What the Bible says about
Cause and Effect Principle
(From Forerunner Commentary)
One of the failings of modern education is that it fails to teach children to look for and predict cause-and-effect relationships. This receives short shrift in our schools because values and moral judgments have been eliminated from curricula and classroom discussions. Modern—or rather, postmodern—educators strive for valueless teaching and what they call moral equivalency, that is, no idea, no person, no belief, no religion, no government, or no fact is better than anything else—everything has its own intrinsic value, neither more nor less than any other thing does. For those of us who have learned differently, this is a strange concept.
However, it is the basis of liberal intellectual humanism, the guiding beacon of most major colleges and universities, think tanks, advocacy organizations, political parties, governments, and corporations in America and in many other parts of the world, particularly Europe. In simple terms, it means that solutions to the world's problems will not be solved by eradicating the cause. Instead, they will be treated by assuaging the symptoms, because to acknowledge the cause would be to make a moral judgment.
For instance, the fight against AIDS is a classic case of postmodern, valueless thinking. The major cause of AIDS is clearly perverted homosexual behavior, but rather than enforcing anti-sodomy laws (which have their basis in biblical morality), the powers-that-be decided to caution against "unprotected sex" and handed out free condoms and free needles to intravenous drug users. They also threw billions of dollars at finding a cure for the disease and drugs that will dampen or delay the onset of full-blown AIDS. The cure, however, is simple: stop the behavior (biblically termed "repentance") and quarantine the diseased. But that is not politically correct.
This example points out the ultimate solution for every problem of behavior: character. If people had the character not to lie and steal, billions of dollars of fraud and the trauma of countless victims would disappear. If people had the character to be faithful to their spouses, divorce and the heartache and compounded problems it brings would cease. If people had the character to forgive and work out disputes fairly, war would soon become a distant memory.
While carnal human beings walk this earth, this is a pipe dream. Even under the government of Jesus Christ in the Millennium, there will still be sin and the evils it causes, though they will be far less frequent than happens today. Then, however, most of the world will understand the need to develop holy and righteous character and will be working on building it in their lives.
From the words of Deuteronomy 5:29, God must on occasion experience the same disappointment in people as we do: "Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever!" Thank God that we know the solution and can put it into practice in our own lives!
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Solution? Character
2 Samuel 12:9-14
Regardless of how successful a person might consider himself in getting away with his adventure into sin, he could learn a few things from David. First, however, we must note Numbers 32:23: "But if you do not do so, then take note, you have sinned against the LORD; and be sure your sin will find you out." Interestingly, the context of this verse is a warning to those who may not be faithful to their words of promise.
Overall, this story is a quick study into cause and effect. First, it teaches that, regardless of one's status, adultery cannot be committed without damaging relationships anymore than murder can be committed without damaging relationships. It does not matter whether the perpetrator is a prince or pauper. The only variable is the speed with which the effect takes place. We should never forget the warning given in Genesis 2:17: "In the day you eat of [the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil] you shall surely die." The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23) no matter which commandment is broken.
Second, besides death, sin produces two effects that may also manifest slowly:
1. A damaged relationship with God. Isaiah 59:1-2 shows that sin creates division between God and us because of the breach of trust. Sin is a breaking of the terms of the covenant agreed on by both God and us. After committing a sin like adultery, can the individual be trusted any longer? This effect is not easily seen, but God's Word nonetheless reveals it does occur. As this episode shows, with repentance and God's merciful forgiveness, the division can be healed.
2. Evil results in our lives in this world. Even with God's forgiveness, this second effect remains and must be borne by the sinner—and tragically, by those sinned against. For example, the evil effects of David's sin brought death—either directly or indirectly—to five people. It directly caused the deaths of Uriah and the newborn son of David and Bathsheba. In addition, it greatly intensified the ultimately deadly competition between Absalom, Amnon, and Adonijah, all of whom died violently. With the dishonorable example of their father before their eyes, it could only teach disrespect, even for those closest to them.
Thus, the throne fell to Solomon. He never had to live through the kind of family life that David's older children did. When he committed similar sins, he could never say that he saw his father do the same things.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Seventh Commandment
Psalm 91, traditionally credited to Moses, follows the well-attested Psalm 90. Because the former has no title, commentators reason that the Psalms' editors want the reader to understand that Psalm 91 also came from Moses' pen. The Wycliffe Bible Commentary even terms it a "companion poem" to the previous psalm.
Its theme deals primarily with the safety and protection God's people can expect from Him. Verse 3 is typical: "Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the perilous pestilence." Verse after verse presents positive, reassuring proof that our God will keep us from harm, illness, war, deceit, dangerous beasts, and evil in general. Satan, in fact, quotes verses 11-12 out of context to Jesus during the Temptation in the Wilderness in an attempt to persuade Him that God will save Him even from an act of pride and foolishness (Matthew 4:5-6).
Our Savior's response teaches us that the promises found in this psalm are not automatic and unconditional. He quotes from Deuteronomy 6:16: "You shall not tempt the LORD your God," meaning that God cannot be forced to act on our behalf. He does not take kindly to mere humans testing Him to see if He will respond (Psalm 78:17-22, 40-41, 56-64; 95:7-11).
We can depend on His protection, but we must also remember that the law of cause and effect still exists. We will reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7-8). God is under no obligation to save us from the consequences of our own sinful or imprudent actions. He may from time to time deliver us from certain situations because He has more to teach us, but we do not have it guaranteed.
From the first words of the song, Moses wants to dissuade us of this notion of a guarantee. These promises fall upon the one "who dwells in the secret place of the Most High" (Psalm 91:1). What is this "secret place?" The most probable answer is that it refers to the Holy of Holies, the earthly type of God's throne in heaven. In the Tabernacle/Temple, the Holy of Holies, the innermost sanctuary, was closed to everyone except that high priest, and he could enter it only once a year on the Day of Atonement—and then only to discharge his mediatory duties!
How, then, can anyone dwell "in the secret place of the Most High"? Under the Old Covenant, it was nearly impossible, except for those few whom God called, like Moses and the other prophets, kings, and patriarchs. However, under the New Covenant, the blood of Jesus Christ has opened the way into the Holy of Holies (Matthew 27:51; Hebrews 9:8, 11-15, 24-28; 10:19-22). Converted Christians can dwell in God's secret place and rely on His protection!
A last point of note is that within Psalm 91 Moses provides us three observations on how we can enter the "secret place." These three are complementary rather than exclusive.
The first appears in verse 2: "I will say of the LORD, 'He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust.'" Essentially, this is faith. We must believe that God is faithful: What He says He will do. This leads us to live by faith, not by the allurements and deceptions we see around us (II Corinthians 5:7).
The second we read in verse 9: "Because you have made the LORD, who is my refuge, even the Most High, your habitation." Today, we might say, "You have made the LORD your life"; in other words, total devotion to Him. Without getting into detail, this point covers obedience to God's laws and principles in all areas of life—in effect, to live with Him we must live as He does.
The third occurs in verse 14, where God is speaking: "Because he [the individual] has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him." Obviously, loving God with all our heart, soul, might, and mind (Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37) is chief on the list of traits of God's children (I Corinthians 13:13). This, too, has a practical application in that Jesus Himself tells us that if we love Him, we must keep His commandments (John 14:15).
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Moses, Psalmist (Part 2)
Just because the penalty does not occur immediately does not mean it will not come. Be aware! Adam and Eve set aside the teaching of God because they became convinced that the penalty—death—would not occur. When they sinned and death did not occur immediately, they were even more convinced. But death did occur, and other evil things happened in their lives that did not have to occur.
We need to understand this as part of the way God operates; He gives us time to learn lessons, to come to a better knowledge of Him, to understand cause and effect. If God reacted immediately when we sinned, it would be all over the very first time. No building of character could take place, no learning by experience, no growth in wisdom, and no understanding of human nature.
Do not be deceived because the penalty does not seem to fall quickly.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sin of Self-Deception
God charges Hananiah with causing the people to trust in a lie, as well as inciting rebellion against Him. His transgressions were so grievous that God killed Hananiah two months later—a month for each year in his false vision (Jeremiah 28:1-4).
Hananiah's prophecy urged rebellion against God in a couple of ways. First, Scripture is clear that God had installed Nebuchadnezzar in a position of power over this area of the world. Though not a godly man, he filled a position that God had given him, thus to resist his rule was to rebel against the God-ordained order. When Hananiah predicted deliverance in just two years, it encouraged Judeans to think that they did not have to submit to this foreign king. In this way, he encouraged them to disregard God-instituted authority.
Second, Hananiah's lie subtly altered the reason for their crisis. He redefined the foreign domination from something that God deliberately caused (as told by the prophets) into something that He merely allowed and would soon remedy. The false prophet shifted the explanation of their pitiful circumstances from something that God had orchestrated due to the sins of His people into a time-and-chance problem that He would reverse.
This removed any need for self-examination. It exonerated the nation and its leaders, removing any thought that the people had misbehaved themselves into this crisis by rejecting God. By eliminating any thought of cause-and-effect regarding sin, Hananiah was in fact encouraging them to continue in their disobedience. Without any apparent consequences for sin, the mind begins to reason that sin is not the problem. Hananiah told them everything would be fine, but God saw it as teaching His people to rebel.
Something similar is happening today in a small way. Some are promoting an idea that the world is actually getting better. It is not a widespread belief, but some have taken such a rose-colored view of God that they believe mankind's best days are just ahead. They are convinced that there will not be catastrophe and death leading up to Jesus Christ's return.
To arrive at such a notion, one must nullify the pattern of God's prophets, just as Hananiah did. One has to find new meaning even for the words of Jesus Himself in places like the Olivet Prophecy where He plainly says that "unless those days are shortened, no flesh would be saved [alive]" (Matthew 24:22). Under this view, the bulk of Old and New Testament prophecies become either merely symbolic or already fulfilled, including all of Revelation. And a person must really cherry-pick his evidence to maintain the belief that circumstances in the world are improving! Some are actually doing this for the sole purpose of giving hope. However, like Hananiah's prophecy, it is a false hope.
David C. Grabbe
The branch He mentions is probably an Asherah, a tree or a wooden pole that stood for the fertility goddess. It was essentially a phallic symbol. God says that their wickedness was the same as sticking that idol (and what they were doing) right in His nose—right in His face.
However, we need to understand that they were committing their idolatry in private. In their minds, they thought it did not make any difference; it was not hurting anyone. If nobody could see them doing it, they thought, "Hey, I'm getting away with the perfect crime. I can have my cake and eat it too. I can go to the Temple and look like I'm really somebody in the community. But, you see, here in the dark nobody sees me bowing down and worshipping these idols."
Does it make any difference? It makes a great difference to God! He was offended by what was going on. In this context, these people were in captivity because of what they were doing—it was a matter of cause and effect. What they sowed earned captivity.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Every Action Has a Reaction
The phrase, "the handwriting is on the wall," has become a cliché in Israelite cultures, instructing us in retrospect that, an event having concluded with bad results, we should have known better. Being forewarned, we should have foreseen the result. We should have recognized that warning signs were everywhere and taken different steps to provide a more positive solution.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Power Belongs to God (Part One)
America calls itself a Christian nation. We have churches on every corner, Bibles in every house, Christian scripture and principles in our founding documents and on our governmental buildings, and the Ten Commandments on public monuments. We produce more Bibles and send more missionaries than any other nation on earth. We piously intone Christian principles in our politics and foreign policy. We even say public prayers before auto races! If we are so close to Him, God says, He must hold us more accountable than others.
Then, He asks a series of questions that are designed to get us to think in a cause-and-effect mode, that is, we are to think about why certain things occur. "Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?" (verse 3). The answer is obviously not. God wants us to place Him and ourselves as the "two," and we must remember that He just said that He must punish for sin. The conclusion must be that God is not walking with us because of our sins (see Isaiah 59:2-15)! There can be no agreement between a righteous God and a sinful nation.
Amos 3:4-5 contain four more cause-and-effect questions, but verse 6 applies specifically to our situation in America: "If a trumpet is blown in a city, will not the people be afraid? If there is calamity in a city, will not the LORD have done it?" God is forcing us to agree with His logic. Do not people fear when they are made aware of danger nearby? Yes, of course. In the same way, if a disaster strikes, is it not true that God had a hand in it? Yes, of course! Especially if it occurs amidst a people who claim to be so close to God.
Later, in Amos 4:6-12, God tells us that we have missed the meaning of all the disasters we have endured in recent years. Using famine, drought, crop failure, epidemics, and "natural" disasters as examples of divine wake-up calls, He says, "Yet you have not returned to Me" (verses 6, 8-11). For a people who know God, calamity is not haphazard! God allows it to happen to inspire repentance and revival of true worship.
Did the nation take the September 11 attacks as warnings to return to God, truth, and right living? Sadly, only a few heeded them. A Barna Research Group (BRG) poll released on September 3, 2002, showed that "an overwhelming majority [90%] admit that 9/11 has had no lasting impact on their religious beliefs." BRG president George Barna reached the proper conclusion: "The fact that we saw no lasting impact from the most significant act of war against our country on our own soil says something about the spiritual complacency of the American public."
Indeed, it does. There is only one solution to this, "Seek good and not evil, that you may live; so the LORD God of hosts will be with you" (Amos 5:6). Even if the rest of the nation will not heed, we can as individuals put ourselves back in pace with God.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
September 11 One Year On
Behaviors have consequences. Actions have reactions. Causes have effects. This is a law of nature that many moderns have sadly forgotten, or in their hubris believe that they can mitigate.
We perhaps see this most starkly in the world of health. A young man in his rebellion lives a wild life, drinking, carousing, and sleeping with multiple women throughout his college years. Soon, he finds he has contracted a venereal disease. "No problem," he thinks. "I can just go down to the clinic, and the doctor will prescribe something to cure me." He thinks he has just defeated cause and effect, but in reality, he has just treated a symptom. The compound effects of his earlier lifestyle may not reveal themselves for years—in fact, they may ruin his entire life!
Because of this kind of rationalization and short-sightedness, God works on a far larger canvas when it comes to teaching humanity lessons, and sometimes even the destruction of whole nations and millions of people fail to impress the truth on some. We can see this in His dealings with Israel and Judah over 2,500 years ago. He called Assyria to invade Israel several times, carting off hundreds of thousands of slaves, and they still did not make the connection between their sinfulness, particularly their idolatry, and their destruction (II Kings 17:5-23). A similar series of events befell Judah just over a hundred years later.
Through Amos, God shows us that He uses natural disasters to show His displeasure (Amos 4:6-13). These "acts of God" occur on a scale so immense that man's activities have little or no effect on their outcomes. Who can stop the earth from shaking? Who can hold back the howling wind and driving rains? Who can "prime the pump" to make the rain fall and break a drought? Who can plug the magma vents of the earth? Man is essentially powerless against the awesome forces of nature, and if we believe that God is nature's Creator, we should ask ourselves why such things occur.
Our current drought affects upwards of 40% of the nation, and the problem is not just lack of rain anymore. Drought conditions cause other "natural" consequences. Earlier this summer, we witnessed one of the most spectacular effects of extended dry weather: forest fires. As the drought continues, however, new problems begin to crop up.
As a result of the parched conditions, beetles are boring through forests, invading farmlands and chomping on crops, making an already bad season worse. This includes the attacks of bark beetles, grasshoppers, Mormon crickets, and disease-carrying mosquitoes. On the grasshopper front alone, some infestations are the worst since the Great Depression, costing millions of dollars.
In addition, drought drives wild critters into the suburbs. We occasionally hear of bears wandering down from the mountains into populated areas, but this "invasion" is far more diverse, including snakes, bighorn sheep, ducks, and rats as well. Experts believe scarce water and the resulting food shortage is forcing these animals to extend their range. Nationally, out-of-bounds wild animals cause an average $22 billion in damage each year, drought or not.
We have still not encountered what may be the worse result of drought: famine. However, it is prophesied for the end time. It is the third seal of Revelation 6:5-6, interpreted by Jesus in Matthew 24:7. Even a wealthy and productive nation like the United States can be brought to its knees by famine—and our vaunted pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality could do nothing to stop it. And that is where God wants this nation—on its knees, but in repentant prayer, not despair.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Bugs and Beasts
In the days after September 11, 2001, a few brave souls linked the tragedy to America's increasingly immoral lifestyle, but many of these initially courageous people were shouted down, lampooned, and condemned for their "callous and judgmental" remarks. Because they are unfamiliar with spiritual laws and processes, most people see no link between so-called natural disasters and behavior. However, Christians have no excuse, as this principle is clearly a biblical one.
God explains it in his instructions to Israel just after receiving the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai:
Do not defile yourselves with any of these things [sexual immorality]; for by all these the nations are defiled, which I am casting out before you. For the land is defiled; therefore I visit the punishment of its iniquity upon it, and the land vomits out its inhabitants. You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations, either any of your own nation or any stranger who dwells among you (for all these abominations the men of the land have done, who were before you, and thus the land is defiled), lest the land vomit you out also when you defile it, as it vomited out the nations that were before you. (Leviticus 18:24-28)
We are all sinners, so we all deserve death (Romans 6:23)—it is as simple as that. None of us is really innocent. The people who died in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and in western Pennsylvania were indeed innocent of the causes for which the Islamic terrorists justified their violence. In that sense, they were "innocent victims," and we properly mourn them and sympathize with their survivors. However, as human beings living in bondage to human nature, they were not—and neither are the living.
This begs the question, then: Did the events of September 11, 2001, cause us to make the proper changes? In the United States as a whole, we have clamored for the government to protect us better, to avenge our fallen fellow citizens, and to act so that such a calamity will never happen again. These are certainly logical changes that should be made—and frankly, should have been made years ago. Yet, these are all external changes. What changes have we made personally, internally, spiritually, behaviorally?
The book of Amos is all about this principle. God wants us to evaluate ourselves, our morality, and our relationship with Him in light of what is happening within the nation. Our sins play a part in the collective immorality of the nation, and He wants us to own up to them and change our ways. God says in Amos 4:11-12: "'I overthrew some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and you were like a firebrand plucked from the burning; yet you have not returned to me,' says the LORD. 'Therefore thus will I do to you, O Israel; and because I will do this to you, prepare to meet your God, O Israel!'" God allowed a disaster to occur, and because He saw no change in the people, He sent an even greater one.
We do not know if that is what will happen. However, as the homosexual agenda strengthens, as our culture becomes more vulgar and sexual, as injustice and ungodliness increase, God is watching. He has shown in the pages of the Bible what He has done in the past, and He says He does not change (Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8). We will reap what we sow. Is it not time to consider whether we have learned the right lessons from 9-11?
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Sowing and Reaping
1 John 1:3
Someone who is guilt-ridden and conscience-stricken because of sin, rather than seeking fellowship with God, will shy away from Him just as Adam and Eve did. After their sin, they ran, not to Him, but from Him—they hid from God (Genesis 3:8-10). Is there a more powerful act that we, as Christians, can do to demonstrate our desire to run to God rather than from Him—to demonstrate the strength of our desire to fellowship—than to pray always?
A lack of desire to fellowship with God and Christ is a distinctive trait of a Laodicean (Revelation 3:18-20). We live in an era when people are apathetic about having a true relationship with God. No professing Christian would admit that he would not care to eat a meal with and fellowship with Jesus Christ, yet He reports that in His own church, some will not rouse themselves to fellowship with Him, though they know that He knocks at the door. By their inaction, they choose not to fellowship with Him.
In fact, they are so far from Him that they do not even see their need! A terrible cycle of cause-and-effect is created: no awareness of need, no desire; no desire, no prayer; no prayer, no relationship; no relationship, no awareness of need. It runs in a vicious circle.
God offers us, not just endless life, but even more—eternal, close fellowship with Him. That is part of our reward as firstfruits (Revelation 3:12, 21). But how does God know if we want to fellowship with Him forever? How can He determine about us, as He said about Abraham in Genesis 22:12: "Now I know"? Simply, if we areearnestly seeking fellowship with Him right now, in this life, our actions prove—just as Abraham's actions were proof—that we sincerely desire to fellowship with Him forever.
What is the major way God gives us to show our desire for eternal fellowship with Him? Prayer! Through prayer, especially praying always, we are consciously deciding to place ourselves in God's presence—to have fellowship with Him and to acknowledge our vital need for Him.
As an example of this, David writes in Psalm 27:8: "When You said, 'Seek My face,' my heart said to You, 'Your face, Lord, I will seek.'" The Amplified Bible expands the idea of "seek My face" as "inquire for and require My presence as your vital need." In everything we say or do, we are to acknowledge His presence in our lives and give thanks for it (Colossians 3:17). Our praying always should also include thanksgiving to God for the many blessings He provides to sustain us, prosper us, and perfect us.
Considering this idea of eternal fellowship, it should come as no surprise that by striving to pray always we are in training to do now what we will be doing for eternity—closely fellowshipping with God. It is one reason why we have been called and elected by God—that we might have fellowship with the Father and the Son (Revelation 3:12, 21; John 17:24).
Praying Always (Part Six)
It is clear that the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse—the first four seals—parallel Jesus' prophecy in Matthew 24:4-8, which ends with the words, "All these are the beginning of sorrows." Our Savior is letting us know that deception, violence, scarcity, and disease are only preludes to the catastrophic events of the last days. We could paraphrase His remark as, "These calamities are par for the course under man's civilization—far worse is yet to come."
The progression of disasters—of false ideas leading to war, war to famine, famine to pestilence, pestilence to wild beasts—is vital to understanding the spiritual teaching underlying the Four Horsemen. Through a kind of parable, Jesus is instructing us in the principle of cause and effect. If people believe the message of the father of murder (John 8:44) rather than the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6), they will eventually turn to murder and war to resolve their differences. Like the law of gravity, war causes shortages of food, producing malnutrition and opening the door to disease.
God is showing us that these sorrows trace their roots back to disobedience and rejection of Him. Mankind has built his civilization on a foundation of sand (Matthew 7:24-27), and it is no wonder that disasters ensue upon mankind with terrifying regularity. Because God is just, it cannot be otherwise. He has said, "The wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23), and "The soul who sins shall die" (Ezekiel 18:4). In addition, He has given us two sets of blessings and cursings (Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28) to provide us frightening and vivid depictions of what happens when we disobey Him. The Four Horsemen are similar warnings or reminders that He is still on His throne, judging mankind for his sins.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Four Horsemen (Part Five): The Pale Horse
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