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Christian education

A Christian perspective on 2+2

What does math have to do with God? Many people see no connection. Aren't logic, numbers and geometry the same for Christians and atheists? Math is thought to be the hardest subject to integrate with Christianity. Yet, there are very close links between math and God. Mathematical realism The key question concerns truth. Most mathematicians believe that mathematical truths such as "6+1=7" are universally and eternally true, independent of human minds. They believed that they are discovering properties of, say, numbers, rather than merely inventing them. This view of math dates back to Pythagoras (582-507 BC) and Plato (427-347 BC). They held that mathematical concepts apply best to ideal objects. For example, geometry deals with exact circles, but no physical object is exactly circular – perfect circles don’t actually exist. Furthermore, such things as the number "7" seem to exist at all times or, even, beyond time. This led to the notion that math exists in an ideal world of eternal truth. This is called mathematical realism. Where do such eternal mathematical truths exist? Augustine (354-430) placed the ideal world of eternal truths in the mind of God. He argued that eternal truths could not arise from material things or finite human minds. Rather, mathematical truths must depend on a universal and unchanging Mind that embraces all truth. Only God can have such a mind. Thus math was held to be true because of its supposed divine origin. It was held, moreover, that God created the universe according to a rational plan that used math. Since man's was created in the image of God, it was thought that man should be able to discern the mathematical structure of creation. Indeed, since man was God's steward over creation, man had the duty to study nature and to apply the results towards the glory of God and the benefit of man. Such theological considerations were key factors motivating the scientific revolution. Most founders of modern science, such Kepler, Galileo and Newton, were all driven by their Biblical worldview. Naturalist math Ironically, the very success of mathematical science led to the demise of the Christian view. The universe seemed to be so well controlled by mathematically formulated laws that God was no longer deemed necessary. Such over-confidence in scientific laws led to a denial of biblical miracles. This undermined biblical authority. Consequently, many scientists banished God and embraced naturalism, the notion that nothing exists beyond nature. THE LOSS OF CERTAINTY With the rejection of a divine Mind, there was no longer any place for eternal truth. This, in turn, led to the collapse of mathematical realism. Naturalists came to consider math as just a human invention. But if math is just a human invention, why should it be true? Mathematicians tried to prove the truth of math using the axiomatic method. Math was to be grounded on a set of undoubtedly true, self-evident principles, called axioms, from which everything else could be derived. The axiomatic method had been used with great success by the Greek mathematician Euclid (circa 300 BC). He derived all the truths about normal (or Euclidean) geometry from only 10 axioms. This became the model for the rest of math. Towards the end of the 19th century the search was on for a set of self-evident axioms upon which all of math could be based. Any system that yields a contradiction is, of course, false. A system of axioms that will never yield a contradiction is said to be consistent. A system is said to be complete if all true theorems (and no false ones) can be derived from the axioms. The goal, then, was to find a set of axioms that could be proven to be consistent and complete for all of math. Initially, there was some success. Simple logic and Euclidean geometry were proven to be both consistent and complete. Unfortunately, in 1931 the Austrian logician Kurt Gödel proved that the program was doomed. He proved that any large system of axioms (i.e., large enough for arithmetic with addition and multiplication) will always be incomplete.  There will always be theorems that can be neither proven nor disproven by the system. Thus all of math can never be based on a finite set of axioms. Math will always be larger than our human attempts to capture it within a system of axioms. Moreover, Gödel proved also that we can never mathematically prove the consistency of any system large enough for arithmetic. Hence we cannot be sure of the validity of arithmetic, even though we use it all the time! The soundness of math now had to be accepted largely on faith. THE LIMITS OF INVENTION Rejecting theism affected not only the soundness of math but also its content. Classical math was based on the concept of an all-knowing, all-powerful, and infinite Ideal Mathematician. The operations and proofs allowed in classical math were those that could in principle be done by God. It was thought that, if math is just a human invention, its methods should be adjusted accordingly. Only those mathematical concepts and proofs were to be considered valid that could be mentally constructed in a finite number of explicit steps. The "there exists" of classical math was to be replaced by "we can construct." This came to be known as constructive math. It entailed a new approach to both logic and proofs. Classical math is based on what is called two-valued logic. Any mathematical proposition is either true or false. Take, for example, Goldbach's Conjecture concerning primes. A prime is a number that is divisible only by itself and 1 (e.g., 2,3,5,7 & 11 are the first five primes). Goldbach's Conjecture asserts that any even number can be written as the sum of two primes (e.g., 10=3+7; 20=13+7). No one has ever found a number for which it did not hold. But no one has as yet been able to prove it. Classically, this conjecture is either true or false, even though we do not yet know which it is. Constructionists, however insist that there is a third possibility: a proposition is neither true nor false until we can construct an actual, finite proof. The rejection of two-valued logic restricts one's ability to prove theorems. Classical math often uses an indirect method of proof called Proof by Contradiction. To proof a theorem, one first assumes the theorem to be false and shows that this leads to a contradiction; hence the initial assumption is false, which means that the theorem is true. Since such proofs rely on two-valued logic, constructionists reject them. They accept only those theorems that can be directly derived from the axioms. Unhappily, this means rejecting so many results of classical math that one lacks the sophisticated math needed in modern physics. EVOLUTIONARY CONJECTURES If math is just a human invention how did it ever get started? Naturalists propose that evolution has hard-wired our brains to contain small numbers (e.g., 1,2,3…) as well as a basic ability to add and subtract. They conjecture that all our mathematical thoughts come from purely physical connections between neurons. Even if an evolutionary struggle for survival could account for an innate ability for simple arithmetic, it is hard to see where more advanced math comes from. Our ability for advanced math is well in advance of mere survival skills. The evolutionary approach fails to explain also the amazing mathematical intuition of leading mathematicians. Further, if our mathematical ideas are just the result of the physics of neural connections, why should they be true? Such accounts of math cannot distinguish true results from false ones. Indeed, if all knowledge is based on neural connections, so is the idea that all knowledge is based on neural connections. Hence, if true, we have no basis for believing it to be true. In spite of naturalist objections, most mathematicians remain realists. They view new theorems as discoveries rather than inventions. The excitement of exploring an objective mathematical universe is a powerful incentive for research. Realism explains why mathematicians widely separated in space, time, and culture end up with the same mathematical results. Moreover, if math is just a human invention, why is it so applicable to the physical world? Math is indispensable for science. Further, if math is a human invention, one might ask: how did math exist before Adam? Are we to believe that "2+2=4" did not hold, so that two pairs of apples did not add up to four? Christianity and math How does math fits within a Christian worldview? The Bible tells us that man was created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-30). The divine image included not only righteousness but also rationality and creativity. This involves the capacity for abstract thought, as well as the ability to reason, to discern and to symbolize. Man was created with the innate potential to do math, to help fulfill his role as God's steward (Gen. 1:28). Adam could have confidence in his mental abilities because God created these to function properly. He was the result of God's purposeful plan rather than an evolutionary accident. With Adam's fall into sin, man lost much of his original image. Yet, man's mathematical ability is still largely functional. It seems that we are born with various basic, innate mathematical abilities such as those of logic, counting and distinguishing shapes. JUSTIFYING MATH How can we justify human math from this basis? One could try to ground the soundness of math on the Bible. After all, the Bible frequently uses logical arguments (e.g., I Cor. 15:12-50 or Matt. 12:25-29) and arithmetic operations (e.g., Luke 12:52). Gordon Clark claimed that all the laws of logic could be deduced from the Bible. Similarly, J.C. Keister asserted that all the axioms of arithmetic are illustrated in Scripture. Although such biblical examples may confirm our rules of arithmetic and logic, they fall short of rigorous proof. One must be careful in drawing general conclusions from a limited number of specific cases. Moreover, this method gives no basis for the vast bulk of math that extends beyond basic arithmetic and logic. A better approach might be to ground the truth of math on the attributes of the biblical God. For example, God's character has a logical aspect. God's word is truth (John 17:17); God never lies (Titus 1:2) and is always faithful (Ps. 117:2). God means what he says, not the opposite; hence the law of non-contradiction holds. God's identity is eternally the same; hence the logical law of identity must be eternally valid. Thus the very nature of God implies the eternal and universal validity of the laws of logic. Logic is not above God, but derives from God's constant and non-contradictory nature. God's character also has a numerical aspect: the Biblical God is tri-une, consisting of three distinct persons. Since the three persons of the Godhead – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – are eternal, so are numbers. Consider further God's infinite power and knowledge. God knows all things. This includes not just all facts about the physical world but also all necessary truths and even all possibilities. As such, God's knowledge surely embraces all possible mathematical truths. Thus math exists independent of human minds. God surely knows whether any proposition is true or false. Hence the usage of two-valued logic in math is justified. God is the source of all being, upholding everything. He even establishes necessary truths and contingent possibilities. God upholds all truths, including truths about math. God surely knows whether any mathematical proposition is true or false. God's knowledge includes that of the actual infinite. The concept of infinity is crucial to the philosophy of math. We can distinguish between potential infinity and actual infinity. Potential infinity is the notion of endlessness that arises from counting. Given any large number, we can always obtain a yet larger one by adding 1 to it. There seems to be no largest number. Potentially we could go on forever. Actual infinity, on the other hand, is the notion that the set of numbers exists as a completed set. Augustine, however, considered actual infinity to be one of the mathematical entities that existed in God's mind. He wrote, "Every number is known to him 'whose understanding cannot be numbered' (Ps. 147:5)." Since God knows all things possible, this must surely encompass also the totality of all possible numbers. A BASIS FOR MATH Modern math is based on set theory. A set is a collection of objects. We can consider the set of all dogs, or the set of all even numbers, and so on. We use brackets {} to denote a set. Thus, for example, the set of even numbers is written {2,4,6...}. Treating each set as an entity in its own right, we can then do various operations on these sets, such as adding sets, comparing their sizes, etc. Remarkably, almost all advanced math can be derived from the nine axioms of modern set theory. Not all math, since Gödel proved that all of math can never be derived from a limited number of axioms. Yet, it does cover all of the math that most mathematicians ever use in practice. So far no contradictions have been found. Can we be sure, however, that no contradictions will ever be found in this system? Gödel, you will recall, proved that it cannot be proven mathematically that the system is consistent. The best we can do is to appeal to the plausibility of the individual axioms. Everyone agrees that the axioms all seem to be self-evidently true when applied to finite sets. Several of these axioms, however, deal with infinite sets. They postulate that certain operations on finite sets apply also to infinite sets. Infinite sets are needed to get beyond number theory (which just concerns whole numbers) to real numbers (such as √2 = 1.414213..., which requires an infinite number of decimals to write out fully). Real numbers are needed for calculus, upon which physics heavily relies. The axioms concerning infinite sets are rejected by constructionists since infinite sets cannot be humanly constructed in a finite number of steps. However, these axioms are very plausible given an infinite, omniscient and omnipotent being. Georg Cantor (1845-1918), the founder of modern set theory, justified his belief in infinite sets by his belief in an infinite God. He thought of sets in terms of what God could do with them. Cantor believed that God's infinite knowledge implies an actual infinity of thoughts. It included, at the very least, the infinite set of natural numbers {1,2,3...}. Actual infinity could thus be considered to exist objectively as an actual, complete set in God's mind. Cantor believed that even larger infinite numbers existed in God's mind. Even today, almost every attempt to justify the principles of set theory relies on some notion of idealized abilities of the Omnipotent Mathematician. The existence of sets depends upon a certain sort of intellectual activity - a collecting or "thinking together." According to Alvin Plantinga,

"If the collecting or thinking together had to be done by human thinkers there wouldn't be nearly enough sets - not nearly as many as we think in fact there are. From a theistic point of view, sets owe their existence to God's thinking things together."

Plantinga grounds set theory on God's infinite power and knowledge. He concludes that theists thus have a distinct advantage in justifying set theory. A detailed theistic justification of modern set theory has been developed by Christopher Menzel (2001). Ultimately, the consistency and certainty of math can be grounded upon the multi-faceted nature of God Himself. Trust in God generates confidence in math. Bibliography John Byl’s The Divine Challenge: On Matter, Mind, Math & Meaning (2004) Christopher Menzel’s "God and Mathematical Objects" in Mathematics in a Postmodern Age: A Christian Perspective (2001) edited by Russell W. Howell & W. James Bradley Nickel, James Nickel’s Mathematics: Is God Silent? (2001) Alvin Plantinga’s "Prologue: Advice to Christian Philosophers" in Christian Theism and the Problems of Philosophy (1990) edited by Michael D. Beaty Vern Poythress’ "A Biblical View of Mathematics" in Foundations of Christian Scholarship (1976) edited by Gary North

This article first appeared in the February 2008 issue of Reformed Perspective under the title, "A Christian perspective on math." Dr. John Byl is the author of "God and Cosmos: A Christian View of Time, Space, and the Universe" and "The Divine Challenge: On Matter, Mind, Math & Meaning." He blogs at Bylogos.blogspot.com

Some guidelines in teaching math  The goal of Reformed education is to prepare students to serve the Lord (I Cor. 10:3). This entails teaching them to think and function within a Christian worldview. In any discipline one must teach not only the subject matter but how this coheres with other disciplines and finds meaning within the Christian worldview. God's truth functions as a comprehensive unity. Math should thus be taught in terms of various contexts. 1. Mathematical Context In addition to mathematical knowledge we should instill insight into why math works, an appreciation of its beauty and a love for math. 2. Theological Context Math must be connected to the Christian worldview. We should show how Christianity explains mathematical truth, the rational structure of the universe, and our ability to do math. Studying math should be motivated by the love of God and directed to His glory. Studying math tells us something about God (e.g., His wisdom, coherence, boundlessness, consistency, dependability, righteousness). 3. Applied Context We should illustrate how math is an important tool for other disciplines, such as science. Math helps us to fulfill the cultural mandate and to more deeply appreciate God’s wonderful world. We should stress both the strengths and limits of mathematical models: these have to be applied and interpreted in ways that are consistent with Scripture. More generally, math helps to develop logical thinking and analytical problem-solving abilities, skills that are useful in all facets of life. 4. Social context Math teaching can be enriched by linking topics to their historical-cultural context. One could tell interesting anecdotes about pertinent mathematicians, touching also upon their religious motivation. This will bolster also the theological context since Christianity played a large role in the scientific revolution and since most leading mathematicians  (e.g., Descartes, Pascal, Newton, Euler, Cantor, Gödel) were theists.

News

Saturday Selections – November 30, 2019

Is surrogacy the same as adoption? (4 minutes) This short video offers three ways in which surrogacy is different than adoption:

1. Adoption seeks to mend a family wound. Third-party reproduction creates a family wound. 2. With adoption, the child is the client but with third-party reproduction- the adult is the client. 3. With adoption, adults support the child. With third-party reproduction, the children support the adult.

The why behind Christian education Trevin Wax shares 4 reasons to turn to Christian, rather than public, schools. Transgender teen regrets his "Frankenstein" transition Here's the story of one 19-year-old who regrets what doctors and others encouraged him to do to himself. His is a sad story, but an important one to know about so we can share it with confused friends, family, or neighbors. When your child looks at porn Four thoughts on how to help our children when, not if, it happens. How beauty in art points us to God There is a tension in great art. So will there be art in Heaven once the tension between good and evil has been resolved? How Big Government hurts women (6 minutes) God says He made us male and female, we're made in His Image, and it matters (Gen. 1:27, Deut. 22:5, Eph. 5:22-33). So, of course, our God-hating world says no He didn't, no we aren't, and no it doesn't. But their contrarian stance leaves the world scrambling to explain the equality of the sexes (what do we all equally share, if it's not being made in God's Image?), and to explain away the obvious differences that exist between the genders. The most obvious difference is that only women can carry and sustain a child for nine months and for the weeks that follow. Obvious, too, is that a woman who is away from the office caring for her child is not being as productive for her company as the man who continues to put in his 8-10 hours every day. So how does the world address the glaring holes in their worldview? By papering over them with government policies like mandatory maternity leave which requires an employer to keep a woman's position available for her while she is away recuperating and caring for her new little one. It means a woman won't have to quit her job to have a child, and won't have to start from scratch again when she gets back. But such a policy is premised on the idea that a woman at home is a wrong that must be righted, and that women are only doing productive work when they are working outside of the home, so we have to get them back out there. This policy also pretends that a woman who is away from her job for weeks or months is just as valuable to her employer as the man who never left. None of it is true, and as the video demonstrates, reality-denying policies like government-mandated maternity leave make women more expensive, less desirable employees. A better approach? We need to keep preaching, teaching, and living the truth that male and female are equal, not because we are interchangeable, identical, and called to the same roles, but because we are made in God's image.

Economics - Home Finances

The case for biblically-responsible investing

God calls his people to be good stewards of what He has entrusted to us, whether that’s our talents and time or the possessions we’ve been given. It all belongs to God (Ps. 24:1), so just as a steward manages and cares for what belongs to another – and does so as the owner desires – so too we are to manage what belongs to God as He desires. We are also to do everything to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Eating and drinking are two activities we often do without thinking, yet specific mention is made of how even these activities are to be done to the glory of God. How much more then ought we to manage God’s money in a way that glorifies Him! How shall we then invest? So, when it comes to investing, we need to understand that buying shares in a company means becoming a part-owner. And an owner, whether a minority or majority owner, bears responsibility for the actions of a company. In Ephesians 5:11 we are instructed to, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” So here is a key issue for consideration: if a company is doing “works of darkness” being an owner of a company is taking part in those activities. Even if it is a small part, it is still a part. Another consideration is the aspect of making money or profiting from sinful activities. Proverbs 16:8 instructs us in this (as does Prov. 15:6): “Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues with injustice.” As a shareholder, it is not possible to refuse the portion of a dividend or share growth which results from activities which directly contradict Scripture. Receiving that profit, no matter how it is then used, is bringing the “wages of a dog into the house of the LORD your God” (Deut. 23:18). So, what is the problem? The problem is Christians often unknowingly invest in companies which directly contradict Biblical values. An examination of the companies which make up the S&P 500 is alarming. Found there are companies which, among other things, profit from or support abortion, pornography, and gambling. So, what is the solution? What this might look like The solution is what I call “biblically responsible investing.” The goal with this type of investing is to be a faithful steward who glorifies God with the management of His money. In striving for this, a disciplined process is followed which can be summed up in three steps: AVOID THE BAD: Via in-depth research and analysis, we want to actively avoid companies that are at cross-purposes to Biblical values. SEEK OUT THE GOOD: We want to actively seek out companies which value ethical business practices, the sanctity of life, care for the poor, and other biblical values. BE AN ACTIVE OWNER: An investor has a voice in the boardroom and a vote to cast in proxy votes. Rather than remaining silent or letting ungodly money managers cast votes, Christian investors and investment managers can raise their collective voice when needed in the boardroom. Will this always be perfect? Will a company ever find its way through the process? Unfortunately, perfection will not be attained on this side of the grave. A business may hide an unethical practice or donation. However, that is not an excuse not to strive for perfection. This is the way of the Christian life here on this earth. It is a continual striving to walk in the way of godliness, being “holy in all manner of conversation.” We strive to put off and flee from sin. We strive to fight the good fight of faith as God has called us to do. Then, after fighting the good fight, when we are called to give account of our stewardship we, being washed by the blood of the Lamb through no merit of our own, will hear these blessed words:

“Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:21).

Brian Hilt is an Associate Portfolio Manager with Virtuous Investing of Huxton Black Ltd (InvestVirtuously.ca) and passionate about stewardship and biblically-based financial planning and investment advice.

Book excerpts

What a Savior! Christ on the cross intercedes for his enemies

In Dr. Wes Bredenhof’s new book "Seven Wondrous Words" (available in Canada here, and in the US here) he shares Christ’s seven final conversations or “words” from the cross. In this excerpt he addresses the first, “The Word of Forgiveness” when Jesus says: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34a).

****

Perhaps you have heard of The Hunger Games. Some time ago, it was popular in the broader culture and controversial among Christians. The story involves a young woman named Katniss Everdeen. It is set in the future, in a time when the political landscape of North America has radically changed. It is now a country called Panem and there are twelve districts governed by a central region known as the Capitol. In years previous there had been a revolution. The revolution was violently overthrown by the Capitol and now as retribution each year the districts have to send two young people to the Capitol. The young people participate in a reality TV show that involves mortal combat. Only one can survive. There are all sorts of ways to view this story – which is to say there are many classic themes of literature. For many people, one of the most moving moments in the story is right at the beginning. It takes place at what they call “the reaping.” This is where the two young people are chosen by a draw. Katniss Everdeen’s little sister Prim is chosen. The choice means certain death for Prim. She is young and does not stand a chance in the Hunger Games. So Katniss steps forward and takes her place. She essentially offers to die for her sister. She is the substitute. This is one of those classic themes I just mentioned – something that has always resonated with audiences and especially with those who have some familiarity with the gospel and the Savior who offers himself as a substitute for sinners. But very much unlike the Savior, Katniss Everdeen is partly driven to survive by her rage against the system that brought her to the Hunger Games. Yes, she wants to survive for her sister and she tries to help others survive too – she has a sympathetic heart for the weak and helpless. But for her enemies in the Hunger Games she has no sympathy. Moreover, she also hates the people in charge and is filled with spite for them. She wants to destroy them. In this sense, she is a true daughter of fallen Adam and Eve. What a difference from Christ as he hangs on the cross as our substitute! The first of his seven sayings on the cross is often called the Word of Forgiveness. We are going to reflect on the content of the prayer of Jesus, the reasons behind it, and the attitude driving it. WHAT JESUS PRAYS When describing the actual crucifixion of our Lord Jesus, Luke is extremely brief. Verse 33 simply says that when they had come to Golgotha (the place of the skull), “there they crucified him.” Luke wrote his gospel for a man named Theophilus. Luke takes it for granted that Theophilus knew what this involves. He lived in the Roman Empire and so he surely knew the drill for Roman crucifixion. Luke did not need to go into the details. He did not need to tell of how the rough cross was laid out on the ground, of how Jesus was thrown down onto it and nailed to it. Luke did not need to tell of how the cross was then lifted up, with Jesus nailed to it, and then dropped into a previously dug hole in the ground. Theophilus knew all that. People were crucified by Rome all the time. As you might expect, it was customary for those who were crucified to die with some fairly foul words on their lips. The crucified would usually curse the Romans for their cruelty. They would usually curse the crowds watching and jeering. Under the best circumstances, someone might just die quietly without saying a word. But that would have been unusual. The more typical crucifixion involved crude words filled with hatred and anger.1 Realizing this makes Jesus’ first words on the cross all the more remarkable: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Now as he hangs on the cross, he does the very thing he taught. Even at this moment, he is being obedient to the will of God and doing so in our place. Yes, he is suffering to pay for our sins, but he is also still actively obedient in our place. There is overlap here between what theologians call the passive obedience of Christ (his suffering obedience) and his active obedience. But the thing to keep in the front of your mind here is that this is not just some tidbit of Bible trivia: Jesus prayed for his enemies, for those who persecuted him. It is something he did for you – in your place. His righteousness here, too, is imputed to you, which means that it is credited to your account. This is personal. Do not let that slip by you here. There is gospel encouragement in that for people who have failed in following God’s will in this. After all, it is so hard to love your enemies and pray for those who attack you. You may have failed in doing that, but Jesus did not and God looks at you through him. Your Father sees his Son and he sees you in him. You see, this is not just okay news, this is good news! This is grace. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Many questions come into our minds as we hear these words. Let me try and answer as many of them as I can. As we do, the wonder of grace here should become more apparent. First of all, who are “them” and “they”? Who is Jesus speaking about? Our thoughts would first go to the Roman soldiers who are standing by and getting their hands dirty in all this crucifixion cruelty. Certainly, they had no idea what was happening. They had little (if any) clue that they were torturing and killing the Lord of glory. Jesus asks the Father to forgive the Roman soldiers. But does he also have the Jews in mind? To answer that, we could turn to Acts, which is part 2 of Luke’s historical work for Theophilus. In Acts 3:17, the apostle Peter tells a Jewish crowd in Jerusalem, “Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders.” Peter says that they did not know what they were doing. They understood it at some level, but in a real way they were just driven by what John Calvin called “inconsiderate zeal.”2 They were led on by their emotions. Perhaps there were some in which there was a wicked spirit and premeditation. With some there may have been knowledgeable intention, but not all. Many were caught up in the mob mentality. So, yes, it is fair to say that Jesus had Jews in mind too. As he was being crucified, many of the Jews and their leaders stood round to watch. Verse 35 even says it, “The people stood by watching, but the rulers scoffed at him…” So Jesus is asking the Father to forgive both the Romans and the Jews involved in his crucifixion, for they were sinning in ignorance and not with what the Old Testament called the uplifted hand.3 But what does it mean that Jesus asks the Father to forgive them? Can he even do that? Does that mean this sin was forgiven? In the Bible forgiveness is a transaction which removes an obstacle in a relationship. It involves a promise that the sin committed will never be brought up again and will never be used against the person who committed the sin. When describing God’s forgiveness, we find these powerful images in the Bible of God casting our sins into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19) and removing them as far as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:12). God no more remembers our sins, which is to say, they are no longer a barrier to covenant fellowship (Jer. 31:34). That is what Jesus is asking for. However, in order for that to happen, there will have to be repentance. There will have to be a turning from the sin committed. That is what happens in Acts. When the Jews hear the preaching of the gospel at Pentecost and other occasions, some of them are cut to the heart. They ask, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter says, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins…” We can say this happened because of the preaching of the apostles. We can say this happened because of the work of the Spirit. However, we can also say all this ultimately happens because of the prayer of Christ on the cross. Jesus asks the Father to forgive them, which means he was asking the Father to set the wheels in motion so that all the pieces would later fall together so that they would repent and believe. Many did – thousands, in fact. They repented and sought the forgiveness of sins in the blood of Jesus and received that forgiveness from God. Now probably another burning question has to do with what we are to do with this. Can we pray to the Father for the forgiveness of those who hurt us? To answer that we ought to think about our relationship to Jesus Christ. The Bible describes that relationship in several ways. One is found in John 15:5 where Jesus says he is the vine and we are the branches. This pictures our spiritual union with Christ through the Holy Spirit and faith. If we are truly united to him, then our lives ought increasingly to reflect his. Another important picture of our relationship with Jesus is that of a Master and his disciples. All Christians are disciples of Jesus Christ. It is crucial to recognize that the biblical notion of discipleship includes following the example of the Master. Jesus reflects this in John 13:34-35:

…just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

Therefore, being a disciple of Jesus means becoming like him. Union with Christ and discipleship are two key ways to consider application here in Luke 23:34. These sorts of notions are in the background of what the Holy Spirit says in 1 Peter 2:21-23:

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.

To see an example of that in action, we can turn to Acts 7:59-60. When Stephen is being stoned, as he is dying, he echoes Jesus’ words. He prays to Jesus, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” He prays in almost the exact same way as his Savior. He has a forgiving and gracious spirit. His heart has been touched by God’s grace in Christ and he cannot die like so many others, with words of bitterness and cursing on his lips. Christ prayed for his enemies, Stephen prayed for his enemies, Christians are to pray for their enemies. In union with Christ and as his disciples, we are to pray that they would be brought to forgiveness through the blood of Christ. The Word of God calls us to this stance of grace towards those who might hate us and would hurt us. WHY JESUS PRAYED THIS “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” Why did he pray this? In the first place, it was to fulfill Old Testament prophecy. Isaiah 53:12 speaks of substitution: “For he bore the sin of many,” but then it also speaks of prayer, “and makes intercession for the transgressors.” Our Lord Jesus knew this prophecy and he knew this was what was needed. He made intercession for sinners – he spoke up on their behalf before the throne of God. That brings us to the second reason why he spoke these words: to magnify his grace and love for us. Jesus is portrayed here as the priest making intercession for sinners still lost in their sin and still under sin’s condemnation. That reminds us that he cares about us long before we make any moves towards him. Quite remarkably, Scripture even tells us that Jesus prays for those who do not yet believe. Sometimes we have this idea that, at the right hand of God, Jesus’ ministry of intercession only involves people who already believe. We have this idea that he only prays for Christians and speaks up on their behalf. Yet that is actually unbiblical. He said in John 17:20 that he also prays for those who will yet come to faith through the preaching of the gospel. When did Jesus begin praying for you? As soon as you became self-consciously committed to him, whenever that was? No, he has been praying for you all along, praying along the same lines as what we find in Luke 23:34. He has been praying that you would find grace and forgiveness in his sacrifice once offered on the cross! You see, his grace is far more wondrous than we often realize. He spoke these words on the cross to bring us to the realization of that. He wants us today to see the deep, deep love of Jesus, so we would love him in return and long to live for his glory. A third reason why he prays here has to do with where he is in his ministry. He is at the end of his three years of preaching and teaching. It began with prayer back in Luke 3:21 and now it ends with prayer.4 In fact, it must end with prayer. There is nothing else he can do. That hands that healed are nailed to the cross. The feet that traveled from town to town preaching are nailed to the cross. There is no more room in any synagogue for him and certainly not in the temple. What is left for him? He can only pray and that is what he does. When he cannot do anything else, he prays. That is powerful enough. When everything else is stripped away, there often still remains the possibility to pray. And prayer should never be underestimated. Jesus’ prayer was answered beautifully in the book of Acts. We are united to Christ through faith, and as we pray, we can also do so with the hope and expectation that our prayers will be answered. There may not be anything else we can do but pray, but God will hear and answer. Maybe not always in the way we asked or expected, but his promises are sure. He always hears and answers prayer offered in the name of Christ. You can count on it. HOW JESUS PRAYED THIS That brings us last of all to consider his manner in this prayer. I can be even briefer on this point, because it should be obvious from everything else. This prayer is drenched in wondrous grace. There is amazing grace, even if his oppressors are ignorant of what they are doing, even if they do not fully comprehend the extent of their evil, and even if they are still violent and bloodthirsty. What do these Roman soldiers deserve from God’s hand except his wrath? What are the wages for the sin of these Jewish crowds and their leaders? Do they not deserve death? Could not Jesus justly call down bolts of lightning from the sky to incinerate them on the spot? He could stop the wind and the waves, could he not do the reverse and call in a tornado to give these sinners a taste of what they have coming? They deserve all that and worse. They deserve the cup of hell he is drinking. But instead, he utters words of mercy: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” It is truly amazing when you stop and think about it. We hear forgiveness prayed for those sneering, for those mocking, for those nailing, for those stripping him naked. Grace for those hurling insults and taunting him. Mercy for those whose commitment to him flags and fails. For me – and you. He does not return evil for evil. What a Savior! Now you may be thinking: was this not the same Jesus who preached woes against the Jews in the Olivet discourse? In Mark 13 and Matthew 24, Jesus prophesied the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and the terrible covenant curses that would fall on the Jews for their unbelief. How does all of that tie into the first word from the cross? Note well: the fall of Jerusalem did not take place right away. In his mercy, God delayed. God gave the Jews some forty years to hear the gospel of grace. They were given much time to repent and believe. Some did. They found forgiveness in the blood of Christ and while the covenant curses raining down around them affected them, they were not directed at them, nor did they have any relationship to their eternal destiny. The central thing to remember is that God gave time. In reply to Christ’s prayer, God mercifully gave room for the preaching of the gospel to be heard among all the Jews following Pentecost. The dreadful covenant curses fell on those who remained in unbelief. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” This first wondrous word from the cross is a word of grace. In this prayer, you can see what your Savior is all about. As he enters into the darkness of our curse, he says, “Remember that I practice what I preach. I preach grace and I embody grace.” His grace and mercy are for you. He uttered these words in obedience for your benefit, so that you are declared righteous by God and can stand before him without fear of condemnation at the Day of Judgment. He also spoke these words to show us, who are united to him, how we are to be a gracious people, even with those who seem to have it in for us. We see grace here and how to respond to grace with more grace. All of that results in praise and glory for the God of grace and our Savior. QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION Can you think of other examples from Scripture and church history of believers reflecting their union with Christ in forgiving their oppressors as he did? Arthur Pink asserts that Peter’s eloquence was not the cause of the conversion of the 3000 on the day of Pentecost. Rather, he insists, it was the prayer of Christ. What is your evaluation of this assertion? Why is it so challenging for us to adopt the forgiving attitude of our Savior in Luke 23:34? What does Scripture say about this in passages like Matthew 18:21-34? Is it legitimate to conclude that in the first word from the cross, our Lord Jesus was only praying for the elect? Why or why not? As we saw above, Christ’s prayer effected a delay in God’s judgment over the unbelieving Jews. Does this relate to the preaching of the gospel inside and outside the church in our day? If so, how?  ENDNOTES 1 Tom Wright, Luke For Everyone (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), page 284. 2 John Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists (Vol. 3) (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979 reprint), page 301. 3 Numbers 15 makes a distinction between sin committed unintentionally (Num. 15:22,27) and sin committed “with a high hand” (Num. 15:30). 4 Arthur W. Pink, The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1958), page 9.

“Seven Wondrous Words” is available in Canada at The Study (thestudy-books.com), in the USA at Amazon.com and in Australia at Amazon.com.au. 

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Economics - Home Finances
Tagged: business, featured, investing

The case for biblically-responsible investing

God calls his people to be good stewards of what He has entrusted to us, whether that’s our talents and time or the possessions we’ve been given. It all belongs to God (Ps. 24:1), so just as a steward manages and cares for what belongs to another – and does so as the owner desires – so too we are to manage what belongs to God as He desires.

We are also to do everything to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Eating and drinking are two activities we often do without thinking, yet specific mention is made of how even these activities are to be done to the glory of God. How much more then ought we to manage God’s money in a way that glorifies Him!

How shall we then invest?

So, when it comes to investing, we need to understand that buying shares in a company means becoming a part-owner. And an owner, whether a minority or majority owner, bears responsibility for the actions of a company. In Ephesians 5:11 we are instructed to, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” So here is a key issue for consideration: if a company is doing “works of darkness” being an owner of a company is taking part in those activities. Even if it is a small part, it is still a part.

Another consideration is the aspect of making money or profiting from sinful activities. Proverbs 16:8 instructs us in this (as does Prov. 15:6): “Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues with injustice.” As a shareholder, it is not possible to refuse the portion of a dividend or share growth which results from activities which directly contradict Scripture. Receiving that profit, no matter how it is then used, is bringing the “wages of a dog into the house of the LORD your God” (Deut. 23:18).

So, what is the problem? The problem is Christians often unknowingly invest in companies which directly contradict Biblical values. An examination of the companies which make up the S&P 500 is alarming. Found there are companies which, among other things, profit from or support abortion, pornography, and gambling.

So, what is the solution?

What this might look like

The solution is what I call “biblically responsible investing.” The goal with this type of investing is to be a faithful steward who glorifies God with the management of His money. In striving for this, a disciplined process is followed which can be summed up in three steps:

  1. AVOID THE BAD: Via in-depth research and analysis, we want to actively avoid companies that are at cross-purposes to Biblical values.
  2. SEEK OUT THE GOOD: We want to actively seek out companies which value ethical business practices, the sanctity of life, care for the poor, and other biblical values.
  3. BE AN ACTIVE OWNER: An investor has a voice in the boardroom and a vote to cast in proxy votes. Rather than remaining silent or letting ungodly money managers cast votes, Christian investors and investment managers can raise their collective voice when needed in the boardroom.

Will this always be perfect? Will a company ever find its way through the process? Unfortunately, perfection will not be attained on this side of the grave. A business may hide an unethical practice or donation. However, that is not an excuse not to strive for perfection. This is the way of the Christian life here on this earth. It is a continual striving to walk in the way of godliness, being “holy in all manner of conversation.” We strive to put off and flee from sin. We strive to fight the good fight of faith as God has called us to do.

Then, after fighting the good fight, when we are called to give account of our stewardship we, being washed by the blood of the Lamb through no merit of our own, will hear these blessed words:

“Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:21).

Brian Hilt is an Associate Portfolio Manager with Virtuous Investing of Huxton Black Ltd (InvestVirtuously.ca) and passionate about stewardship and biblically-based financial planning and investment advice.


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