Author Archives: stevenkopp

About stevenkopp

Steven Kopp is a Pastor / Software Engineer / Author / Husband / Father in West Michigan.

Should we all be agnostics?

Let’s say you find the Moral Argument, the Kalam Cosmological Argument, or some other argument for God compelling, does this mean you should be a Christian? Not necessarily. What do these arguments really say?

What can we know from logic and our senses?

First, they show that some Supreme Being exists (for brevity I’ll henceforth refer to this Being as God). It is not irrational to believe in God. In fact, the evidence points strongly in the direction of theistic belief. Second, they say something about God’s nature.

From the cosmological arguments we can see that God must be outside of the universe, He must be timeless, He must be uncaused, He must be a necessary being (from Leibniz). On top of that, he seems to be some sort of Mind or Will which could decide to create one sort of world as opposed to another. We would then describe Him as a Creator. He must be free, for if He were constrained then that higher constraint would be what we mean by God.

From the moral argument we can see that He is the source and foundation of all moral goodness, and from that goodness, issues commands which are to us the foundation for our moral obligations.

We might add to this knowledge evidence from the world we see around us. God has created a world of life, a world with recognizable beauty, and the capacity of His creatures to recognize His existence. Yet we also live in a world of great pain, confusion, and a proliferation of different perspectives on life.

The limitations of our logic and senses

This observational evidence is ambiguous. It requires an interpretation. It tells us something, but we’re not exactly sure what. From our observations and logical capacities, we can confidently say some things about God, but there’s much more we would have to leave unsaid.

Add to that the fact that we are finite and limited creatures seeking to understand an Infinite and Unlimited Being. Given such a vast ontological gap, how could we even begin to say anything intelligible about this Being. I recently read a quote that said: “Show me a worm that can comprehend man and I’ll show you a man that can comprehend God.” This was written by a Christian preacher intended to invoke worship, but in me it was a temptation to despair. The worm is too limited to think or speak intelligibly about man. Are we too limited to know or say anything intelligible about God?

I’ve come to the conclusion that the list of things we can say about God are limited if, that is, our knowledge comes only from our own seeking.

But there’s another way in which we might know God and be able to believe and say more than a limited number of things about Him: He would have to communicate with us.

The nature of revelation

At this point it will be useful to bring in the theological word “revelation”. When applied to God it refers to God showing Himself to humanity. We’ve already seen two ways in which He does this – the physical and moral world. He made a physical and moral world which are accessible through physical and moral senses. However, as we’ve seen, this is insufficient to say a great many other things about God, for that we need a more specific form of revelation, what theologians call “special revelation.”

Here’s where language comes in. Given that we have the capacity for abstract thought through language, that seems like the mostly likely means by which God could give us such a revelation. He could speak to us in a number of ways. He could verbally communicate (a voice from heaven), he could communicate directly to our minds (think an inner, real, but inaudible voice). He could send supernatural messengers. Etc.

Now, this communication, if always private in nature, could create a problem. What would prevent someone from claiming to speak on behalf of God? (Indeed, what does today?) It would make sense, then, for there to be some sort of authoritative source written down which could be referred to again and again to test a supposed “revelation” against.

In this way God could communicate truth about Himself, about us humans, and about our world in a way that is both comprehensible and authoritative. But, the question is, did He in fact do these things and, if He did produce such a book, which one?

And that takes me to the end of this post. Christians, myself included, believe that God has indeed communicated to us in this way, and that this communication is what we find in the Bible. The defense of that argument is the subject of the next post.


A Conflict Between Naturalism and Science?

Around 5 years ago I was browsing the philosophy shelf at Barnes and Noble when I came across a book with one of the most compelling thesis I have ever come across. The book is called Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism by philosopher Alvin Plantinga.

Plantinga argues that while there are apparent conflicts between science and theism, the two are actually fundamentally compatible. And, while science and naturalism are apparently compatible, the two actually have a deep conflict. Given that most in our culture believes the exact opposite, this is a startling thesis.

We first need to define Naturalism and distinguish it from science. Naturalism is the belief that nature is all there is that, at base, there is no purpose or mind directing the universe or humanity. Naturalism is a philosophy, a metaphysic, a worldview. Naturalism is not the same thing as science, though the two are often confused by Christians and Atheists alike.

Science, on the other hand, is the method by which we understand the physical world around us. Science has a deep compatibility with Christianity – though several apparent conflicts. (Plantinga specifically addresses miracles and evolution.)

Conflict and compatibility

The deep compatibility between science and Christianity comes from the nature of God and the nature of humanity. God, in Christianity, reveals Himself in nature, in the physical world. And, He has made us humans in such a way that we can understand that same physical world. Because God is a God of order, the physical world is ordered and subject to rationale inquiry. And, because humans are created in God’s image, we have the capacity to reason, use language, and come up with theories for how things are and how they came to be. Our reasoning, language, and theories may be flawed, but the capacities which we use are generally reliable because they are God-given.

But, whereas there is a deep compatibility between Christianity and science, there is a deep conflict between the pseudo-religion of naturalism and science. What does he mean? Plantinga gives a strong and weak version of his argument. The strong version of his argument, he argues, gives a “defeater” for the naturalist, and here he spends most of his time. The weaker version of the argument doesn’t necessarily provide a “defeater” but for me it is more comprehensible and thus, for now, more compelling.

The reliability of our beliefs from naturalism

Plantinga argues that, if both naturalism and evolution are true, the probability of the content of our beliefs being true, is low. But, if it’s unlikely that our beliefs are true, then we have no reason to have confidence in any of our beliefs, including our beliefs about naturalism and evolution. Thus, the beliefs that naturalism and evolution are true forms a defeater for the argument “naturalism and evolution are true”. And, in fact, it forms a defeater for any other scientific claim.

But why does Plantinga believe that it is improbable that the content of our beliefs are true given unguided naturalistic evolution? The answer lies in the nature of evolution and the materialistic view of neurophysics.

Unguided evolution and neurophysics

First, unguided evolution: The theory of evolution argues that life evolves through natural selection in order to reproduce itself. Natural selection favors whatever “gets the body parts in the right place” in order to survive, and survive long enough to reproduce, thus passing along the genetic code. That is, evolution through natural selection is blind and agnostic when it comes to truth. “Truth” only comes in insofar as it leads to survival and reproduction. If evolution can produce a desired behavior with a lie, it is not the worse for wear.

Second, neurophysics: The brain works through collections of neurons and connections between those neurons. Let’s call a particular collection of neurons firing in a particular way “N”. N has two properties: Neuro-physiological properties (NP Properties) and content. The NP properties are the physical properties which make up the mental state. The content is the belief. For example, the thought “naturalism is overrated” is the belief or content. It is true to the extent that, in the real world, naturalism is overrated. On a naturalistic worldview, the content arises from the collection of neurons, N, firing in a specific way.

Beliefs and Indicators

Here Plantinga makes a crucial distinction between beliefs (the “content” that arises from N) and the indicators that lead to the response which the NP properties produce. That chemical/physical response is what is selected for during the evolutionary process. Whether or not the belief is true doesn’t matter. That the zebra runs away from the lion matters. The content of the Zebra’s belief isn’t. The Zebra’s belief could be a lie. It wouldn’t matter, so long as the Zebra responds in a way that it escapes danger.

If this seems dubious to you, it did to me at first, too. Two reasons spring to mind. First, I implicitly trust that my beliefs are generally reliable. It’s hard to imagine a world in which they are not. But, the question isn’t whether I think my beliefs are reliable, but whether under naturalism I am warranted to think they are.

Second, we often think about our cognitive processes in the following way: The NP properties of the neurons N produces a belief. That belief produces the action. That belief then needs to be reliable for the action to lead to survival and reproduction. But, says Plantinga, that’s not how it works. Again, from a naturalistic/materialistic worldview it’s the NP properties by themselves which produce the action, so the truth of the belief, it’s relevance to the real world, is suspect.

Now, if the truth of beliefs is not what naturalistic evolution selects us for, then what is the probability that our beliefs are reliable? Again, you may think your beliefs are reliable, but the question is this: Given naturalistic evolution, what is the probability of our beliefs being reliable? They’re low.

But, if you doubt whether or not your beliefs are reliable, then you should doubt your belief about naturalism is reliable and you should also doubt your beliefs about science. Thus, belief in naturalism and evolution is self-defeating, since it undermines the reliability of our beliefs in general.

Now, there are a few key steps in this argument that I admit I do not fully comprehend, especially the relationships between the NP properties, actions, and the content of our belief. That makes this strong version of the argument interesting to me, but not quite as compelling as it would be if I understood it more clearly. Perhaps if you read that chapter in his book you’ll be able to enlighten me further.

How sociology helped me see the conflict more clearly

There’s a weaker version of the argument, though, which says something similar, and which is newly compelling to me. After I read this from Plantinga five-ish years ago I set it aside. It gathered dust on a shelf in my brain until I started reading a lot of sociology books. There I discovered something interesting: Naturalistic sociologists are fond of pointing out how unreliable our reasoning actually is. 

Case in point: Future Babble by Dan Gardner. The thesis of this book is that people – especially experts – are terrible at making predictions about the future because humans weren’t designed through the evolutionary process to do this. In fact, Gardner gives a whole list of instances where we shouldn’t trust our beliefs because of evolutionary embedded functions. We’re not, on Gardner’s account, fitted for this sort of predictive and abstract thought. As I read, though, I couldn’t help be think: Gardner is undermining his own argument! If I shouldn’t trust experts, why should I trust Gardner? If I couldn’t trust my own faculties, why should I trust my own interpretation of his book?

Gardner’s is an exceptional case, but it’s far from the only time I’ve noticed this. There seems to be a growing consensus in the secular books I’m reading that evolution has not produced people who are terribly good at discerning truth. In most cases, it’s just not relevant to survival! But, again, if the naturalist recognizes that he is not equipped to discern truth, why should he accept his truth about such questions as: Does God exist?

The compelling argument to me then, is this: Perhaps there are some beliefs which we would expect evolution to produce a strong correspondence between that belief in reality. But there are other beliefs, those most associated with abstract and technical thought, which naturalistic evolution would not design us for. Or rather, for which unguided evolution would be entirely agnostic. Philosophy, mathematics, the scientific method, etc. would have had no bearing on whether or not a member of the species could survive and reproduce. In fact, today, knowledge of some of these areas might be a detriment to reproduction (“What does an engineer use for birth control? his personality”).

Closer correspondence with reality

In other words, give unguided evolution, it seems we shouldn’t trust our beliefs to tell us the truth unless they are specifically associated with those things which evolution would select. “Naturalism is true” is one of those claims which we shouldn’t trust, given our belief in naturalism. Hence, it defeats itself.

But, if God exists and created us then we would expect him to enable us survive, reproduce, and be able to think rationally about philosophy, science, religion, morality, mathematics, and all sorts of other abstract things which have nothing to do with survival and reproduction. And, of course, we do think about all those sorts of things and, indeed, our beliefs do seem to be at least somewhat reliable – though certainly far from infallible.

Thus, once again, I see the rationality of belief in God for, once again, it provides a broader explanatory scope of the world  I live in than does atheism.

Is Belief in God like Belief in a Flying Spaghetti Monster?

The Flying Spaghetti Monster is a staple of religious message boards. There is even a Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (Pastafarianism) which is recognized as a religion in the Netherlands and New Zealand. I have at least one coworker who claims allegiance.

Pastafarianism is, of course, a big joke, and that’s exactly the point. Atheists argue that belief in a Creator God is just as ridiculous as belief in a Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM). Of course, you can’t prove that God doesn’t exist, but you can’t prove that there isn’t a god-like Flying Spaghetti Monster floating around in the universe either. Both are matters of “faith” and both are ridiculous.

That’s how the argument goes. But is it logical?

The “argument” fails on a number of levels. Don’t be fooled by it. First, it’s a perfect example of the logical fallacy of the straw man, where you ascribe the weakest possible version of an argument to your opponent, making it easier to refute. Belief in God – at least from a theistic perspective – bears no resemblance to belief in a flying spaghetti monster.

Even aside from the logical fallacy employed,  there’s another reason to reject the comparison as absurd, and that reason can be summed up in two words: Explanatory Scope.

The explanatory scope of an hypothesis describes how much of the evidence it is able to explain. Newtonian physics has a broad explanatory scope because it accurately describes (and predicts) the motions in the world around us.

Belief in God, unlike belief in the FSM, provides a broad explanatory scope. That is, belief in God makes sense of the world around us. It “fits” with the evidence available to our minds. Here’s what I mean:

Belief in God makes sense of both our moral senses and the existence of a moral reality. Only a transcendent, personal, and perfectly good being can form the basis of objective moral reality (See The Moral Argument).

Belief in God makes sense of the fact that their is something rather than nothing. Everything that begins to exist has a cause, the universe began to exist, therefore the universe has a cause. That First Cause is God. And God cannot be a thing “in” the universe, but uncaused, timeless, and immaterial. (See the Kalam Cosmological Argument and the Leibnitzian Cosmological Argument)

Belief in God makes sense of the universe’s incredible complex and “tuning” to life. I hope to address this in a later post, but suffice it to say, the fact that our universe supports life is astronomically improbable. A creative transendent intelligence makes sense of this reality.

The list could go on: The theistic picture of God as a being outside the universe, personal, uncaused, timeless, and uncreated, makes sense of our personness, our free will, and the religious experiences of billions of people, among other things. It does so in a way that the FSM never could. That’s because there’s a key difference between the FSM and God, and the key logical fallacy that atheists make when they trot out this ridiculous comparison: God and gods are of a difference in kind.

The FSM as described is a god (small g), is a creature within the universe. Christians (and other theists) though, believe in God (big G) a Being that stands above and apart from the universe, ontologically different. And, as the prophets of the Old Testament will tell you, between the gods and God Himself, there is no comparison. Christians find the idea of gods ridiculous, too, but between those gods and God there is an immeasurable difference.


The Kalam Cosmological Argument: The ultimate Cause of the Universe

Diving right in to apologist William Lane Craig’s favorite argument for God, the Kalam Cosmological Argument is as follows:

Premise 1: Whatever begins to exist has a cause

Premise 2: The universe began to exist

Conclusion: The universe has a cause

Premise 1: Whatever begins to exist has a cause

Like premise 1 of Leibniz’s cosmological argument (anything that exists has a reason for its existence), this premise is self-evident and is constantly confirmed by our daily experience. We don’t see horses, tigers, or people just pop into existence out of nowhere. Even in science fiction, if something materializes, it does so from another place or another dimension by some causal mechanism. Everything has a cause, even if we don’t know what it is.

Yet, two objections might be raised.

Objection 1: Does this apply to God? Does God need a cause for His existence? The answer is in the premise – “whatever begins to exist…” God, in the theistic sense, had no beginning and no end. He is eternal. Specifically, most theologians would argue that He exists outside of time and that, in fact, He is the Creator of time itself. The idea that God is outside of time might be mysterious (being that we are time-bound creators) but it is not illogical or incomprehensible.

Objection 2: That everything begins to exist has a cause is true at the level of Newtonian physics, but is it true at the level of quantum physics? Isn’t it true that sub-atomic particles can appear out of nowhere uncaused? Again, the answer is no. Quantum mechanics does apparently describe indeterministic probabilities, but not exactly uncaused events. Second, sub-atomic particles do not appear in nothingness or out of nothingness, but into a “sub-atomic vacuum”, which is itself “a rich structure governed by physical laws.” You don’t get sub-atomic particles ex nihilo.

Premise 2: The universe began to exist

One need not have a creationist’s view of Genesis to agree with this premise (though it coincides well with this premise). In fact, one doesn’t need a Bible at all to agree with this premise. Science itself – even apart from belief in God – points to the universe itself having a beginning.

The mostly widely accepted view of the origin of the universe is the Standard Model, also called the Big Bang theory. This theory was developed when scientists started looking out into the cosmos and observed that all the galaxies were moving away from each other, that the universe was getting less and less dense.

If that trend were reversed over time (if we went back in time) we would see the universe getting more and more dense until it was at a state of infinite density. But that’s not to say that before this point, called the singularity, this infinite ball of matter was just sitting there waiting to explode. No, before this point (if we can speak of a “before”) there would have been nothing. In fact, it would have been at this point – or immediately thereafter – that space and time, that the universe, began to exist.

In the scientific community there have been numerous attempts to overthrow this theory in order to imagine an infinite universe without a beginning, but none have been successful (oscillating models aren’t truly infinite – the oscillation could only occur so many times – and multi-verse models still need a point of origination, it is just pushed further back). There are also philosophical reasons to believe that the universe had a beginning, like the question of how we could ever get to “here” if we had to count up from infinity (hint: we’d never get to a “here”).

A final note: The Kalam cosmological argument does not rest on the theory of the Big Bang, but it does serve as evidence that whether we think about the world theologically, scientifically, or philosophically, the conclusion is inescapable: the universe began to exist.

Conclusion: The universe had a cause

It logically follows that the universe had a cause. So, could the universe have caused itself? I’ve heard this argued on a couple of occasions. In one case, it was argued that the laws of the universe could have caused the universe, but that still leaves out the question of the origination of the laws of the universe (and is very scientifically dubious, even the person arguing for it admitted that). From a logical perspective, a self-caused universe is illogical, for it would mean that the universe would have had to existed prior to the universe existing, which is contradictory.

It follows then, that the universe had a cause and that Cause exists outside the universe and is different from the universe.

What can we learn about God from this argument, besides that He exists? We learn that He is the Creator of all things. A Being of this nature would be exceedingly powerful and would have to a will to create. He must exist outside of time and outside of the universe. Add this to the moral argument and the Leibnizian cosmological argument and we can begin to have a clearer picture of the nature of God.

Book Recommendation

On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision


Everything has a Reason for its Existence. The ultimate Reason is God.

We now move on to Leibniz’s Cosmological Argument. (A summary of the argument from William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith)

Premise 1: Anything that exists has a reason for its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature, or in an external cause.

Premise 2: If the universe has a reason for its existence, then that reason is God.

Premise 3: The universe exists.

Premise 4: Therefore, the universe has a reason for its existence (following from 1 and 3)

Therefore, the explanation of the reason of the universe is God (following from 2 and 4)

Premise 1: Anything that exists has a reason for its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature, or in an external cause.

This premise matches our every day experience. Look around you: Everything you see has a cause for its existence. Nothing appears out of nowhere without reason. This premise is constantly confirmed by experience and forms the basis of scientific inquiry.

Imagine you are walking in the woods with your friend and you come across a semi-translucent ball. You might ask: Why does this ball exist? You might not know the reason – perhaps it was left by a fellow traveler, or perhaps it is an especially unusual rock formation. Either way, you’re justified in thinking it didn’t just appear without reason.

For this premise, size doesn’t matter. Would you be any less justified in asking about the reason for the mysterious ball if it were the size of a house, a planet, or the universe? No, everything has a reason for its existence.

You might notice the qualification on this premise: “either in the necessity of its own nature, or in an external cause.” This premise is important because, one might ask, if everything has a reason for its existence, and God exists, then does God need a reason for His existence? And wouldn’t the just send us back on into an infinity of “whys”?

The answer to this dilemma is that the theistic idea of God is that God exists “by the necessity of His own existence.” What theistic arguments for God are trying to prove, is a reason for the contingent universe, a Reason behind all reasons, a Cause behind all causes. So, this is isn’t really an objection to a theistic version of God, since the God which Christians believe in exists by necessity of His own nature.

But are Christians just arbitrarily assigning this necessary existence to God? I don’t think so. First, again, this is exactly the sort of Being we’re trying to demonstrate exists. Second, there are potentially other “things” which exist by the nature of their being, such as mathematical principles. Physical objects or properties, though, are not necessary beings, but are contingent beings. The reason for their existence is some external cause.

Premise 2: If the universe has a reason for its existence, then that reason is God.

At first glance this seems like a bold claim, but we are not yet describing what this God is like. The argument isn’t saying, the reason for the existence of the universe is the Christian God, but God in a more general sense, as some self-existence, necessary Being. If the universe includes all contingent physical/temporal reality, then we must look outside the universe for some ultimate Reason, which theists describe as God.

Premise 3: The universe exists. No objections here, I presume.

Premise 4: Therefore, the universe has a reason for its existence.

This premise logically follows from 1 and 3. If everything that exists has a reason for its existence, and the universe exists, then the universe has a reason for its existence.

Here, or perhaps at premise 2, one could object that if God exists by the necessity of His existence, why couldn’t we say that the universe exists by the necessity of its existence? Or, to put it another way, some might argue that the premise “everything that exists has a reason for its existence” applies to everything in the universe, but not the universe itself.

My first observation is that in doing this, the atheist ascribes a divine attribute to the universe – self-existence. It might be hard at this point to differentiate between a necessary self-existent Universe from the self-existent God of the Leibniz cosmological argument, except that perhaps one is impersonal and one is personal.

Second, its hard to see how a materialist or naturalist is warranted in ascribing this self-existence to the universe. If everything they see in the universe is contingent, then on what basis would the summation of all those things, be necessary? And, if the universe is not the summation of all things in the universe, but more than the universe, then aren’t we just using Universe as a different word for God?

Therefore, the explanation of the reason of the universe is God (following from 2 and 4)

It logically follows, then, that the reason, or explanation, or cause, of the universe is God.


The Leibniz Cosmological Argument provides a strong demonstration of some ultimate, self-existent, necessary being which we call God, but it doesn’t go much further. If this was all we had, we could be left with the Deist conception of God, that Being which “wound up”  the universe and then stepped away.

But when combined with the Moral Argument we can learn more about this Necessarily Existing Being, as a Personal and perfectly good Law Giver.

Up next… the Kalam Cosmological Argument

Book Recommendation

On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision


How to use What does it Mean to be a Christian? in Discipleship

I remember teaching the story of Joseph at a church-based after school program for Junior and Senior High students. When I told them that his brothers sold him into slavery, many of them were genuinely surprised. For them, the story was new and exciting. For me, it was a wake-up call that I could not assume these student would have a basic understand of Christianity I so often took for granted.

What the students thought they knew of Christianity was often skewed, or so incomplete to be unhelpful. They didn’t know how to connect the dots between the gospel and the Christian life, and many had no connection to a local church, or any understanding of why it would be at all important.

In this, and other ministry contexts, I began to see the need to have a ready outline of the Christian faith, something that would present the gospel and the call of salvation clearly, without a lot of religious jargon, that would connect salvation to the life of the Christian and the life of the church. I wrote What Does it Mean to be a Christian? as an attempt to draw out such an outline. It’s an outline, not exhaustive, but complete enough for new and deeper information to be incorporated into the unified cloth of the faith.

In my church context, I have used the content of this book in two specific ways:

  • Introduce teenagers with limited knowledge of Christianity to the basics of the faith
  • Prepare adults to take the step of believer’s baptism

What Does it Mean to Be a Christian? is split into three parts, and outlines the following topics:

Part 1: Salvation

  • The unified story of the Bible: Creation, Fall, Rescue, Completion
  • The character of God: His Divine and Moral attributes
  • Mankind: Made in the image of God, yet slaves to sin, and in need of God’s rescue
  • Salvation: The gift of God and the call to repentance

Part 2: The Christian Life

  • New life in Jesus through the Spirit: Freedom from sin, freedom to serve
  • The greatest commandment: Love God and love neighbor
  • The Spiritual disciplines: Bible reading, Prayer, Church attendance
  • Embracing the “weirdness” of Christianity, being salt and light

Part 3: The church

  • The nature of the Church: An outline of the theology of the church
  • Baptism and Communion: Essential symbols for a distinctive community
  • The relationship between the Church and the World
  • A call to participate in a local, Bible believing, church

How a ministry leader could use What Does it Mean to Be a Christian?

  • Form an outline for further curriculum development
  • Supplemental reading material for classes giving the basics of the Christian faith
  • A resource to provide to those curious about Christianity
  • A resource for new believers to grow in their faith
  • Preparatory reading for teenagers and adults preparing for baptism

Two more essential notes for ministry leaders:

  • What Does it Mean to Be a Christian? addresses sexuality when discussing the Christian life. It is in no way explicit, but it is probably not appropriate for younger kids.
  • If you’re a ministry leader interested in using this book and have questions, or want to know about a group rate, email me at I would be happy to provide copies of this book at cost ($2.15/book + shipping) to anyone using it in a ministry context.

Available on Amazon

(Paperback) (Kindle)


Good News for Families in a Broken World

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”

Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Ephesians 6:1-4

Here we have a partial snapshot of God’s design for the family, wherein parents train and instruct their children and children honor and obey their parents. If we kept to this design we would thrive as individuals, as families, as a Church, and as a society. We would “enjoy long life on of the earth”.

But we don’t live in such a world. We live in a world marred and broken by sin. Here children are often rebellious and parents are prone to neglect their duties to train or instruct. Some are overly harsh in their discipline, even abusive. Or, one parent is entirely absent – having moved on to some other life, in jail, addicted to drugs, sick, or dead.

The brokenness of this world attacks the family both from within and without. Sometimes parents strive with all their might, but they strive against circumstances outside of their control. Perhaps they are not neglectful, but lacking: in knowledge, time, or resources.

As I prepare to preach on this topic this morning I’m painfully aware of the brokenness around me. I know parents who tried with all their might to raise good kids but whose kids have nevertheless turned away from them. And, I know of adults, now grown, who continue to be burdened by strained relationships with their own parents, or who suffer the psychological pain of past abuse.

In this pain we are encouraged to look beyond the moral instruction of the passage to the truth of the gospel. Thankfully we do not only have a list of God’s instructions to follow, but the story of good news in a world where His instructions aren’t followed.

Here’s some good news:

God is our Father. For those who have had harsh or unloving fathers, God’s Fatherhood is both a hard and a necessary teaching.

It is hard, because one might ask: If God is like my earthly father, and I find it impossible to love him, how could I love my heavenly Father? But here we must remember that it is not the God is like our earthly fathers, but that our earthly fathers ought to resemble our heavenly Father, like a mirror reflecting Reality. Too often they don’t, but that’s the fault of the dimness of the mirror, not the Reality which it is supposed to reflect. Still it can be exceedingly hard for some to think of God as their Father.

But, we must, both because that is how God reveals Himself to us and because, in the nature of the reality He has created, we cannot do without a father: a provider, a teacher, one who trains and guides. And we especially need a Perfect One, when the earthly one has so failed. Don’t think of God as an image of your earthly father. See in God the perfect and ideal Father who loves you unconditionally.

Our Heavenly Father adopts. In a sense all people are God’s children by creation. But in a more special sense, it is those who God adopts that are his children by redemption. God seeks out the orphans, those far from him, and brings them into His family. He brings them in through the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus. He expressed His unconditional love – “For God so loved the world” – by giving us the unimaginably great and costly gift of the cross – “that he gave us His only Son”.

No one is beyond His reach. The Biblical story of the prodigal son gives us a beautiful picture here. The rebellious son, having reached the depth of his sin resolves to return home, not as a son but as a slave. But his father, seeing him a long way off, runs to greet him and welcome him back. God wants the prodigals to return. Your child may indeed be beyond your reach, but he is never beyond God’s reach.

God calls us to be like Him. God calls us to imitate His character. God has sole rights to the gospel –He alone calls, saves, adopts, and redeems. But we get to embody the truth of the gospel. In your family God calls you to faithful obedience to your role: to honor your parents and train and discipline your children in love. But your call may go beyond your family, to care for those whose families have been ravaged from within or from without.

God calls us to practice true religion, to care for the widows and the orphans. For some, this might mean adoption. For others, it might be foster care, for still others it might just mean caring for the physical and spiritual needs of hurting families and children. May we heed God’s call, both in our roles as parents and children, and beyond our immediate families as God so wills.