All posts by Richard L. Smith

The Serpent Spoke

The drama in Genesis 3 depicts the first couple, Adam and Eve, at their antithetical worst. The narrative asks to whom they should listen―God or the snake (3:17). Sadly, in the face of the serpent’s assault, they were clueless. Eve was exquisitely gullible. Adam was feeble and negligent. Both were bewildered and culpably unknowing. Their fallibility was on display for the entire divine court to witness.

From a literary point of view, Adam and Eve’s demise was the “prototypical tragedy.” Leland Ryken provides the details: an initial problem, an erroneous decision based upon folly and disobedience, resulting in self-induced affliction, unwanted epiphany, and ultimately punishment and exile. As a result, chapter three resonates with bitter irony as Adam and Eve experienced an inversion of the “rags to riches” story.

The drastic changes unleashed by Adam and Eve brought about chaos and turmoil in every sphere of existence. The 17th century Czech Reformer, Jan Amos Komenský, explained in vivid fashion what the reversal implied for Adam and Eve in everyday experience, even in their own marriage (Gen 3:16). Indeed, these realities became increasingly apparent in the developments recorded in Genesis 4–11:

For what is in relation to people as it ought to be? What stands in its proper place? Nothing. Everything is upside down, everything has gone wrong, for all the order, all the government, all the noble features are scattered … Instead of unity, there are discords, quarrels, and rages, secret malice as well as open hostility, fights and wars. Instead of righteousness, there are injustice, robberies, thefts; everyone greedily amasses only for himself or herself. Instead of purity, there is lechery, both internal and external; there is adultery, infidelity, misconduct, and lewdness, both in the mind and in speech. Instead of truthfulness, there are lies and gossip everywhere. Instead of humbleness, there is arrogance and pride, preening and boasting; one rising against the other. Woe to you, miserable generation, how deeply you have sunk into wretchedness!

According to the Bible, this is world we live in―“under the sun” according the Solomon (Eccl 1:3) or as Paul says, “the present evil age” (Gal 1:4). All of the tragedy and brokenness we observe and experience arose because Adam and Eve listened to the snake rather than God (Gen 3:17).

Which makes me think of two questions:

How does the serpent speak to us today?

What tragedies and brokenness result from listening to him?




In the Bible, the word “therefore” has a very important function. The frequent use of the term is related to what scholars call the indicative-imperative dynamic. The indicative is a statement of redemptive fact or divine truth. The imperative is the command or application that results. “Therefore” points to the logical inference between the indicative and imperative. It can be either actual (or literal) or implied (as a logical implication). Let’s look at two examples:

For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. (Lev 11:44, ESV)

Indicative                                 Inference                     Imperative
I am the Lord your God    therefore                     consecrate yourselves for I am holy                                                                      and be holy

 We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19, ESV)

Indicative                                 Inference                     Imperative
he first loved us                    because                        we love

The indicative indicates a theological assertion, and the imperative expresses an ethical or religious obligation. The term “therefore” (actual or implied) functions as the rational link between fact and the action that should result. Here are two other examples:

 All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me [indicative]. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations [imperative]. (Matt 28:18b–19, ESV)

I appeal to you therefore, brothers by the mercies of God [indicative], to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship [imperative]. (Rom 12:1, ESV)

How does the indicative-imperative dynamic apply to our life here and now? Let me provide two illustrations.

A classic example of the indicative-imperative formula concerns the men of Issachar: “From Issachar, men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel should do” (1 Chron 12:32, ESV). They discerned what was important in their time. God had raised up David as the new king (indicative) and they knew what to do about it: commit their forces to serve in his army (imperative). They did not act without thinking or think without acting. Indeed, we face a similar challenge today. We must discern what is really important and know how to respond. If we want to become heirs of Issachar in our time, we must learn how to think utilizing the indicative-imperative dynamic of the Bible.

The second example is from Deuteronomy 6:4–5, the famous Shema: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God,  the Lord alone! Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength” (NABRE). The indicative assertion concerns the divine nature: “The Lord is our God, the Lord alone!” Yahweh Elohim, by definition (the indicative), is the personal absolute and only God. As David asserted, “There is no one like you, Lord, and there is no God but you, as we have heard with our own ears” (1 Chron 17:20, NIV).

The imperative is also absolute: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength.” Given who God is, our response must be universal―with all our being and total devotion. In fact, the “therefore” of the Shema underscores a holistic spirituality that presumes both orthodoxy and orthopraxis. For this reason, when asked, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus cited Deuteronomy 6:4–5 with Leviticus 19:18:

 Jesus replied, “The first is this: ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! [Therefore] You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

 As you can see, “therefore” is a very important word in biblical theology. We must learn to think with both the indicative and the imperative. Discernment entails “what” and “why” thinking (indicative and theological), as well as “how” and “when” thinking (imperative and pragmatic). Otherwise, we might act without thinking or think without acting.



“My People Are Foolish; They Know Me Not”

Jeremiah 4:22 announces a dramatic rationale for the impending judgment upon Israel:

For my people are foolish; they know me not; they are stupid children; they have no understanding. They are “wise” — in doing evil! But how to do good they know not.

This verse shows that Israel did exactly opposite of what knowing God demands. They did not repent of evil, fear the Lord or listen to his voice. As a result, they became totally disoriented in thought and desire, piety and ethics. They did not know what truly matters or what to do about it. They were spiritually illiterate and ethically worthless. Their lack of knowledge made them clever only for unrighteousness and idolatry.

Verses 23–26 present the spiritual and social disaster that befell God’s people when they became willfully ignorant and foolish:

 I looked on the earth, and behold, it was without form and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light. I looked on the mountains, and behold, they were quaking, and all the hills moved to and fro. I looked, and behold, there was no man, and all the birds of the air had fled. I looked, and behold, the fruitful land was a desert, and all its cities were laid in ruins before the Lord, before his fierce anger.

These verses portray creation undone because God’s people had “no understanding”! Jeremiah expressed the scene in the most vivid imagery: the earth returns to chaos, echoing Genesis 1:2 (“without form and void”). A reversal of creation has occurred, and the earth is lacking human understanding of God. God’s image-bearers ceased to display the glory of God or fulfill their mission on earth―because they were “stupid children”!

From this passage, we see quite clearly that ideas have consequences. Especially wrong ideas about God, produce catastrophic results. Likewise, ignorance has consequences. And as this passage so evidently demonstrates, willful ignorance about God produces negative consequences in idolatry, personal ethics, and social disorder, which amounts to a reversal of creation.

It is amazing, however, that the principal reason given for the reversal of creation is human stupidity!

For my people are foolish.
They know me not.
They are stupid children.
They have no understanding.
They are “wise”—in doing evil!
But how to do good they know not.

“Oh, The Depth of The Riches and Wisdom and Knowledge of God!”

Paul expressed this proclamation in Romans 11:33, knowing that the nation of Israel was being undermined by pagans and how God hardened Israel’s hearts due to disobedience (Rom 9–11). Earlier he exclaimed, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (9:2–3).

Why could Paul praise God’s great wisdom, knowing the terrible fate that befell his nation?

Because he realized that only through Israel’s failure to acknowledge their Messiah would the gospel go to the ends of the earth. Clearly, Paul’s worldview was broader and deeper than his nationalism or his Jewish heritage.

Who could praise God for this unexpected wisdom at that time? Certainly, only those more committed to the kingdom of God than lesser priorities, like culture and tradition and personal welfare.

Imagine our age and our social-economic context today. Could we confess God’s great wisdom if all that we are accustomed to were reversed or even destroyed―for the sake of his kingdom? What if the gospel advanced through the suffering of our nation or the loss of its power and prosperity?

For example, biblical scholars teach that perhaps the greatest threat to the gospel and church today is consumerism. Can you imagine a civilization without consumerism? What would happen to us, our lifestyles, and our churches if consumerism ceased to exist as we know it?

What if natural disaster (solar flare, earthquake, disease) or manmade conflagration (terrorist attack or regional nuclear war) destroyed our economic or communications infrastructure? What if God permitted this to happen in order to promote the gospel and purify the church? Would we be able to declare, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God”?

So, the question for the Christian is, where are our priorities?

Is it a certain lifestyle?
A particular economic or political system?
A specific nation or culture?
Is our biblical worldview deep and broad enough for whatever happens?
Could you and I acknowledge God’s wisdom, even if our world were changed radically?

According to the Bible, God has higher priorities and long-term goals that might be different than our comfort, political-economic preferences, advanced technology, or vaunted civilization.

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!”


Satan is Very Clever . . . But God is Much Smarter

Satan is the original obstructionist and the archetype of intellectual wickedness. Jesus said about him, “[He] does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).

In the book of Revelation, the Lord states that Satan is the “deceiver of the whole world” (12:9). Paul wrote about him, “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor 4:4).

The names attached to the devil demonstrate his perversity: “enemy,” “evil one,” “spirit of the antichrist,” “great dragon,” “liar,” “deceiver,” “murderer,” “adversary,” “tempter,” “Beelzebul,” “angel of light,” “lawless one,” “prince of demons,” and “Mammon.”  The devil is the master obfuscator, for he insinuated to Eve, “Did God actually say?” (Gen 3:1).

Likewise, his attributes and authority manifest his vast influence: “The devil took him [Jesus] to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me’” (Matt 4: 8–9). Other passages testify to his influence in the world. The devil is “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31), “god of this world” (2 Cor 4:4), and as John said, “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). Satan has “the power of death” (Heb 2:14).

How, then, do we withstand him? Since his main strategy is deception and falsehood, it is imperative that we become very careful with our minds. We should evaluate every intellectual influence we permit to enter our consciousness. We should change what we focus on, listen to, watch, and read―if it does not cause us to grow in faith, understanding, and wisdom.

We must learn the biblical worldview. We ought to understand the worldviews that capture the minds of unbelievers. Most importantly, we should ask God for a “renewal of our mind” (Rom 12:2), so that we can become productive agents of change.

Practically speaking, we could join or create a Bible study, participate in church education, and form book clubs and movie discussions.

Honestly, many of us should simply return to primary school in theology and the Bible. We must become students of the smartest Being in the universe.

Basically, we should ask God to teach us to love him with our mind, which Jesus told us is part of the greatest commandment (Mark 12:28–30).





Sometimes God is an Enigma

Often, when we first become a believer, our conversion is akin to a child’s birthday party. There are lots of gifts, party favors, cake, celebration, and affection. And perhaps we think to ourselves, “Wow! Knowing God is like a big party! Why didn’t I convert sooner?!”

But, after a few years, when we reach spiritual adolescence, real life begins to press in upon us and demands our attention. Now, there are expectations placed upon us, such as obligations at school and responsibilities at home. We struggle with rebellion and yearn for personal authenticity. Life is more complicated and perplexing. It’s not simply a party anymore.

This image of personal growth from childhood, through adolescence, to adulthood is a metaphor for the process of spiritual maturation and sanctification. Sometimes, the adolescent stage can be quite turbulent. During this period, perhaps we say to ourselves, “Wow! If knowing God is like reaching puberty, pimples, overwhelming desire, and personal insecurity, then why did I even convert?!” It is often, while we pursue maturity in adolescence, that God often seems quite enigmatic, even hostile.

Fortunately, however, we possess the prayer book of ancient Israel, who knew their share of enigmatic experiences with God. In the Psalms, we witness their affliction and learn patterns of prayer for spiritual darkness and perplexity. Consider how Israel lamented when God was enigmatic:

“Why?”–When God Makes No Sense
Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? (10:1)

Why do you hide your face?  Why do you forget our affliction and oppression? (44:24)

“How long?”–When God Delays
My soul also is greatly troubled. But you, O Lord—how long? (6:3)

How long, O Lord, will you look on? Rescue me from their destruction, my precious life from the lions! (35:17)

“Where are You?”–When God Is Silent
They cried for help, but there was none to save; they cried to the Lord, but he did not answer them. (18:41)

To you, O Lord, I call; my rock, be not deaf to me, lest, if you be silent to me, I become like those who go down to the pit. (28:1)

When God seems to us incomprehensible (inexplicable, perplexing, impenetrable), when he delays (through apparent inaction, impediment, setback, interruption), or when he is silent (seeming to ignore and reject us or appear non-responsive and impassive), we know that such experiences are not unique to us. We know that the saints of the Old Testament passed through similar trials.

And we should listen carefully to their prayers and learn to think like they thought.






We live in an age in which the intellectual, spiritual, and social movement towards relativism and syncretism are converging with great power and influence. So often, we hear outside―and even within the church―“gospels” that proclaim “Jesus in addition to (for example Marxism” or “Jesus less than (for example naturalism).”

In this pluralistic era, religion and worldview are quite unclear. Devotees approach the sacred realm as a sort of buffet meal, selecting ideas and practices according to spiritual taste and desire. In this syncretistic context, beliefs are mixed and matched according to fad, fashion, and psychic need. Tolerance and inclusivism are creedal assumptions.

For many, especially of a secular mindset, Christianity is no longer viewed as justifiably unique or exclusive. It is simply another, particularly noxious, “weed” in the “garden of god,” merely one variety of generic spirituality. As a result of this outlook, for most people today Christianity is no longer plausible. It no longer compels. It does not make sense anymore. It is not relevant for daily life.

How are we, followers of Jesus Christ, to respond to this situation? How can we demonstrate the intellectual plausibility and existential credibility of our faith? How is the absolute God to get a hearing in our generation?

First, we should learn to use our minds in God-honoring ways. We should gather information (learn), pursue understanding (study), and seek discernment (reflection) according to our biblical assumptions. Similarly, we must also look for worldly and erroneous thinking in our own understanding.

Second, we should always try to discern the assumptions in other worldviews and reasoning.

We can learn to how to evaluate other positions from within our own worldview―and also how other worldviews analyze our position with their presuppositions. We should learn to compare and contrast, discern and refute, when necessary. We should declare with David: “How great you are, O sovereign Lord!  There is no one like you and there is no one but you” (2 Sam 7:22).

Third, we ought to cultivate a healthy skepticism. We must no longer passively consume data delivered to us by popular culture. The writer of Genesis did not passively observe its surrounding Mesopotamian culture. The apostle Paul did not passively affirm unbelieving thought within his eclectic context. When he was in Athens, “his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there.”

We should seek the same Spirit-inspired motivation.

We should cultivate our cognitive capacities and a discerning heart to communicate truth in compelling and compassionate ways.





The intellectual character of the book of Job is clear. A commentator said: “By vigorously lamenting his bitter feelings, [Job] comes to grip with his anguish and channels his mind to seek some solution to his predicament.” Clearly, the book invites its readers to think deeply. In fact, the text contains many terms associated with knowledge. The common verb “know” occurs over 60 times.

Additionally, specialized vocabulary occurs in connection with at least two themes. First, terms associated with legal disputation appear, such as contend, case, argue (a case), argument, answer, prove, acquit, plead, arbiter, brought a complaint, plead the case, and show (partiality).

Second, several terms linked to wisdom occur, for example knowledge (11 times), understanding (23 times), counsel (9 times), purpose (2 times), and wisdom (18 times). In particular, “wisdom” and “understanding” are coupled with the “fear of the Lord” in Job’s discourse about wisdom in chapter 28.

Further, the use of questions underscores the deliberative nature of Job’s debate with his friends—and with God. Questions begin with “can” (30 times), “do” (31 times), “what” (2 times), “when” (16 times), is there” (7 times), “should” (4 times), and “how long” (4 times). Job also posed many “why” questions specifically addressed to God, for example:

Why did I not die at birth, come out from the womb and expire? (3:21)

Why have you made me your mark? Why have I become a burden to you? (7:20)

Why do you hide your face and count me as your enemy? (13:24)

Why do the wicked live, reach old age, and grow mighty in power? (21:7)

In these ways, the dialogue contains argumentation between Job and his friends (chapters 4–37). The friends perceived in Job intellectual snobbery and asked: “Why are we counted as cattle? Why are we stupid in your sight?” (18:3). They argued against Job vigorously: “You are doing away with the fear of God and hindering meditation before God. For your iniquity teaches your mouth, and you choose the tongue of the crafty. Your own mouth condemns you, and not I; your own lips testify against you” (15:4–6). But Job’s answers were just as severe: “As for you, you whitewash with lies; worthless physicians are you all. Oh, that you would keep silent, and it would be your wisdom!” (13:4–5).

The lesson for you and me is this: We must bring our brains to the text. Do not expect Bible interpretation to be easy. Sometimes, the study of Scripture requires a lot of intellectual effort. But the rewards are great. We learn to think better. And most importantly, we come to know God more deeply and understand more clearly the world from his point of view.




Are you looking for a point of contact with non-Christians by which to reason together? Do you seek common ground for dialogue about issues that really matter for the sake of the gospel?

One of the most productive areas for thoughtful interchange is film. In popular movies, we find creative expressions of worldviews, values, concepts of the self, and especially theology.

Why? Because according to the biblical worldview, human beings are hard-wired for spirituality. We seek meaning and purpose. We need love and an object to worship. We are homo adorans.

We strive to comprehend and prevent evil. Our cultural artifacts are filled with religious and philosophical assertions. We can learn how to use these affirmations and questions as a basis for gospel discussion.

For example, I recently watched an interesting movie on Netflix called, “The Man Who Knew Infinity.” The film is about a devout Hindu, who was a self-taught, mathematic genius. In 1913, Srinivasa Ramanujan traveled to Trinity College, Cambridge, to study with G. H. Hardy, an atheist. The story raises fascinating questions about faith and science (mathematics), the meaning of life, Christianity and Hinduism, revelation, and racial prejudice, for example.

Here are two, brief dialogues between Ramanujan and Hardy that illustrate the confrontation between spirituality and the modern worldview.

Hardy:   God and I do not exactly see eye to eye . . . You see, I am what you call an atheist.
Ramanujan:  No sir. You believe in God. You just don’t think he likes you.

Hardy: Life for me has always been mathematics.
Ramanujan:  Do you want to know how I get my ideas? My god, Namagiri. She speaks to me. Puts formulas on my tongue when I speak. Sometimes, when I pray. Do you believe me?
Hardy:  But I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe in anything that I cannot prove.
Ramanujan:   Then, you don’t believe me. Don’t you see? An equation has no meaning to me unless it expresses the thought of God.

How might you use this film for discussion with non-Christians or instruction in the church? Here are five questions that can guide you:

1) What is the message of the film? What does it assert or reject?

2) How does the film express its message? (Characterization, script, scene, etc.)

3) What worldview, ethical, or theological themes arise from the film?

4) What does the biblical worldview teach about these themes? (Compare and contrast)

5) How might you communicate with a non-Christian about this movie?

“Teach Us to Number Our Days” (Pt 2)

Verses 4–11 speak about the second fact of reality regarding the human condition. We are fallen. We sin. We do evil and evil is done to us. We are guilty before God:

For we are brought to an end by your anger; by your wrath we are dismayed.
You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.

For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is  but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.

Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you?

Psalm 90 is very blunt about the sinfulness of the human condition. Despite the many blessings of this life, the reality of evil and suffering due to sin indicates that the world is out of order. Things do not often work well or as planned. Everything, animate and inanimate, degrades and degenerates. We age and die. Death is our destiny.

Also, human relationships are out of order. A few moments watching the evening news, reading the headlines, talking with our neighbor or simply a moment of existential honestly in front of the mirror informs us that sin produces sadness and loss in our lives. So, let’s make several observations based on these verses.

Verse 8 says: “You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.” This tells us two important facts. First, we are morally accountable to God. He is not only our creator but also our judge. Second, God knows everything about us and we cannot hide anything. We must give account for everything we do, think, and say.

Verses 9 and 10 say: “For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh. The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.”

Thomas Hobbes, 17th century British philosopher, described social relations among human beings as “continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” This results in a “state of war” whereby “every man is enemy to every man.” Hobbes describes much later in human history what Genesis 4–11 ascribes to mankind immediately after the fall. The human heart, alienated from God and from one another, became “only evil all the time” (6:5).

Prayer For Wisdom
In light of all that Psalm 90 tells us, the only valid response for the Christian believer is Moses’ simple prayer: “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (v. 12). Given the facts of reality, the wise posture is one of listening and learning. The petition for God to teach us indicates submission, obedience, and accountability.

Moses asked God to “number” his days. This means that he understood his frailty and sin. So should we. We must recognize that our every breath is a gift. We should realize that we are stewards of our existence, who must give account for our lives. Also, to “number our days” is to invest ourselves in what really matters and what has eternal significance. We then strive to be good stewards over our “heart, soul, mind, and strength” (Mark 12:30).

Finally, Moses wanted God to give him wisdom. (See Psalm 39:4–6.)  God gave Moses a heavenly perspective about the human condition. With this as his North Star he was able to use his spiritual compass to navigate the world in a way that pleased his creator, Lord, and savior.

We should desire this wisdom as well.

Thank God, we have the scriptures “which are able to make [us] wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:15). He has  “become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (1 Cor 1:30).