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#41 A Struggling Son

January 28, 2008

Our son accepted Christ when he was 3 and as his understanding grew, his profession of commitment grew. He’s now 22 and says for the first time, he’s really questioning exactly what/why he believes, etc. One of his questions: Why is God such a judge in the Old Test. and more of a “pacifist” in the New. If this is the same God, why does He seem to be treating people so differently? We’ve tried answering this question and others, but Jon doesn’t seem satisfied. I should add that from the age of 7 to now, 8 different Christian authorities in his life have really let him down. This includes 3 church pastors, 3 Christian school authorities, 1 college authority, and 1 Christian employer. He’s angry at the Church. We’re friends of Joan H— and she recommended writing you. Thank you for any suggestions that you might have. He’s at a Christian University and is not going to church, but is reading his Bible, praying and tithing. As parents, how should we handle this? He’ll graduate in December and will then go to grad school in fall of 2008. We saw you speak at our church, and Joan highly respects your opinion.


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Dr. craig’s response


There are a couple of questions here, Barb, and I suspect the personal question is the more important for you. Those of us who have been parents know the agony you can go through with your children, especially when it comes to their spiritual development (or lack thereof). We so want them to find all the joy that knowing Christ affords, and yet so often it seems that our children just don’t act in their own best self-interest.

As to the question your son asks, I must confess that I’ve never understood those who think that the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament look different. I can’t help but think that such folks haven’t really read all of the Bible, but just parts of it and so have formed this misimpression. When you read the book of Ezekiel, for example, one can only be astonished at a God who would so demean Himself as to literally plead with people to repent so that He need not punish them! We have here the almost unseemly spectacle of the God of the universe begging sinful, rebellious people to turn from their wickedness, lest He be forced to judge them. You’d think He’d just annihilate the wretches! I’ve never ceased to be amazed at God as revealed by Ezekiel.

On the other hand, read a terrifying passage like Revelation 19.11-16 on Christ’s judgement of mankind. Nothing in the Old Testament equals this horrifying image of the great winepress of God’s wrath, crushing sinners like grapes. Jesus himself warned constantly of hell and urged people to find the narrow road that leads to salvation.

The best argument that the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament are one and the same is the fact that Jesus of Nazareth was himself a Jew, devoted to the God of the Old Testament, and did not consider Himself to be revealing anyone else but the God of the Old Testament as His Heavenly Father. To suggest that the God revealed by Jesus is different than the God we read about in the Old Testament is to contradict Jesus’ own belief and testimony. He didn’t think they were different or inconsistent, so why should we? Nor did any of the apostles, including Paul, all of them Jews, think that they were worshipping a God different than the God of their fathers. If they didn’t think so, why should we?

Perhaps the popular image of God’s being more judgmental in the Old Testament arises from the fact that in the Old Testament we have, at least for a time, a theocracy, where God was the head of the government. Society’s laws and God’s laws were the same. In such a circumstance the awful holiness of God is brought directly to bear on people’s sinful actions. We see how much God hates sin and what punishment it deserves in His eyes. But Israel ceased to be a theocracy. By the time of the New Testament Israel was under the rule of the Roman Empire. So what is moral and what is legal fall apart. Judgement is deferred until the general resurrection at end of history. Similarly, today we do not live under a theocracy. That’s why it’s a mistake when Christians try to make God’s laws the law of the land. What is immoral need not be illegal. For that reason, in arguing for the prohibition of certain actions, like abortion on demand, we cannot just quote the Bible but must develop non-sectarian arguments with a broad moral foundation. Anyway, it may be that a lack of understanding of the different circumstances has fostered this misimpression that God as revealed in the New Testament has mellowed in His view of sin.

As for what you can do, as our son once told us, it’s too late for you to do anything. He’s an adult. He’s beyond your influence now. Your influence was put into him all those years growing up, and you should just pray that the Holy Spirit will kindle those deep-seated influences to finally draw him back to a victorious Christian life. Of course, you can help him by fully loving and accepting him, no matter what he believes, even if you disagree and hurt for him. Just don’t bug him or try to reform him, as this might only drive him away.

One thing you can do is to study up yourself on the questions he raises, so that if he brings one of them up, you can give an intelligent and well-thought out answer. Have you taken the time to do this? Have you educated yourself on the issues he raises, so that he cannot dismiss your beliefs as blind, uninformed faith? Especially, has your husband done this? As his father, he’s the one who needs to present an intelligent, trustworthy model of a Christian man—especially given so many who have failed your son in this regard.

“Lord, give Barb comfort for the ache in her heart, as her son goes through this period of re-thinking his faith. Give her patience to let Your Holy Spirit do His work. May she and her husband find in this trial an opportunity to think through these questions afresh themselves and so to become better equipped to give an answer for the hope that is in them. And minister to their son, Lord! Stir up afresh all that he has learned and believed over the years and restore his confidence in those truths. Heavenly Father, convict him of his own anger and bitterness with those who have failed him and give him a forgiving and compassionate spirit. Help him to see that our confidence is in You alone, that men will fail us and that we therefore dare not look to men or place our confidence in men, but only in You. We pray for our brother through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.”

- William Lane Craig