The Unanswerable Question

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“Will I need an umbrella in Grand Rapids tomorrow?”

Siri: “There’s no rain in the forecast for tomorrow.”

“When was Gettysburg?”

Siri: “I found this for you.”

“What’s the speed of light?”

Siri: “Let me check that for you. This might answer your question.”

“What is God?”

Siri: “I would ask that you address your spiritual questions to someone more qualified to comment, ideally a human.


Siri: “My policy is the separation of church and silicon.”


Siri: “It’s all a mystery to me.”

Actually it’s all a mystery to just about everybody. Libraries have been filled by people trying to answer the question, and most of the books have left us none the wiser.

“What is God?”  This is the question no one can answer, isn’t it!

Well, actually, the Westminster Shorter Catechism had a stab at it and while acknowledging it’s not a complete answer, it’s probably the best brief answer anyone has ever given. Question 4 asks “What is God?” and the catechism answers:

God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.

We’re taught three truths about God here. First, God is Unfathomable. The first words bring us face to face with the immeasurable mystery of God’s being. He is a spirit – he can’t be seen or touched. He is infinite – He can’t be measured. He is eternal – He has no beginning or end. He is unchangeable – no ups, no downs, no developing, no weakening.

Want to blow your mind? Just pick one of these words and think on them for a few minutes. God is Unfathomable – we will never reach the end of knowledge about God. We will never say, “O, I get it now!”

Second, God is Understandable. Some people have heard “God is unfathomable,” and said, “O well, there’s no point in even trying to understand God. But the wonderful thing is that God has made Himself known using words, ideas, and concepts that we can actually grasp. The catechism speaks of God as wise, powerful, holy, just, good, and truthful. We can get that, can’t we. That takes some of the mystery out of it. We’ll never get to the end of God, but these words get us to the beginning.

Third, and this is huge relief, our God is Unique. Catechism 5 asks, “Are there more gods than one?” Answer: “There is but only, the living and true God.” We don’t need to get to know any other god! Because there is only one. Oh, there are many called gods, but they are neither living nor true. They are dead and false. There’s only one true and living God, and that’s the one we’re focusing on.

So, our God is Unfathomable, Understandable, and Unique.

If you know that, like the men who wrote the catechism over 400 years ago, you know more than Siri!

Thanks to my son Angus who is filming and editing this series. To view the previous films click here

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To Tweet or not to Tweet?
During a sermon that is.

Serving up Tweets
Staying on topic, here’s an interview between Ray Ortlund Jr. and Tony Reinke on if/how a pastor should use social media.

Pray for your pastor to have unction
This is so needed. As Spurgeon said: “Where there is no unction it does not matter what we preach or how we preach it.”

Tips for making phone calls you don’t want to make
I find if I schedule them just like a meeting it helps. And if I do them in batches of 3 or 4 then I only have to get over the hump of picking up the phone once rather than 3 or 4 times.

10 body language mistakes that sabotage most interviews
“Professor Albert Mehrabian has stated that only 7% of a message is conveyed verbally, through words. The other 93% is split between tone of voice (38%) and body language (55%). In fact, it’s widely known as the 7-38-55 rule.”

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Now this sounds like a great idea.

Ethical cars with unethical drivers

Prius Hybrid drivers may pride themselves on their “ethical cars” but their driving ethics are nothing to be proud of.

Science Now reports that in a series of tests designed to see whether dishonesty varied with social class, researchers found that privilege promotes dishonesty. Instead of the poor doing whatever it took to get ahead, it was the rich who excelled in this vice. Psychologist David Piff commented:

Our findings suggest that if the pursuit of self-interest goes unchecked, it may result in a vicious cycle: self-interest leads people to behave unethically, which raises their status, which leads to more unethical behavior and inequality.

In a final experiment, the researchers stationed pedestrians at crosswalks, with instructions to approach the crossing at a point when oncoming drivers would have a chance to stop, as required by California state law. What happened next?

Drivers of shiny, expensive cars were three times more likely than those of old clunkers to plow through a crosswalk, failing to yield to pedestrians…High-status motorists were also four times more likely than those with cheaper, older cars to cut off other drivers at a four-way stop.

In fact a third of Prius Hybrid drivers broke the crosswalk laws, putting them at the top of the league for “unethical driving.” Piff’s explanation?

This is a good demonstration of the ‘moral licensing’ phenomenon, in which hybrid-car drivers who believe they’re saving the Earth may feel entitled to behave unethically in other ways.

In other words, sacrificial care for the planet can increase the willingness to sacrifice people!

What else is there to say apart from: “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked! Who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9).

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Kim Shay: “I have been blogging since 2004 and in that time, I’ve learned a lot of hard lessons.  I am not an expert, or even really all that worth listening to, but I do have a few suggestions.” And here’s Dan Phillips with his take on the subject.

How to help a 5-year-old grieve over the sudden loss of her father
“There is no pastoral handbook for this one.  Yet, when my dear friend and deacon in my church was killed in a car crash 3 months ago, his wife and 2 young children were left shocked and full of questions.  This includes his really smart and spunky 5-year-old daughter, who I met with on Monday.”

Happy Birthday Alfred Edersheim
SOme great quotes from one of my favorite OT scholars.

Loving the way Jesus loves
My review of Dr. Phil Ryken’s new book at The Gospel Coalition website.

What we may be missing with our obsession over the Youth
“What have we lost as a culture when we find ourselves so utterly fixated on the ability of a 20 year old kid to dunk a basketball or a pop artist’s voice? We have real live, time-tested legends all around us. As a culture they are not seen to be as valuable. Their appearance is not attractive enough and their stories are not compelling enough to hold our attention. I, for one, feel something of a social rebuke. Can you identify?”

20 Tips on How to Use Bible Commentaries

The following is a summary of the lecture I’m giving today on how to use Bible Commentaries.

1. Use them
“It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what he has revealed to others. My chat this afternoon is not for these great originals, but for you who are content to learn of holy men, taught of God, and mighty in the Scriptures. It has been the fashion of late years to speak against the use of commentaries…A respectable acquaintance with the opinions of the giants of the past, might have saved many an erratic thinker from wild interpretations and outrageous inferences” (C H Spurgeon).

2. Use them for appropriate tasks
Commentaries vary in size, detail, level, and theological basis; they also have different roles in the exegetical process. The following classification is partly chronological – the first books are used earlier in the process than the latter books. (The books in brackets are OT focused and are merely exemplary not exhaustive).

  • Critical: Emphasis on technical matters like the composition of the text rather than its meaning (e.g.  International Critical Commentary, some Word commentaries).
  • Expository (Original Language): Close and detailed exposition of the text, usually requiring some knowledge of the original languages (e.g. some Word commentaries, New International Commentary on the OT, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Mentor series by Christian Focus).
  • Expository (English): Stay close to the text but do not usually deal with critical issues and do not require original language knowledge (Focus on the Bible series by Christian Focus, Evangelical Press Study Commentaries).
  • Summary: Do not explain everything but focus on main points and present conclusions rather than extensive arguments. Excellent summaries of a verse or passage’s teaching. Big is not always better. (e.g. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, Bible Speaks Today).
  • Classical:  Reputable commentaries from the past that usually do not deal with technical issues, but rather the theological meaning of the text (Banner of Truth Geneva series, John Gill, John Calvin).
  • Applicatory: Suitable for lay-people, usually with more of an applicatory focus (NIV Application Commentary).
  • Homiletical: Tend to be the result of sermon series or at least more sermonic in style (e.g. Welwyn, Dale Ralph Davis).
  • Devotional: Extensive comments on spiritually rich texts. Focus on edification rather than critical or controversial issues (e.g. Matthew Henry).

3. Use recommended commentaries
Ask pastors and professors for their recommendations on various books. Weigh the recommendations. Just because a Word series’ commentary on one book is good does not guarantee that they are all good.

Spurgeon: “The best commentators are those who have written upon only one book. Few men can comment eminently well upon the whole Bible.”

There are many OT commentary guide books (e.g. Tremper Longman III, Douglas Stuart, Charles Spurgeon, etc). Here are some online recommendations:

4. Use them late in exegesis
If you use commentaries too early, they will take over and suppress your own thought. Do your own exegesis rather than collate the work of others.

5. Use them to get started in exegesis
This may seem like a contradiction to #4, but what I mean is that you should use commentaries earlier in the process if you get stuck, or perhaps can’t even get started. They can provide helpful or even essential historical, geographical, or cultural background.

Use them to help you with specific issues but leave most commentary reading towards the end of your research. Remember to pray and seek the Holy Spirit’s help rather than just open the nearest book.

6. Use them to confirm or correct your pericope and translation
Checking your pericope selection and your translation with a higher-end commentary before you begin your exegesis may save you a lot of time and energy.

7. Use them to confirm or correct your exegesis
If after exegeting a passage you find a number of commentators contradicting your conclusions, then review your work and decide who is correct.

8. Use them to help you understand grammar and syntax
Some of the more technical commentaries can help you translate difficult parts of the passage, or perhaps highlight grammatical and syntax issues that help to uncover a text’s meaning and message.

9. Use them to highlight unasked questions
When I read a commentary I often find questions raised that I had not even considered, forcing me back to the text.

10. Use them to answer unanswered questions
It may be that at the end of all your exegetical labor that you still don’t have an answer to a question. That’s when reading a number of commentaries can help you better understand the options and arguments and help you to come to a decision.

11. Use them to help you decide what to focus on
Reading a commentary may reveal that what you thought important is relatively unimportant, and may also point you to study further in areas that you thought unimportant.

12. Use them to find other passages that are related to this one.
Commentaries will often provide cross-references or even brief expositions of other passages that have a bearing on this one.

13. Use them to find sources for further reading
Some commentaries, especially the more technical and expository ones, will often list books and journal articles that bear upon the passage.

14. Use them to find opposing arguments and conclusions
As it’s often helpful to listen to the other side of an interpretive debate, make sure you consult commentators who state the other positions fairly, or best of all, read the opposing commentators to help you sharpen your own conclusions or change them.

15. Use them to get quotes to back up conclusions
If your view is out of sync with the majority of commentators, or if it is controversial, it is often helpful to back up your argument and decision with a quote from a reliable commentator.

16. Use them to help you express the meaning
Especially if you’ve been struggling to express your thoughts, commentators can provide you with words that more briefly or clearly express the same thing.

17. Use them by translating their thoughts into your own words
Don’t just string quotes from various commentators together. If you are going to use them extensively, then at the very least, process their thoughts and translate them into your own words, while giving credit for the original thoughts.

18. Use them consistently
If you adopt a conclusion from a commentator, make sure it is reflected in the rest of your work. Go back through and be consistent in your translation or interpretation of a word or phrase.

19. Use them discriminately
Eventually you will get to know the particular theological biases and prejudices in certain commentaries and certain series. As long as you keep these in mind, you can filter out the bones and take the meat. Separate facts from opinion.

20. Use them independently
Don’t become wholly dependent upon commentaries; not even upon one commentator or series of commentaries. We don’t want to belittle commentaries but we don’t want to be bullied by them either. Have confidence in your own prayerful Spirit-led exegesis.

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