Ask Michael Suderman (May 27-31, 2019)

Hello, friends! (@Interested_In_Ask_RZIM)
This coming week, we’re thrilled to have @Michael_Suderman, a member of the RZIM US speaking team, available to answer our apologetic and evangelism questions!

Michael’s Bio:

Though originally from a small-town in Kansas, Michael is now based in Washington DC. He graduated from Tabor College with a double major in Philosophy and Biblical and Religious Studies, and a minor in Psychology. Michael continued his studies at the University of Oxford where he completed a Master’s of Theology alongside two years of study at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics.

His topical interests include the rationality of belief and the intersection of Christianity and culture. His passion is to help facilitate the discovery and rediscovery of Jesus by communicating and clarifying the gospel as the most profound answer to life’s most meaningful questions.

Prior to studying in Oxford, Michael was involved with youth and university ministries and participated in educational and volunteer work throughout India. When he’s not doing evangelism and apologetics you might find him watching a football game, spending time outdoors, working on his golf game, or enjoying all that DC and NYC (just a few hours away) have to offer.

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Hi!

My question: could God’s character attributes, such as love, grace, mercy, and justice, be mutually exclusive? I get that they each have different meanings, but I’m wondering if they sort of have an overlap or synergistic effect?

That’s a question in and of itself. However, the implication is of equal or greater importance to me: if God’s mercy, love, compassion, etc are mutually exclusive, then different Bible translations have significantly different meanings for the same verses. For example, in Psalms, some translations say “because of God’s love we are not consumed,” whereas others say “because of God’s mercy we are not consumed.” I was always taught love and mercy are two different things, so the verse would have a different meaning depending on which word is used.

Thanks in advance for your reply!

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Hey @Michael_Suderman. Glad to have access to you this week. I was just wondering how your ministry has been going. Any anecdotal praises you can share with us? And, what would you say are your biggest obstacles in ministry that we can be praying for in particular. I sure miss the summer institutes, but I hope our paths cross again. Blessings to you.

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Hi Sarah,
@selmer231

Thanks so much for your question! Your thoughts are definitely in the right direction. To extend grace and mercy, for example, could be said to be a very loving thing, especially where love, at its highest form, is said to be an act of self-sacrifice (i.e. sacrificial love). Forgiveness, which is an act of God’s grace to us, involves absorbing a debt that you no longer require another to pay, which is a merciful act of self-sacrificial love by taking another’s debt upon oneself.

Now, the ultimate example of this is Christ on the cross who absorbed the consequences of sin (our debt to God) in an act of love for us. Interestingly, however, is the fact that this is also a massive injustice, because Jesus is the only one who can stand righteously before the Father having incurred absolutely no debt through sin. So, it’s actually unjust that he would take on that penalty. The just act would be for each of us to be held accountable for the debt we incur through sin, but Jesus willingly stands in our place.

Paradoxically and beautifully, God upholds his justice through the extension of his mercy to us by giving his one and only Son to die on the cross, so that we by believing in him may have eternal life. So, in his act of sacrificial love God extends mercy to us in a way that preserves his justice - truly amazing! Personally, this is one of the richest parts of Christianity that I find massively compelling.

So, all this is to say that there is definitely overlap in these characteristics as they are displayed in the life, death, resurrection, ascension and future coming of Jesus Christ, but I don’t think they’re in any way competing or contradictory. On the contrary, I believe that they are deeply complementary and together give us a fuller picture of God’s true nature as he has revealed himself to us.

One of the major sources of that revelation is scripture, which you have mentioned. It’s true that different Bible translations sometimes use slightly different English words as a translation from the original Greek writing, but in the cases where there are differences we can use resources to investigate the full range of meaning of the Greek word in the original text. It has been my experience, so far, that these kinds of investigations have yielded a richer understanding of God’s character and not shown any sort of tensions in the text that are beyond explanation. However, I’m happy to consider any specific texts that you see as particularly challenging or confusing with respect to translation from the Greek.

Thanks again for your question! I hope this is a helpful start. I welcome any additional thoughts or questions you may have.

Best and Blessings,

Michael

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Hey @Keldon_Scott,

Great to hear from you, brother! I have always enjoyed catching up and praying with you when we do cross paths. Thanks so much for asking and volunteering prayer support, which I will gladly accept. I’d be happy to share about a recent event that really encouraged me. I recently had the privilege to address parliamentarians, ambassadors, and business leaders of Canada in Ottawa at a lunch meeting organized by Christian Embassy.

The talk was about the cultural absence of forgiveness, especially for those in leadership whose failures are often very public. Through the talk I wanted to communicate to those attending that whether or not forgiveness is available to them from their constituents, colleagues, friends or family it is always available to each of them from the God who is willing to forgive and who demonstrated his love for them in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It was ultimately intended as message of hope for those who came, and it seems it was received as just that - for which I am very thankful!

The room was very international and several faith perspectives were represented. This topic for the lunch was chosen only a week or two prior to some very significant and relevant events in Canadian political leadership that rendered the country very divided and frustrated over certain failures of some in leadership. So, going into the event I was expectant for God to speak! While I can’t go into too much detail about how those in attendance personally responded, I will say that several approached me with gratitude for the reminder of God’s indiscriminate grace and mercy, and some of those from other faiths expressed sincere appreciation and curiosity about the Christian concept of forgiveness as it is displayed through Jesus on the cross.

In the words of one parliamentarian: “Your talk was like a laser beam to me!” God’s example of forgiveness to us in Jesus is a massive empowerment for us to also forgive by extending the grace and forgiveness that we have first received. Jesus doesn’t shy away from our responsibility to forgive as recipients of grace (Matthew 18:21-35), though I readily acknowledge there are many challenging instances in life where this can be a process. I’m learning that as each of us offers the Gospel to others for consideration it’s important to remember that forgiveness heals the heart into a posture of offering the kind of love that has made one whole - a divine love. Those in power also need that kind of healing so that they might serve in their roles as gracious leaders who act with compassion.

I think we easily forget how much those in leadership struggle with loneliness and the pressures of public office, so I consider it a great honor to be able to encourage and challenge in that way. Ministering in DC and other government and political arenas has also reminded me just how important it is that we pray for those in government and political leadership, whether we agree or disagree with their policy decisions.

Personally, I would appreciate prayer for some upcoming meetings in DC, that they would be fruitful for those attending, and that God would continue to call people to our Nation’s Capital who are faithful lights on Capitol Hill during a time of intense polarization. You can also pray for discernment as we as a team seek to make wise decisions about how and where to invest our time and efforts - ultimately we want to be in step with the Spirit in all that we do and sensitive to God’s leading. Simply put, please pray that my plans would be his plans!

Thank you again, Kel, for your message and for your partnership in prayer. I will also keep you in prayer today and hope we can cross paths again soon. Until then, be blessed!

  • Michael
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Thanks for your response!

Below is the most troubling difference in translation due to resulting unclear meaning. I would appreciate your thoughts on it.

Zephaniah 3:17: ESV says “the Lord quiets you with his love” whereas NIV says “in his love he will no longer rebuke you”. The former brings to mind the image of a parent gently comforting their distressed child whereas the latter brings to mind a parent who is not punishing their child but not necessarily doing anything to helpful the child through their distress. These have significantly different implications and I need to know which is true and if there is biblical support for the former picture.

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Hi Sarah @selmer231,

I can definitely understand where you’re coming from and agree that there’s a different connotation. I briefly looked at the Hebrew and from my initial reading can’t quite understand why the NIV translators took the approach they did here. I’m going to do a little more research and get back to you about that, but my snap reaction is to side with the ESV translators.

I will say that when it comes to Bible translation the scholars do their very best to work with meaning conveyed through ancient languages. There are certain instances where ancient languages do not translate well into English, so translators do their very best not to compromise the text.

For example, in Genesis 1:1 we read in English, “the heavens and the earth,” and, as English readers, usually think, "Ok, so the author means the creation of two separate things here: 1) the heavens and 2) the earth. However, to the original reader (thousands of years ago) she would read these words in Hebrew הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וְאֵ֥ת וְהָאָ֗רֶץ and immediately recognized them as an idiomatic expression (figure of speech) meaning absolutely everything that is physical and metaphysical. So, in English meaning we could say that in Genesis 1 the author wrote: In the beginning God created all that exists in and outside of the cosmos.

Cases like this present challenges to translators who want to convey the correct meaning without straying too far from what was written in a more literalistic sense. Some translations require more interpretive work than others - i.e. the translators don’t take as much liberty to interpret - whereas others apply that step. I think it’s generally accepted that NIV is slightly more interpretive than ESV.

I can understand the challenge posed to translators, but this in no way makes me doubt the legitimacy of the Bible or God’s Word. It simply means we may have to do a little more work to understand the original meaning, and it also means that people might make mistakes from time to time. Where there are discrepancies in translations, like in Zeph 3:17, we can do deeper research to determine why one translator came to a conclusion that another did not. In this case I’m going to have to do a little more research, but I’ll get back to you with what I discover. Thanks for presenting the opportunity to delve into this text. I will keep you posted!

Best,
Michael

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@Michael_Suderman: Thank you so much for your heart-felt and detailed response. What a responsibility and a blessing that you were able to experience. I do pray your requests this afternoon. Thank you for your ministry and your heart.

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IHi Sarah,
@selmer231

From what I can tell, the difference in translation centers on the Hebrew phrase translated by ESV as, he will quite you by his love. This is the same Hebrew phrase that is translated by NIV as, in his love he will no longer rebuke you.

In terms of the exact wording the ESV’s, he will quite you by his love is a more accurate translation. However, I am assuming the NIV translators chose to apply some previous content from Zephaniah in their translation of this verse to clarify what might otherwise be a potentially confusing phrase to the reader. After all, we may be left asking, “What does the phrase, he will quiet you by his love, actually mean?”

I believe that in an attempt to make the verse more accessible to a reader who may not have access to a commentary or other resources to help illuminate that phrase, the NIV translators may have chosen to take some interpretive license here.

I’ve done a little research into what that phrase might mean and came across an insightful devotional by Jim Cymbala of The Booklyn Tabernacle: https://www.brooklyntabernacle.org/devotional/20180124/he-will-quiet-you-his-love

It seems that in this verse the NIV translators chose to emphasize the contrast of God’s prior judgement (his rebuke) with his present comfort that quiets the fears and burdens of the hearts and minds of his people. Rather than a voice of rebuke, God is now singing a song of delight and comfort.

In light of this broader context I can see why the NIV translation is true to the text, but also consider this verse to be a pretty strong example of interpretive license taken by the translators. As one who is willing to ponder poetic language and meditate on the richness of a phrase like, he will quiet you by his love, I personally prefer the ESV translation for Zephaniah 3:17. I welcome your thoughts and feedback.

Best,
Michael

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That is really helpful. Thanks!

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Hello @Michael_Suderman,

  1. Christ or Culture? :slight_smile:

  2. There are so many cultures in this world. How do you think the bible applies to all cultures?

Thanks :slight_smile:

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Hi Moses,

  1. I’d say there’s such a thing as Kingdom culture.

  2. I think there are things about Christianity that transcend all cultures. We are all made in the image of God and designed for optimal flourishing in relationship with God. I think at least some of what we see in different cultures can reflect that reality in ways - those marks of transcendence. There are also clear examples where culture departs from the reality of God or exhibits an unwillingness to acknowledge him.

Just some thoughts. Thanks!

Best,
Michael

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Hi Micheal I know that before Jesus started his ministry he was tempted 3 times which are mentioned in the bible by the devil, I believe he was also tempted by the Peter when he suggested that he not go to the cross. I also think the bible says that Jesus is our high priest who was tempted in every way that we are which was used to explain that Jesus was tempted sexually like all people by an author i was reading. I found this to be very offensive and have to admit could not take the author seriously after this which I’m realising might not have been fair. Would you say this was is a fair assumption for the author to make and it takes away nothing from Jesus if he did experience such desires but it was just him being fully human. What of the part Jesus says even looking at a woman lustfully is adultery? Are there specific areas we could say Jesus was tempted in his human nature and not others?

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Thanks Mic

Thank you so much for taking questions! I will also join @Keldon_Scott and others in prayer. I recently moved to Washington DC from Kansas for the summer, and draw much encouragement from the ways you’ve highlighted how the Gospel’s message of forgiveness speaks into the culture and pressures of government. Are there other ways that you find the Gospel resonates uniquely with those involved in government? And are there outreach opportunities that you’ve heard of for Christian government employees?

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