Friday, April 12, 2024

It’s Friday, April 12, 2024. 

I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview. 

Part I

Do Animals Play? The Christian Worldview Presents a Much More Satisfying Answer Than the Evolutionary Worldview — And It’s True

Do animals play? No, the better question is why do animals play, and beyond that, what does the fact that animals play say to us as we think about how the Christian should view the world? An evolutionary biologist by the name of David Toomey has written a book entitled Kingdom of Play and the issues getting a lot of play. You have major magazines like The Atlantic looking at the book, and looking at the argument. You have made your newspapers like the Wall Street Journal giving it attention, and it turns out that that’s just indicative of how human beings want to give playing animals attention anyway.

The biggest evidence of this, the numbers on YouTube videos. What are people watching? Well, in this case, they’re watching something that I find absolutely fantastic and wonderful, animals at play. Here’s the thing, that is clearly what they’re doing. You can try to tell yourself animals don’t play, but then you watch them at play, and they are playing. I don’t just mean puppies with a ball. I am talking about animals that are clearly just playing. Elephants out in the middle of a grassland, tigers and lions with little cubs clearly playing with each other, and also daring even to play with dear old dad, who sometimes responds even with all of his might and ferocity not with anger, but with play.

There is very good evidence that birds play, and there’s evidence even that fish play. Certainly, it is true that aquatic mammals play, and that includes, by the way, not only porpoises that appear to just love to play, and I’ve seen that personally growing up in Florida, but it also includes the orcas, the killer whales, who as it turns out also evidently like to play. This has led to headlines by the way in recent months and the last couple of years, because starting in other parts of the world, but now extending to waters closer to the United States, there’s been the experience of pods of orcas in particular young males attacking ships particularly by going after their rudders. There’s some pretty scary video of this also available.

What wouldn’t be scary about being far from land out in the open water when a pod of killer whales comes up and starts going after your boat? Well, the explanations coming from the experts indicate that there are a couple of reasons. Number one, some of them are, it’s not a joke, scratching an itch. Turns out if you’re a killer whale and you have an itch, you’re looking for something sticking in the water against which you can rub to solve that problem. There aren’t that many things in the open water. It turns out that the long rudder on a ship turns out to be one of those things that’s pretty comfortable to scratch up against if you’re trying to knock something off your skin, because you got an itch.

But even as is claimed in this book and documented elsewhere, it turns out that an awful lot of specialists in this aquatic wildlife have come to the conclusion that these young whales are actually sometimes not even scratching an itch, and they don’t appear to be acting in ways that are actually threatening the human beings on these ships. Many of them have come to the conclusion that instead what you have are adolescent killer whales showing off as they are playing with the ship, and in particular its rudder. If you’ve ever seen a couple of schoolboys showing off on the playground, it turns out that young killer whales evidently have some of the same temptations.

The book by David Toomey is entitled Kingdom of Play. The Atlantic piece comes with a headline asking the question, “Why Do Animals Play?” Here’s where it takes not just a bit of observation. It’s very dependent upon worldview, how you’re going to try to figure this out. Now, the worldview that is reflected in the piece in the Atlantic, and in the book by this scientist, is the worldview of evolutionary biology. That’s right up front. The subhead in the article, the Atlantic asks, “Why do animals play?” What comes after that is this, “Scientists want an evolutionary explanation, but maybe the answer is simply it’s fun,” but there’s a reason why they demand an evolutionary explanation. It’s because that’s all they’ve got.

Once you deny the creator, and exclude the creator from the entire equation, you ask yourself the question of any kind of species behavior. “Why do they do that?” The only possible answer is some kind of proposed evolutionary answer. By the way, when it comes to the showing off, well, of course, the evolutionary answer is, that just must serve some kind of reproductive purpose, and so eventually there must be some watching females who might be impressed by the particularly playful males. But then again, you look at that, and you go, “That is really fairly ridiculous,” and even some scientists are saying, “There’s got to be more to it than that.” So at the worldview angle, one very interesting part of this is the fact that if you are sold out to the evolutionary worldview, again, that’s all you’ve got.

You see, the absolute clash between the biblical worldview that begins in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The other worldview comes down to some kind of massive cosmic accident that can only have an evolutionary explanation. But when you watch these animals, it’s just one more indication of why evolution fails, and why it fails morally as well as intellectually. It is because no one watching animals at play can think this is just genes, these are just atoms and molecules, nothing else. But it’s also really interesting, and maybe this is worth a minute for us to ask, “What in the world is play?” I mean, we’re talking about the fact that it appears now undeniable that animals play.

That means not only that a puppy wants to play, and even to play with us. If you’ve had a puppy, you know that when you’re trying to sleep, that puppy wants to play, and that puppy has plenty of ways to show you that he wants to play. Something very sweet about seeing these tiny little lion cubs, climb up on sleeping adult father lion, and start to play with him, when he doesn’t want to play. The big paw comes out, rolls the little lion cub away, and the father lion doesn’t even open his eyes. The little cub comes back. The big paw comes back, rolls the little lion away again. So, you’re looking at a lion playing. No, you’re looking at two lions playing. You see the same thing, of course, with parents and children, human children, way advanced in the play game, even if they’re only playing with darting eyes.

But that raises the question, “How do you define play? What exactly is play?” You say, “Over here, this is work. Over here, you’ve got a hobby. Over here, you’ve got something that’s an absolute necessity, but here’s play.” We know it’s a meaningful category. We know the difference between play and work. Play is not just satisfying work. It’s not just work we like to do. Play something else. What is it then? Well, David Toomey, the evolutionary scientist, needs some kind of definition of play, and so he went to ethnologist and evolutionary biologist, Gordon Burghardt, for a definition of play, and see if Burghardt’s definition of play resonates with you. According to Burghardt, “Play is behavior that is non-functional, voluntary, characterized by repeated but varied movements, and occurring only when the animal’s healthy, safe, and well-fed.”

Well, how amazing is that? Frankly, don’t we want a more playful definition of play than that? On the other hand, those words aren’t unimportant. It’s non-functional, meaning, it’s not work. It is voluntary. They’re doing it out of joy. It’s characterized by repeated but varied movements. Well, okay, it means they’re not just doing the same thing over and over again. They’re able to invent new ways to get happiness out of this, occurring only when the animal is healthy, safe, and well-fed, which is to say this isn’t a disguised form of hunting, but you know, there’s something deeper here. This is really important to the Christian worldview. Even as human beings are given the assignment of dominion, let me just give you some really good news. That dominion includes play.

This is where we would go back to the evolutionary biologist, and say, “The problem here is not that you can detect play, and frankly academically define it. The problem is you really can’t understand what’s going on here.” This is to the glory of God. The Creator takes delight in a puppy taking delight in playing with a ball, or playing with the puppy’s own tail. The Creator takes delight in adolescent killer whales out in the middle of the water playing with one another, even to the point of showing off. I’ll also tell you not just to drive traffic to YouTube, but I’ll just simply tell you, “If you need to be happy sometime, and get rid of a little stress, just watch the lion cubs playing with daddy.”

Frankly, it’ll just make you happy, and it makes us happy, because made in the Creator’s image, we’re the only ones who know that this is actually a testimony to the glory of God and to the glorious wonder of the cosmos that he has made, right down to the details, right down to the puppy playing with its own tail. Given the issues that confront us as Christians, we have to talk about some very heavy things on The Briefing. Even in something like this, we understand there are massive worldview issues that are directly involved in talking about animals at play, but let’s also admit something else. We find joy by even playing with the question, “Why do animals play?” It’s because, God made us in his image, and he actually finds joy when we, for all the right reasons in all the right ways, just give in and play.

Part II

Is Judas in Heaven? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from a Listener of a 6-Year-Old Listener of The Briefing

Okay, next, we’re going to turn to questions. We’re always glad to hear from people of all ages. I was talking to someone, a listener just the other day who said, “You really like the questions from children.” Well, I really do for two reasons by the way. I think we are most honored when children ask us questions, and I think it’s such a strategic opportunity to speak to the hearts and minds of children and young people. I find that a tremendous privilege. The second thing is that they often ask such good questions. Sometimes it takes a child to ask the obvious question that adults are obviously not willing to ask. So, that’s why. 

So, I’m glad to hear from people of all ages, and we’ll deal with questions from people of all ages today, but I am going to start with a six-year-old little boy who was concerned hearing especially with the days building up to Easter, and hearing about the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. The six-year-old wants to know if Judas went to Heaven. If I were trying to just figure this out, Hudson, if it were my job just to decide if I think that Judas is in Heaven or in Hell, I would think that he is in Hell, not in Heaven, just based upon the way the entire story of the crucifixion and betrayal of Jesus comes out. Judas betrayed Jesus, but let me give you really good news. I don’t have to figure this out.

That question is directly answered in Scripture. As a matter of fact, that question is directly answered by Jesus, so that really helps us. Jesus answers the question in John 17:12, so again, John 17:12. This is as Jesus is speaking to the Father before his betrayal and before the crucifixion and resurrection. Jesus praying to his father says, “While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction that the Scripture might be fulfilled.”

John 17:12, “Jesus praying to his father says, “We know who that one is, and what he did is the fulfillment of the scripture. He is however lost.” That’s the word Jesus uses of Judas. Not one of them has been lost except that one, speaking of the disciples. Just looking at the way Hudson framed the question, let me come back and say I think the Bible is clear that Judas did not go to Heaven.

Part III

Given That There is No Identifiable Ethnic Group Who Could Correctly Be Called "Palestinian," Why Do You Use that Term on The Briefing? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Next, a very relevant question sent in by a listener to The Briefing, and she says, “Given that there’s no identifiable ethnic group who could correctly be called the Palestinian people or even Palestinian, and given that the use of these and similar monikers and public dialogue supports both the idea that there is such an ethnic group, and the false premise put about by such people that somehow this fake appellation entitles them to remove Jews and the state of Israel from the map, why do you continue to use it as you did on this morning’s Briefing? Well, and I want to say this listener, at times, we have to use the only words that can make a situation make sense. This is true in Israel as well. So, I don’t think there are many who are greater friends to Israel as I believe myself to be. I think it’s really important that this listener rightly points out, “This is not an ethnic group. This is not an ethnic designation.” The ethnic designation here would in all likelihood covering the majority of those called Palestinians would be Arabs living in Palestine. But in this case, we are talking about the necessity of having a coherent conversation about Arabs living in Palestine. Again, I am very much aware of the fact that the word Palestine is itself often laden with a lot of ideology, not to mention things going all the way back to Roman occupation of Judea.

I’m just saying that no one’s going to know what we’re talking about without the use of certain language. At times, Christians do need to do exactly what I’m seeking to do right now, which is to say sometimes we have to use language, but we don’t mean by it what other people will mean by it. Every once in a while, we just need to be honest and state that, and this is a good opportunity, so thanks for the question.

Part IV

Should I Be Consumed With Fear of Sin and Sinful Thoughts? Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of Listeners of The Briefing

Next, another listener wrote in a question. It’s a really sweet question. I think it’s an urgent question, and it’s a Christian question. So, here’s the question. This listener writes in and says that she has struggled with anxiety, and that one dimension of this anxiety “has spread to intrusive thoughts making me to worry what if I wanted to commit sin, say X, Y, or Z?”

“This sends my brain spiraling, says this listener. Unsure of the fact I’m even thinking about it means I actually want to, which then makes me feel horribly anxious and sad.” Okay. Okay. So, I’m just going to offer you the shortest advice I’ve ever given, which is stop it. Now, I’m saying that with a smile. I hope you hear it, because I understand exactly what you’re talking about here. I can tell you that as a teenager, I was afflicted with the very same question you’re dealing with here, because even as a teenager, I’m hearing about things I never even heard before, and so is even hearing about them making me complicit and sinning? You really can go into a spiral over this, and this is where I don’t think there’s any rescue just by trying to think your way out of the situation.

I will tell you this, we are sinners, and we can turn anything and everything into sin. The answer to that is distracting your mind by going in another direction. I will tell you I know two things I can recommend here that are as biblically healthy as I can imagine. So, think hymns, the great hymns of the faith. When you are struggling with something like this, think about something else. Your brain’s not going to go into neutral, and so fill your brain with reading Scripture or with hymns. I can tell you at certain points in my life in spiritual struggle, I have basically put the earphones on, and turned the hymns up loudly. Biblical truth resonating. I have known other Christians who have said the very same thing.

Elisabeth Elliott famously said that she got through that night when Jim Elliott was missing, and she basically knew he was dead, simply by listening to the hymns, because otherwise, she would’ve been absolutely crushed. I would also say just reading Scripture, you can’t send your mind into neutral, it’s going to be grasping upon something. So, make that something Scripture. By the way, I would also add to this that when you are talking with someone, a fellow believer, even if you’re just having casual conversation, your mind’s going to be on that, not on this, but at some point, we’re going to be alone. At some point, we’re going to be trying to go to sleep. All of these things can plague us, and it’s healthy at one level to fear the enticement of sin.

The only way you can sometimes think about things that you ought not to do is to think about them, and then you can find yourself about to fall back into that hole all over again. So, I think the right word here is the word anxiety. Jesus does not want his disciples, his followers, his lambs to be anxious. “Don’t be anxious about anything,” the Scripture tells us. So, if we are anxious, maybe that’s the core problem, and we just need to do our very best, by the means of grace, to give that anxiety to the Lord. I’ll just tell you again, I find that that means doing something positively Christian is one of the best ways of distracting oneself from doing anything, even slightly not.

Part V

If God Knows Everything, Does He Know His Future Thoughts in the Present? Does He Ever Have New Thoughts? Can He Change His Mind? — Dr. Mohler Responds to a Letter from Young Listeners of The Briefing

I also love questions that come out of family devotions, and so here, we have a parent writing in about family devotions in the house, seven-year-old, six-year-old. The seven-year-old is a daughter. The six-year-old is a son. They’re asking questions, and this is just really healthy. The mom and dad were asked, “Since God knows everything, does God know the thoughts he’s going to have in the future, and does God have any new thoughts?” I love the question, and I don’t mean to be frustrating with the answer, but biblically, God doesn’t think past, present, and future. We do because we are stuck in time, but God is eternal, which doesn’t just mean it’s never-ending time. Eternal means that he is not bound in time, past, present, and future. All things are to him without past, present, and future. That’s a part of why he’s perfect. He’s not bound by the clock, by the calendar as we are.

So, I’ll simply answer that question by saying God doesn’t have any future thoughts, because he doesn’t have any past thoughts. God is perfect in his thinking. Alright, then the six-year-old, the little boy asked, because God has everything planned, does he and can he change his mind?” Well, here again, I’m thankful for the scripture that says, “Praise the Lord, He never changes,” and so God doesn’t change His mind. In the Old Testament, there’s some accounts of how God deals with His people, where it can look like God has changed his mind, but this is actually a demonstration of God’s plan and purpose from before the foundation of the world. Because we’re stuck in time, sometimes we have a very difficult time imagining God not in time, but he made time. The Bible says there will be some day when time is no more.

I want to say to a six-year-old and a seven-year-old, and for that matter, if anyone’s listening who’s 76 years old, I simply want to say we can’t think without time, but I think it’s important we think about the fact that God is not in time. We are.

Part VI

How Can We Know God’s Will For Our Family? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Next, another family question, and I love this. It’s a Christian family asking questions about God’s will for the family, including, explicit in this question, moving and indeed moving to another country for a good reason. The question is how do we as a family know what is God’s will? Well, I think this question is really, really healthy, and I think it’s in one sense healthy that I don’t have much time to answer. That’s going to make this really as clean as I can make it, which is to say, number one, everything God has commanded in Scripture we are to do, and everything He’s commanded we’re not to do, we’re not to do.

Beyond that, God uses means to communicate to us, and to give us a very clear understanding eventually of what it is we are to do. But sometimes when it comes to his will, that understanding comes in retrospect. Sometimes we as Christians just have to do what we believe is right, and we have to believe that God is sovereign in the sense that he will make us, If it’s holy and it’s righteous, it’s not forbidden in Scripture, it’s not explicitly commanded in Scripture, a move from one place to another. Well, that’s not found in Scripture. What is found in Scripture is that God loves us and is not playing games with us, and that he will reveal his perfect will for us. I think here’s something really, really glorious. One of the ways God does that is in making us want what he wants us to want, and so a good reason, a good gospel reason.

Some reason there is something good for the family to do in another place, something that will be good for the family and frankly good for the people in that place, perhaps even with a specifically Christian purpose. Well, I think that could be very clearly understood to be God’s will. We have to be very careful about this, because we don’t get to say to one another, if it’s not in the Scripture, we don’t get to say to one another, “I’m absolutely confident that God told me this is what we need to do.” But the right way of Christian humility and Christian faithfulness is to say, “God has commanded us to do these things as a family. God has commanded us to live this way as a Christian family. We’re now presented with an opportunity. We have to weigh that very carefully. What would God have us to do? Can we do something in that place, and accomplish something for the kingdom that we couldn’t accomplish right here? Is there a gospel purpose that draws us somewhere else? Is there a good godly purpose such as even just providing for the family that would take us from here to there?”

None of these things are easy, and I think perhaps of Christian young people who are saying, “I would like to be a doctor. I wonder if that’s God’s will for my life. I’d like to do this. I wonder if that’s God’s will for my life.” Well, being a doctor is a good thing, and if God’s given the ability to be a doctor, and the aptitude to be a doctor, and you can be a doctor to the glory of God, well, I would think that we just ought to believe that God has made the desire to do this good thing a focus of our minds, because he loves us, and he wants us to do it.

But I also want to say to this Christian dad, “I love the question. I’m praying the Lord will give a very clear sense of direction to your family.” But I think another thing which is very honest for Christians to pray is this, “Lord, we think to the best of our ability, this is the right way to go. If it is not, please put an obstacle in our way. If this is not the way we should go, then please close the door.” I also want to say as someone who was once a 13-year-old boy who moved with my family because of my father’s work, that took us to a very different place. I was crushed at the time, and yet very quickly, I began to understand, and now fully as I look backward in my life, God was using that in order to make me who he wanted me to be.

I can look backwards, and see that God was ordering every single step of the way in the way that would bring him greatest glory, and actually bring me greatest satisfaction, but I couldn’t see it all up front. I only get to see it looking backwards.

Part VII

What Will Heaven Be Like? — Dr. Mohler Responds to a Letter from a 16-Year-Old Listener of The Briefing

Finally, I’m going to take one last question, and it’s so big you can think, “Nobody can answer that question,” and I’ll say, “Well, I probably can’t answer it adequately either, certainly in a short time, but sometimes it’s good to try.” 16-year-old young woman writes in saying that she and her family have been talking about Heaven, and she says, “Often, Heaven is portrayed in movies as an environment in the clouds, but what will Heaven actually be like?”

You know why Heaven’s often depicted with clouds? It’s because of simply the stupidity of hearing that we’re talking about Heaven, people looking up at the sky and saying, “It must be like that.” That is not at all what we’re being told. Don’t worry, you’re not going to be walking on clouds. But the 16-year-old knows that full well, and she’s asking the question, “Then what will Heaven actually be like?” So, here’s the fast answer. The new Heaven and the new Earth, in the perfection of God’s plan for the redeemed, for those who are in Christ, it is going to be like what we know on earth. That’s why it’s a new Heaven and a new Earth, and that’s why we are told we should be thinking about things on earth as redeemed and perfected in Heaven.

So, in the kingdom of Christ, what we’re looking forward to is a new Heaven and a new Earth in which everything we know, and this life that is good is not only good but perfect, and everything that is not good is gone. I don’t think I’ve ever put it exactly that way before, but I think that’s exactly what the Bible promises, everything in this life that is good, in this creation that is good. Is there perfect, and everything that is not good isn’t there at all, forever. Okay, what a good question. What good questions. Write me at, and we’ll get to as many as we can.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. 

For more information, go to my website at You can find me on Twitter by going to For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to For information on Boyce College, just go to 

I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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