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There are many things about Christianity that are so unique that people outside of the Christian system have a hard time understanding them. It is not just atheists and skeptics who struggle with this issue, but many people who claim to be Christians and attend church regularly have the same problem. It is easy to see why this is true because Jesus' disciples failed to understand and attempted to make Christ a political and military figure. When Judas and the religious leaders of the day came to seize Christ, Peter drew his sword and attacked, cutting off the ear of Malchus (John 18:10). James and John sent their mother to Christ asking him to make them top officials in his kingdom (Matthew 20:21).
We cannot be too hard on people who struggle with understanding this because throughout history churches have gotten caught up in the political and military notion of Christianity. The structure of many denominations copies the Roman concept of a top commander like Caesar. His subordinates ruled divisions of the Roman Empire and had lieutenants who answered to them. In Catholicism, we see the pope, cardinal, bishop, etc., arranged similarly. Many denominations and mega-churches have a similar pyramid structure.
If your notion of what God wants his followers to be is political or military, you do not understand why God sent his Son to Earth to live among us and establish the church. You are also not in a position to answer the hard questions about why God created us and why we suffer. Hopefully, we can approach those questions more reasonably when we get a complete picture of what Jesus meant when he said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).
From the very start of human existence on Earth, what defined humans as being unique was the fact that we were created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26, 27). In the beginning, human communication with God was direct and personal and involved the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We see that in the fact that the word for God is the plural form Elohim and the fact that God said, “Let US create man in OUR image” (emphasis mine). The other thing that was unique to humans was our capacity to love in a way that was not sexual or survival-based. That kind of love comes from being created in God's image. “God is love” (1 John 4:8), and we can uniquely choose to love. Without choice, love is not possible. Sexual love without choice is rape and has no love in it at all. All kinds of love that involve true emotional satisfaction require choice.
When Adam and Eve chose to reject God and his love for them, a struggle between good and evil began. Humans became the playing field for that struggle. Angels became a part of the battle joining with Satan and those who embraced evil. The Old Testament is full of stories of people rejecting God's way and suffering the consequences of that rejection. Ephesians 6:12 tells us clearly, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, but against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 3:10 – 11 tells us that God's “intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The struggle between good and evil has been the theme of nearly every video game, movie, and novel ever written. The problem is not in recognizing the struggle, but in believing that we are a part of it. We play games where we “zap” the bad guys, but then real life comes around, and we begin to see that the bad guys are not just weak charlatans wearing sinister costumes. ISIS has shown us just how bad sin can be. In the past, the bad guys have shown their fruit from Cain to Jezebel to Judas. Galatians 6:7 tells us that evil begets evil. Every attempt of humans to live by their own rules instead of God's has ended in disaster. Anyone who believes that humans can live good and productive lives entirely on their own is either too young or too isolated, or he is deliberately deceiving himself. Man's inhumanity to man is based on a mentality that justifies everything on the basis of “survival of the fittest.” Even religions who use force to impose their belief systems maintain that their religious leader rains destruction on other beliefs because he/she/it is more powerful than all other systems.
The culmination of all of this reached a peak with the series of human power dynasties starting with Nebuchadnezzar and ending with the Roman Empire. All human attempts to build a system of good that would endure and eradicate evil, ended with the final destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem in 70 A.D. It was during this process that the true power of good over evil came into the world. Evil lost its most powerful tool as God became man and destroyed death. This did not happen by human violence, war, hatred, politics, or any human creation. The victory of good came by the overpowering capacity of love.
The Bible makes it clear that God's plan for this and for God's entry into the battle was planned from the start, but known only to God (Ephesians 3:9). In Genesis 3:15, God predicts the ultimate end to the battle with Satan's “head” being crushed. That crushing is not militaristic but a reference to Christ's sacrifice and victory over death. Peter tells us that angels knew the objective, but not the plan, “… 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 1:12). The last book of the Bible describes the overthrow of tyrannical Rome and urges Christians to be encouraged that unlike earlier followers of God, they would see the power of God overthrow the evil that had afflicted them so horribly. Hebrews 11:13 tells us of the great biblical heroes who never got to see God's triumph.
All of this tells us how special the birth of Christ was. It was not just the babe in the manger, the miracle of conception accomplished by the Holy Spirit, or the star of Bethlehem that made this event special. What made it the most significant event in history was the fact that God became man and lived for awhile among us. God who created time and began the beginning also lived without sin — something only God could do. In the lifetime of a human, God would teach and demonstrate what good is all about. Matthew 5 – 7 tells us of God's plan for replacing human legalism with heart attitudes of love and reconciliation. Human theocratic society rejected this and embraced evil to physically oppose it.
The final victory of good over evil would come when good destroyed death. To accomplish that, God had to start with life, so Jesus was born physically. For God to have avoided death in some way would not have shown God's absolute power over all that evil could offer. Hebrews 4:15 tells us that none of us will be able to say to Jesus in judgment, “Lord, you don't know how it was!” That is because Jesus “has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet he did not sin.” God came to Earth and became a man. To the skeptic or proponents of other religious beliefs, this is beyond comprehension. They want their leaders to be great military and political leaders. Mohammed was one of the greatest military minds that ever lived. The Hindu beliefs revolve around successful conflict among human or animal-like gods and goddesses. Buddha rejected much of what the Hindu system taught, and the Dali Lamma has flatly stated, “There is no God or supreme being.” Atheists like Peter Singer and Richard Dawkins continue to harp on the physical characteristics they ascribe to God. Their concepts of God violate the biblical descriptions.
The skeptic is left with one alternative — to deny that good and evil exist! Dawkins says it best “In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky; and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at the bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference. … DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music” (River Out of Eden [New York; BasicBooks, 1995], page 133).
Why did God become man? “To make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ephesians 3:9 – 11). And to do so in such a way that there could be no doubt about the sources of all kinds of good and evil.
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