosexual, murderer, cannibal—presumably died a Christian.
For many, this was not good news. Nonbelievers were scandalized that a brutal criminal, at the end of a life of debauchery, could find forgiveness in Christ. What kind of God could forgive the likes of Jeffrey Dahmer? The answer is: only a God whose mercy is powerful enough to wash clean the blackest sin.
Mercy does not happen in a vacuum, though. God doesn’t simply shrug sin off. The moral debt isn’t overlooked. The moral debt is paid—all of it. Full payment is the point of the cross.
The suffering the Son of God experienced at the hands of men was horrific, but not entirely unique. Many others had been beaten, scourged, and crucified before Jesus had been. The torment inflicted by humans was merely the beginning of Jesus’ sorrows.
Yes, Jesus was despised and forsaken of men, bearing our griefs and carrying our sorrows. Yet Isaiah tells us that the suffering that saved was the torment inflicted on Jesus because of the Father:
Smitten of God, and afflicted…
He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed.
But the Lord was pleased
To crush Him, putting Him to grief;
If He would render Himself as a guilt offering…
My Servant will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities.
Here is the simple calculus. Whether our sin is minuscule or massive, either we pay or Jesus pays. If we ignore God’s mercy, we’ll feel his wrath. If we turn to Christ, our crimes are atoned for by him. Jesus’ suffering can cover the largest debt of the worst sinner because the price he paid was adequate not just for the sins of one bad man like Jeffrey Dahmer, but also for the sins of the entire evil world.
Any God capable of forgiving the worst of sinners can forgive “ordinary” moral criminals like you or me. Jeffrey Dahmer’s forgiveness is a vivid demonstration of Paul’s teaching in 1 Timothy 1:15–16.
It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.
This isn’t just good news for murderers; this is good news for you. You might be tempted to say, “I’m no Jeffrey Dahmer.” My response is simply this: “Maybe not, but you’re no Jesus Christ either, and you’re more like Dahmer than you are like Christ.” That’s the comparison that ultimately matters. That’s the bad news.
Here’s the good news. If God can forgive a Jeffrey Dahmer or a Saul of Tarsus—if the blood of Christ is powerful enough to cleanse the sins of a murderous cannibal or potent enough to pay for the crimes of a vicious persecutor of the church—he can forgive any of us.
How much sin can God forgive? All of it.
Does It Matter if We Evolved?
Some people think it doesn’t really matter if we evolved in the Darwinian sense. But ideas have consequences, and bad ideas can have devastating implications.
Classical Darwinism is a materialistic enterprise. It’s meant to explain how completely random physical processes have worked, over time, to create the appearance of plan and purpose in nature when no deliberate design was involved at all. Blind forces working on inanimate matter have produced unintended outcomes. That’s how the story goes.
So, if Darwinism is true, then there is no ultimate meaning or purpose to life, there is no transcendent morality (moral obligations are not physical, after all), there is no qualitative difference between humans and animals, there is no life after death, there is no purpose to human history, and—since all purely physical systems are rigidly determined by the natural laws that govern them—there can be no freedom of the will.
Considering these implications of materialistic evolution, is it reasonable to think it doesn’t matter if Darwinism is true?
Why God Did or Didn’t Do What He Did or Didn’t Do
I frequently get questions that start with the phrase “Why did God [fill in the blank]?” or “Why didn’t God [fill in the blank]?” My general response to such questions is almost always the same: “I don’t know.”
Let’s face it, lots of things God causes to happen—or allows to happen—seem completely odd to us, at least at first blush. “Aslan is not a tame lion,” Lewis reminds us frequently of the Christ character in his famed Chronicles of Narnia series.
If God, in his Word, doesn’t clearly answer a question about his intentions, it’s hard to know with any certainty why he makes the choices he makes. Of course, there’s always room for an educated guess—a speculation based on what we do know that might shed some light on what we don’t know for sure. Conjecture is always a bit of a gamble, though, so we hold speculations with a light grip.
My first observation about these kinds of questions, then, is that we’re usually not able to answer them, and that’s okay. All worldviews have conundrums we can’t explain and loose ends that defy resolutions.
Here’s my second observation: Probes like these are sometimes disingenuous. They are challenges disguised as questions. Some queries seek clarity. Others mean to trap. Jesus encountered both, and so will you. Generally, it’s not difficult to tell which is which.
One version of this question came up recently in a TikTok video. The challenge: Why didn’t God kill Satan a long time ago? If Satan is such a baddie, then why is he allowed to continue his reign of terror? God is strong enough to kill the devil. God thinks the devil is evil and needs to be stopped. So why not just stop him?
It’s clear from the questioner’s delivery on this video that hers is a not a “clarity” question, but a “trap” question meant to expose what she thinks is a debilitating defect in the Christian account. After all, if she had the power to stop the kinds of evil the devil causes, she certainly would. Why doesn’t God?
I have three responses to this challenge, and the first one is the most important. Our inability to answer “Why?” questions about God’s intentions is neither a defeater regarding God’s existence nor a refutation of Christianity. Why? Because our ability to answer the question has no decisive bearing on the truth of either.
Not a single argument for the truth of God or the truth of Christianity hinges on knowing God’s purposes about anything. None of the classical arguments for God’s existence or the standard arguments for Christian theism trades on any insight regarding God’s designs.
I realize that frequently these challenges are meant to question the character of the Christian God. Yet without a clear understanding of God’s motive and intent, we are not able to pass judgment. Whether the concern is about God’s actions or his inactions, knowing his reasons is critical to our assessment.
Since it certainly seems possible God could have a good reason for delaying judgment on an evil agent like the devil, it poses no rational problem for the believer when God’s purposes or plans regarding dealing with evil remain inscrutable.
Second, the same question could be asked of every other agent of evil—all human “baddies” who spread wickedness—which would be every one of us, including the challenger. If God is expected to deal decisively and expeditiously with evil, his retribution won’t be limited to the demonic realm. There is still plenty of evil in the world apart from Satan’s schemes.
Third, we do have an answer to this particular question, at least in part. According to Peter, God is not slow about his promise to remedy iniquity, but rather, longsuffering. He delays for the sake of mercy and forgiveness so that, for many, judgment will not be necessary. That’s called grace, not ineptitude.
So don’t be dismayed if you can’t answer why God did or didn’t do what he did or didn’t do. Such questions may reflect a legitimate curiosity, but failing to answer them does no damage to Christian theism.
God on the Job?
Sometimes, eager Christians give off more heat than light when trying to have an impact for Christ where they work. If your goal is to make a difference where you make your living, you may encounter resistance, so keep these two things in mind as you pray and plan.
First, though corporations are private enterprises, they still may be concerned about division or even litigation if they condone any kind of religious activity—especially Christian. Even when nothing illegal is going on, an offended employee could take the company to court on a civil liberty claim and cause them a lot of grief.
Second, employers might be concerned that overt Christian activity might create a disruptive environment and interfere with productivity. We all know how easy it is for well-meaning, zealous Christians to overreach with their evangelism. In a closed environment, you can’t get away from people you’ve offended. That creates a hostile atmosphere that’s not good for productivity.
With those concerns in mind, consider these five ideas that will help you have the greatest impact as an ambassador for Christ on the job.
First, work hard. If you’re talking about Jesus all the time and not completing your tasks, you’re stealing from your employer and ruining your witness. The most powerful testimony you can give him is to be the best worker on his payroll. It not only honors the Lord; it earns you the right to speak.
Second, make common cause with other Christians. Find out who the other believers are that you work with, and solicit their support. Share your burden with them, and begin to pray about opportunities to have an impact for Christ in the lives of the non-Christians in your group.
Third, start small. Having a lunch-hour Bible study privately in your own office with a handful of interested people probably won’t require any special authorization. Usually, your group won’t meet with opposition.
Fourth, if you want something more formalized, with company internet access or the use of conference rooms—especially if the business you work for has no official Christian fellowship yet—it’s best to be chartered as an established group with your employer.
If there’s a formal company protocol, follow it. Have the management approve your proposal. Not only will you have corporate support, but you may also be entitled to privileges and even subsidies available to groups validated with the company.
Finally, give no cause for offense. Be careful of inadvertently creating trouble for others. Spiritual conversations can be especially charged nowadays, especially with anything that touches on sexuality or exclusivity.
Sometimes, a theological detail is so central to Christianity, you’ll have to take a stand when pressed and let the chips fall where they may. Always remember, though, the gospel in its simplicity is already plenty offensive. Try not to add any more offense to it with how you engage others. If you’ve ruffled feathers needlessly, then apologize.
Follow Paul’s advice in Colossians 4:5–6: “Conduct yourselves with wisdom towards outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.”
Curing the Intellectual Assent Problem
In New Testament times, there were no “altar calls.” Instead, baptism was the public focal point of conversion in the early church. It served to protect against substituting mere intellectual assent for genuine faith, and it can serve the same function today.
If people tell you they are Christian, but you suspect something’s amiss, ask them if they’re willing to be baptized—willing to stand up as an adult in public to confess their faith and trust in Jesus Christ and to publicly identify themselves with Christ’s people. If they balk, it may be that their so-called faith is intellectual assent and nothing more.
Willingness to be publicly baptized often helps separate sheep from goats, spiritually speaking. It helps distinguish those who are genuine followers of Christ from those who merely “prayed the prayer.” Genuine, biblical faith entails action and identification. Someone who publicly follows Christ by identifying with him and with his people in baptism has probably moved beyond mere intellectual assent to genuine biblical trust.
Two Myths about Christianity and Government
Two myths consistently cloud our thinking about the role of Christianity in American government. Myth one: The faith of our Founding Fathers was deism. This myth is so contrary to fact, it escapes me why so many get this wrong.
The phrase “Founding Fathers” is a proper noun. It refers to a specific group of men, the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention. There were other important players not in attendance, like Jefferson, whose thinking deeply influenced the shaping of our nation. These 55 Founding Fathers, though, made up the core.
The denominational affiliations of these men were a matter of public record. Among the delegates were 28 Episcopalians, 8 Presbyterians, 7 Congregationalists, 2 Lutherans, 2 Dutch Reformed, 2 Methodists, 2 Roman Catholics, 1 unknown, and only 3 deists—Williamson, Wilson, and Franklin—this, at a time when church membership entailed a sworn public confession of biblical faith.
This tally is revealing. It shows that the members of the Constitutional Convention, the most influential group of men shaping the political foundations of our nation, were almost all members of Christian denominations, 51 of 55—a full 93%.
Of course, the fact that these men were associated with church communities doesn’t guarantee they were born-again believers, strictly speaking. But that’s not my point. The debate over the religious heritage of this country is not about which Founders would ultimately go to Heaven. Rather, it’s about what were the dominant convictions that dictated the political structure of our nation.
Certainly, there were godless men among the early leadership, though some cited by others as founders turn out to be insignificant players. For example, Thomas Paine and Ethan Allen may have been hostile to evangelical Christianity, but they were firebrands of the Revolution, not intellectual architects of the American experiment. Paine didn’t arrive in this country until 1774 and only stayed a short time.
As for others—George Washington, Samuel Adams, James Madison, John Witherspoon, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, John Adams, Patrick Henry, and even Thomas Jefferson—their personal correspondence, biographies, and public statements are replete with quotations showing that these thinkers had political philosophies deeply influenced by Christianity.
Some of the Fathers affiliated with churches may not have been true followers of Christ, yet in a broad sense—the sense that influenced the structure of American political culture—their thinking was thoroughly Christian. Unlike many evangelicals today who live lives of practical atheism, these men had political ideals that were deeply informed by a robust Christian worldview.
Myth two: Since the view of reality that informed the structure of the American experiment was Judeo-Christian, then Christianity has a privileged status in the republic.
The fact that the Christian worldview was the foundation of the moral, intellectual, and political perspective in the United States is seen by some as an entitlement. When Christians and Christian values get socially and politically marginalized, some believers feel they’ve been illicitly disenfranchised from their own “Christian nation.”
This reaction is misguided for a couple of reasons.
First, the Founders stopped short of giving their Christian religion a position of legal privilege. The Fathers sought to set up a just society, not a Christian theocracy. In the tradition of the early church, believers were to be salt and light.
The First Amendment ensured that Christians would have the liberty they needed to be a godly influence and a moral beacon, voting for laws that reflected the truth about morality and the world God created, but it also ensured that Christianity would never be the established religion of the land.
Second, the sad fact is that cultural hegemony was not taken from us; we surrendered it through neglect. Os Guinness once quipped that Christians have not been out-thought. Rather, they have not been around when the thinking was being done.
Choosing cultural monasticism rather than hard-thinking advocacy, Christians abandoned the public square to the secularists. When the disciples of Jesus Christ retreated, the disciples of Dewey, Marx, Darwin, Freud, Nietzsche, Skinner, and a host of others replaced them.
Playing the victim will not restore our influence. The success of our views in the public square will come from our appeal to the common good and to justice for all. Our ideas have no right to prevail simply because “we were here first,” as some think of it.
Remember, success for the Christian cannot ultimately be measured in numbers or political muscle, but only in faithfulness. The most important weapon we wield in the debate on public policy is the power of the truth freely spoken and freely considered.
 Isaiah 53:4–5.
 Isaiah 53:10–11.
 1 Peter 3:9.
 See my concerns about the so-called sinner’s prayer in “The Magic Prayer” at str.org.
 John Eidsmoe, Christianity and the Constitution, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987), 43.