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Discussions 2

By Jim Roberts

~ Questions & Answers ~

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Don’t you think the story of Jonah being swallowed by a whale and surviving after being inside that whale for three days and nights is pretty far-fetched?

I wish all questions received were this easy to answer. What I mean, in this particular case, is I recently published a book entitled, “The Sign of JONAH.” Both the third chapter (“Down the Hatch”) and fifth chapter (“Rough Landing”) deal with your question. Here are some brief excerpts from those two chapters:

“Can a whale swallow a man? Is it possible for a man to survive inside a great fish three days and nights? The Greek word for whale is kêtos, which denotes a huge fish or sea monster. Thus, we find the terms whale, sea monster, great fish, huge fish and big fish in various versions of the Bible.”

“We now know there are species of both whales and sharks fully capable of swallowing a man whole. Several of these include the sperm whale (as in Captain Ahab’s foe – Moby Dick), the whale shark, and in some cases, the great white shark. It’s been established that objects of greater size than most men have been swallowed by these kinds of sea creatures. It may have been a whale that swallowed Jonah, but given the wide latitude associated with the term in Greek, it may have been a representative of another species.”

“Then there is the challenge, ‘Okay, so maybe a great fish did swallow Jonah, how could any man possibly survive inside such a monster three days and three nights?’”

“I once read that a gentleman by the name of James Bartley survived nearly two days in the belly of a great whale prior to being rescued. Apparently, mammals of this size can provide enough oxygen to make it possible to survive within their anatomy for a short duration.”

“Jesus treats the story of Jonah as historical – all of it. According to the words of Jesus, Jonah existed; was a prophet; was indeed swallowed by a huge fish; survived inside the huge fish three days and nights; preached to the people of Nineveh, and they repented (Matthew 12:38-41).”

“Would Jesus compare something as vital and eternally critical for all mankind as His own death, burial, and resurrection with a fictional story?”

I find it uncomfortably odd that the God who created everything everywhere…worlds without end…is considered by some unable to cause a great fish to do His bidding and preserve the life of a man for a specific purpose. Yes, I find that very odd indeed.


Are there any basic or elementary disciplines of the Christian life?

While those things which are most “basic or elementary” may be subject to each individual Christian’s opinion, I would certainly include prayer, Bible study, meditation, worship, and Church-related activity, including personal evangelism.

It’s been said that prayer is the means by which we drag our nets in the seas of God to catch the wondrous blessings of that boundless field of opportunity; the plow by which we cultivate the pastures of God, and the pick with which we mine the gold of God. I suggest you begin and maintain a meaningful life of prayer.

Bible study is serious business. Why? Because it is the inspired word of God, recorded by numerous writers over a period of many centuries, and dealing with all the major challenges faced by mankind. It is not to be read once or twice a month and left to gather dust on a desk or table the rest of the time.

Suppose you wanted to become proficient in the banking profession. Do you think you could accomplish that by strolling through one of your bank’s local branch offices and standing in line for a few minutes once or twice a month? Of course not! I speak from experience when I say it takes many years to become a general banker and to absorb and master bank operations, multi-faceted lending, investments, commercial law, corporate banking, international banking, factoring, financial analysis, accounting, strategic planning, human resources management, electronic and On-line banking, public affairs, marketing, sales, and governmental compliance.

Bible study is really no different. It takes years of prayer, undisturbed reading, in-depth and prayerful meditation, and listening carefully to the guidance of the Holy Spirit as He helps you discern truth from error and build a solid foundation of biblical knowledge in support of your faith in Jesus Christ. This is why the apostle Paul has written, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)

Remember we are to love one another and to do for others that which we want others to do for us. We are to resist temptation and let our light shine for the glory of God. Are these things always easy? No, they are not; but we can do all things through Christ, who strengthens us. (Philippians 4:13)


Genesis 31:34 tells us that Rachel had “household idols.” She hid them in a camel’s saddle and sat on them so Laban couldn’t find them. Why were there idols in the tent of Jacob’s wife? Weren’t idols forbidden by God?

First, let’s quickly and briefly identify the key figures in Chapter 31, and let’s do so in the present tense, as though they are alive while you’re reading this:

Jacob and Israel are one and the same man. (The importance of “Israel” as an ancestral name for the Hebrew people should be obvious as to this day their descendants are still known as the “people of Israel;”) and Laban, Jacob’s father-in-law, is a shrewd desert chieftain of considerable wealth.

Rachel and Leah are Laban’s daughters; Leah being the eldest of the two and Rachel the youngest. Rachel is deemed the most beautiful and the one Jacob loves the most. Both are Jacob’s wives. How and when they became his wives is a story in itself, but we won’t go into that here. Suffice is to say that Laban’s trickery, concerning the manner and timing of his daughters’ marriages to Jacob, shows just how devious Laban can  be.

When first reading the verse in question (Genesis 31:34), Rachel seems to be a poor example of one living in the household of faith. After all, God’s people are to have nothing to do with idols. Yet Rachel has the honor of giving birth to seven of the sons of Israel (Jacob). How can this be?

Many years later, a tablet was discovered at Nuza. It originated at about the time when and the place where Laban lived. The content of the tablet made clear that the possession of the family gods (idols) by a son-in-law (in this case…Jacob), was acceptable legal evidence that the son-in-law had been designated as heir.

So you see, Rachel kept these images of the household gods of Laban as evidence that Jacob was Laban’s heir. Idolatry was not her motive for hiding the idols, but rather hiding the idols was her way of securing the will and title deed to her father’s property for the future benefit of her family.

Like any and all things that may at first seem puzzling in Scripture, there is an explanation if we have sufficient evidence; either through the Scriptures themselves, or others pieces of evidence unearthed from ancient times.    


Do the writers of the four gospels contradict one another concerning their accounts of Christ’s resurrection?

Suppose the two of us and two other individuals witnessed a serious automobile accident involving four vehicles at a busy intersection in a large city. We were all looking in the general direction of the crash. We saw the four vehicles collide. We witnessed the entire incident.

When questioned by the police officers investigating this unfortunate mishap, each of us told them what we saw. We all told the absolute truth concerning what we witnessed, but when the officers’ reports were turned in to their superiors, our accounts of the accident were not exactly the same. You see, each of us emphasized various aspects of the accident. While our stories were not identical is every respect, we nevertheless told the truth and we did not contradict one another.  

In the four gospels we find that Matthew claims Christ first appeared to the women. Mark, Luke and John fail to mention this. By the same token, none of them deny it. Luke mentions Jesus appearing to a pair of disciples on the road to Emmaus, while the other gospel writers do not. Neither do they deny that what Luke said is true. Only John mentions the Lord’s appearance in the upper room. Yet there are no denials of this in any of the other versions of the gospel.

Mark states the women came to Christ’s empty tomb at sunrise. John indicates that Mary Magdalene went to the tomb while it was dark. Thus, there are those who view this as a contradiction. They have not taken into consideration that the women had to walk either from Jerusalem or Bethany, both of which were quite a distance from the location of the tomb. They left when it was still dark and arrived when the sun was coming up. Obviously Mark was referring to when they reached the tomb and John was speaking of their departure for the tomb. There is no contradiction here.

Some critics point out that Matthew and Mark mention only one angel at the tomb, while Luke and John attest to there being two angels. It is erroneous to consider this a contradiction. Matthew and Mark did not say there was only one angel; they merely said that one angel spoke to the women.

The four gospels agree on all the main points concerning the resurrection. Like the reports of the accident mentioned above, some of their details differ…not from the standpoint of contradiction, but rather based on their own focused perspective. One thing they all emphatically agree upon – Jesus the Christ indeed arose from the dead! 

How can I accept Christianity when its very origin is based on a fantasy? Every logical, rational, person knows that a virgin can’t give birth to a baby; it’s a scientific fact!

Your question is closely related to yet another question; i.e., “Are scientific facts and truth always the same?” History has taught us the indisputable response has to be “no.”

Scientific “facts” are often disproved by more contemporary and/or more accurate data. In other words, contemporary scientific discoveries render previous scientific “facts” erroneous or obsolete on a fairly regular basis. This occurs in various disciplines; e.g., medicine, astronomy, oceanography, zoology, etc. Long ago the corporate world recognized the inconsistencies inherent in the realm of “scientific facts” and began applying the term “inexact science” to a number of business specialties; one such example being the wise extension of credit. In that one example, enough variables exist to prove long accepted methods unrealistic and irrelevant in today’s marketplace. Thus, former “facts” are no longer “true.”

It’s a scientific fact that time is linear in nature and space is three-dimensional. Is this necessarily true in an environment where we are discovering new galaxies every few years? Scientific facts are established based on prolonged experimentation, and careful, proof-generating testing processes. Thus, we say it is a scientific fact that a virgin cannot give birth to a baby. This is the result of our best scientific thinking.

By the same token, our best scientific thinking declares the Red Sea can’t be parted and it’s virtually impossible for a young shepherd boy to defeat a heavily armed, gigantic, professional soldier. Such thinking would consider it impossible to immediately convert plain water into the finest wine money could buy, or walk on the sea without sinking. Our best scientific thinking would scoff at the thought of more than five thousand people being fed with five loaves of bread and two fish with leftovers to spare, and a man rising from the dead and walking out of his tomb.

Is believing a miracle relegated only to the “ignorant masses?” Birth in itself is miraculous. Just stop and think for a moment…about human birth, I mean. Envision a microscopic speck of liquid ooze bonding with another tiny bit of nothingness. Nine months later that “bonding” bursts onto the scene as a living person comprised of flesh, bone, tissue, blood, sinew, cells, functioning organs, a beating heart, breathing lungs, eyes that see, ears that hear, a mind that will later operate like a computer, and a voice that cries out, “Hello world; here I am!” If that’s not a miracle, then bumblebees can’t fly; which reminds me, it’s a scientific fact that bumblebees are unable to fly. Their wings are too small and fragile to support their comparatively bulky weight and non-aerodynamic form. Nobody has ever bothered to explain this to the bumblebees; so in their ignorance and naivety, they just go right ahead and…fly!

The virgin birth of Jesus the Christ is clearly documented in the New Testament. The reality of that virgin birth is not dependent on what we   believe, any more than the reality of a bumblebee’s flight depends on what aerodynamics has to say about it. Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary and fulfilled God’s word given seven hundred years earlier through the prophet Isaiah who said:

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign; The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14) Immanuel means “God with us.”

The virgin birth of Jesus is entered into the Holy Scriptures as an historical fact. Unlike a scientific fact, it has not been altered by more contemporary discovery. Throughout Scripture, Jesus has many names; e.g., Immanuel, Prince of Peace, Lord of Lords, King of Kings, Rose of Sharon, Lily of the Valley, Savior, Redeemer, Mighty God, Conqueror, and more.

Incidentally, the origin of Christianity is not rooted in the virgin birth of Christ. On the contrary, Christianity began with the birth of the Church, which took place at Pentecost. Neither of these events are “fantasy,” but were events documented by witnesses who knew Christ, saw him crucified, saw him after his resurrection, and who chose death, rather than renounce what they had seen and knew to be true.  


If God is love and so good, why does he tolerate all the evil in this world?

While many people fail to give God any credit for all the wonderful things that exist throughout creation, they are quick to blame God for the ills of this world.
     A jumbo jet crashes, killing hundreds…it’s God’s fault. Two small children are mauled by a pair of vicious dogs…let’s point the finger at God. Uncle Harry passed away after a lengthy battle with lung cancer…God did it. Young Johnny is mangled by an out of-control car on his way home from school…God is at it again. War breaks out and young men and women are sent into harm’s way…time to indict God!
     Somehow, those who failed to catch the problem in that big jet’s tail assembly, the dog owner who didn’t shut his gate, Uncle Harry’s thirty-eight years of chain smoking and the drunken driver are let off the hook. After all, along with the power-hungry warmongers, they are innocent little lambs, and neither accountability nor responsibility is in their vocabulary.
     This may be one of the most commonly asked questions concerning the way of things. There are those who feel God lacks the power to control his own creation. Thus, natural disasters destroy lives and property, and mankind is its own worst enemy. Others declare that if God does have the power to control all forms of evil and chooses not to do so, then God himself must be evil.
     We know that misery and pain existed during Bible times as the Scriptures contain many examples of the presence of evil. When God made the world and everything in it, all was good. Yet, from the very beginning, humankind displayed disobedience and selfishness.
     Let’s stop and reason this out for a moment. What if God had not created us with a free will? We wouldn’t be any different from robots. God knew that authentic love is expressed only as a result of free choice. God wants us to love him. So mankind was created with the ability to either accept God’s gracious love, or reject it. This ability and freedom to choose gave birth to evil. It is man, not God, who is evil.
     Because of man’s sin, things are out of kilter; the world is not as it was originally meant to be. Man has learned to hate and engage in strife with his fellow man. The natural elements are not always considerate of man.
     The way of the world is evil, and those who love God and follow Jesus Christ are at odds with the world and its systems. Does this mean evil in any form should be acceptable? Absolutely not, as evil was never meant to be, but it is here and Christians are to consistently oppose it whenever and wherever it is encountered.
     God’s purposes are often beyond our comprehension. He did, however, suffer with us by becoming a man and enduring the cross in order to make for us a way of escape and set us free from the penalty of sin.
     The Bible tells us how and why evil originated. It does not make clear why God allows things to happen as they do. God has his reasons and in the long run, his way is best. To blame God for evil, however, is simply a means of avoiding the truth – and the truth is that man disobeyed God and ushered in the issue of sin.


Question: Where Did God Come From?


What human being has not asked this question at some point in his or her life?
Humankind’s level of understanding insists that everything must have an origin, a beginning, or a cause. A chemist creates a formula. An inventor creates a product. An architect creates a structure. Bees create a nest. Mom and Dad create a baby. So, we wonder who or what created God?
      One might as well ask, “How much does yellow weigh?” Or, “What does sound smell like?” If God had to be created, then God wouldn’t be God. God said to Moses, “I AM that I AM.” At any moment in eternity, the great I AM exists.
      The concept that all things must have a cause or a beginning is flawed when considering The Creator. God didn’t have a beginning, God IS the beginning. God is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. The first four words of the Bible are: In the beginning God. Not necessarily the beginning as we envision it, but THE beginning.
      Just because we can’t understand something, doesn’t mean it isn’t true. An example of this is the flight of the bumblebee. Science and aerodynamics, two areas in which we place considerable faith and trust, have at times claimed the bumblebee can’t fly, as it’s wings are too thin and frail to sustain it’s comparable bulky weight and non-aerodynamic form. However, the bumblebee is not aware of these scientific “facts,” so in its naivety and ignorance, the bumblebee simply…flies.
      So it is with those of us who believe in Sovereign God Almighty. We don’t understand how God accomplishes all God does (perhaps because we are not gods), but we have faith in God.
      The scoffers have faith in the man-made brakes on their cars; yet refuse to have faith in the One God, whose existence is evident all around us in the heavens and on the earth. Instead many choose to believe that all the planets, all the stars, the awesome power that holds those enormous orbs in space, the myriad forms of life in the air, on land, and in the seas, the air we breathe, all creation everywhere, came not from the creative power of an infinite being, but rather from a big bang. Bang…rose bushes arrived. Bang…whales came into being. Bang…bananas, apples and oranges appeared. Bang…people emerged from nothingness, etc.
      God is Spirit, and God is to be worshiped in spirit and in truth. God is everlasting. We are created in God’s image. It is not our bodies that are created in God’s image, but our spirits, our souls. Our bodies are temporal; our souls are not.
      This isn’t something man has dreamed-up to comfort his fear of mortality. On the contrary, it’s the believing mind and heart of man, accepting man’s ultimate subservience to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.




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