Friday, July 28, 2006

Testing some heresies, Part 3: God says He created evil

Here is the definition of the Jewish word for evil:

H7451

רעה רע

ra‛ râ‛âh

rah, raw-aw'

From H7489; bad or (as noun) evil (naturally or morally). This includes the second (feminine) form; as adjective or noun: - adversity, affliction, bad, calamity, + displease (-ure), distress, evil ([-favouredness], man, thing), + exceedingly, X great, grief (-vous), harm, heavy, hurt (-ful), ill (favoured), + mark, mischief, (-vous), misery, naught (-ty), noisome, + not please, sad (-ly), sore, sorrow, trouble, vex, wicked (-ly, -ness, one), worse (-st) wretchedness, wrong. [Including feminine ra’ah; as adjective or noun.]

A lot of Bible translations have substituted the English word 'evil' with 'calamity' as though that will get God off the hook for what He says.

Isa 45:7 I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil. (ra‛ râ‛âh) I am Jehovah, that doeth all these things.

Lam 3:38 Out of the mouth of the Most High cometh there not evil(ra‛ râ‛âh) and good?

Ecc 1:13 And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom concerning all that is done under heaven: it is a sore travail (ra‛ râ‛âh) that God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised therewith

2Sa 12:11 Thus saith Jehovah, Behold, I will raise up evil (ra‛ râ‛âh) against thee out of thine own house; and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbor, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun.

Pro 16:4 Jehovah hath made everything for its own end; Yea, even the wicked for the day of evil.

Jer 4:6 Set up a standard toward Zion: flee for safety, stay not; for I will bring evil (ra‛ râ‛âh) from the north, and a great destruction.

Jer 6:19 Hear, O earth: behold, I will bring evil (ra‛ râ‛âh) upon this people, even the fruit of their thoughts, because they have not hearkened unto my words; and as for my law, they have rejected it.

1Ki 22:22 And Jehovah said unto him, Wherewith? And he said, I will go forth, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets…

1Ki 22:23 Now therefore, behold, Jehovah hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these thy prophets; and Jehovah hath spoken evil (ra‛ râ‛âh) concerning thee.

Psa 105:25 He turned their heart to hate his people, To deal subtly with his servants.

Jer 18:11 … Thus saith Jehovah: Behold, I frame evil (ra‛ râ‛âh) against you, and devise a device against you: return ye now every one from his evil(ra‛ râ‛âh) way, and amend your ways and your doings.

Isa 63:17 O Jehovah, why dost thou make us to err from thy ways, and hardenest our heart from thy fear…

Jos 23:15 … so will Jehovah bring upon you all the evil (ra‛ râ‛âh) things, until he have destroyed you from off this good land which Jehovah your God hath given you.

Amo 3:6 Shall the trumpet be blown in a city, and the people not be afraid? shall evil(ra‛ râ‛âh) befall a city, and Jehovah hath not done it?

Job 2:10 … What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil(ra‛ râ‛âh)?

1Sa 15:3 Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.

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Ah yes, the God of the Old Testament. He was pretty harsh back then, huh? It's a good thing He's not like that any more. Oh wait…

Act 5:4 … How is it that thou hast conceived this thing in thy heart? thou has not lied unto men, but unto God. 5 And Ananias hearing these words fell down and gave up the ghost: and great fear came upon all that heard it.

2Th 2:11 And for this cause God sendeth them a working of error, that they should believe a lie: 12 that they all might be judged who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

2Co 12:7 And by reason of the exceeding greatness of the revelations, that I should not be exalted overmuch, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, that I should not be exalted overmuch. 8 Concerning this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. 9 And he hath said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my power is made perfect in weakness….

Rom 9:22 What if God, willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering vessels of wrath fitted unto destruction:

Rom 11:32 For God hath shut up all unto disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all.

Rom 13:1 Let every soul be in subjection to the higher powers: for there is no power but of God; and the powers that be are ordained of God. (This includes Hitler.)

Rev 6:4 And another horse came forth, a red horse: and to him that sat thereon it was given to take peace from the earth, and that they should slay one another: and there was given unto him a great sword

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Why can't we just believe what God says in the Bible? Why can't Christains embrace the idea that God makes bad things happen all the time? (And then recognize they are only bad from our perspective as pre-resurrected mortals.) We say we do, but why do we contradict it with our own ideas such as Free Will®? It reminds me of another incident in the Bible:

Mark 8

31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. "Get behind me, Satan!" he said. "You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men."

God speaks pretty plainly about creating, causing, and using evil. But we pull Him aside and rebuke him with our doctrines because we do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men. We focus on this life so hard that we can't fathom the big picture. We can't comprehend that this life is a vapor, a fading flower. We think that evil in this world is the worst thing in the universe. Why don't we take comfort in the fact that God says HE is in control of evil, not Satan or humans? Aren't we supposed to trust God?

It might help if we re-frame the issue. If we look at life from a mortal point of view, with our natural tendencies that tell us that death is the worst thing that can happen to a person, we will not understand God and His work at all. But if we view evil, calamity, darkness, etc. as the fire that is purifying us, life takes on a whole new appearance.

So why? Why did God make evil? Why does He make us suffer? Why does He slaughter whole people-groups? Why did He make mankind wicked?

Heb 12:6 For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, And scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.

Rom 8:20 For the creation was subjected to vanity, not of its own will, but by reason of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God.

Rom 11:33 O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past tracing out!

I think that's a partial answer. Our anguish and torment are His process to bring us into His eternal family. But then, let's always remember that we can't figure it all out! His judgments are unsearchable. His wisdom so deep that it is beyond our understanding. So why try? Well, because He tells us to. Why fight temptation? Why love our enemies? Because the One Who's wisdom is deeper than ours tells us to.

So I find is possible to recognize evil as a tool that God uses on us and for us. But if God creates and uses evil, doesn't that make HIM evil? Well, if a blacksmith uses fire on his creations, does that make him fire?

I think the idea of Good and Evil is a relative one. God put the knowledge of both in the single forbidden tree. That leads me to wonder if it's possible to know one without the other. I know I couldn't know light without darkness, sweet without bitter, hot without cold. Now these are all sensory perceptions so the analogy could fall short, but it sure lines up well. Could we know the Goodness of God without having experienced an evil world first? (I'm not offering answers here, just questions.) I'm not saying that good needs evil in order to exist like some eastern religions and philosophies. I'm saying we wouldn't know good without first experiencing evil.

I submit to you that the only way to reconcile the God who destroys infants, causes prophets to lie, deceives nations and judges them for it, with the God Who embodies Love, is to recognize that this life has a purpose other than being happy and comfortable. We need to lay aside our earthly concerns for comfort, health, wealth, and survival. And beyond that, we need to recognize that all the pain we encounter is for our good. It takes a lot of faith to do that. To believe that when a parent goes crazy and murders their own kids, or a dictator gasses thousands of people, or that when our children come our less-than-perfect, that there is a good reason for those things happening. They are not good relative to our experience, of course not, they are evil, God condemns them, and we should work to stop those things. But they are good in the absolute sense that our souls are being prepared for perfect justice and all joy.

If you've followed me so far you may be inclined to use Free Will® as explanation for all this horrible evil that God uses for good. But I think if God didn't want the responsibility for evil He would not have put in writing all the dozens of examples of Him causing it.

Here's a hypothetical… God wants sons and daughters, but there is no way to commune with these creations in the way He wants without them going through a process that involves bad stuff happening to them. (Bad from their perspective for a very brief moment.) So He creates humans as little sinning machines. He puts them next to a tree with forbidden fruit that He knows darn well they are going to eat. He creates a being that will be His Adversary who expedites the process. But before all of this occurs, He creates a Son Who is slain before the foundation of the world. At a certain point in time, He sends this Son to remedy the sinning machine dilemma. The humans live, die, and 'sleep' until judgment. Judgment day comes, everyone is raised from the dead, those who were preordained to hear and obey Christ are joined with Him and judge the world (1 Cor 6:2). Those who did not are put in a lake of fire to burn away all their wood, hay, and stubble, then are joined with Christ and All is in All.

I'm probably wrong about most of this. Unfortunately, due to the constraints of my little brain and spiritual understanding, this fits best with what I understand at the moment. (I would make a crappy pastor.)

With that big-picture view in mind, several problems are solved that I've never heard good (as in, settled-my-mind) answers for.

First and foremost, it means God didn't mess up. At all. He's not operating a plan B right now trying to cut as few losses as possible. I'm sorry, but that is just how the modern evangelical take on the whole thing looks. They say God intended for man to be perfect and live in harmony with Him in the garden forever. But, whoopsey! It just didn't work out. Now the Devil is winning by a landslide, taking billions of people to Hell™ with him, and it's up to us scattered few to save as many as we can. I hope I'm not being sacrilegious here, but that's just a crappy plan. It would totally make sense if God was not all-powerful or all-knowing. But I'm pretty sure that He is, and I'm not going to pretend that any part of this reality is not under His complete control.

This is where the idea of predestination is intrinsically divisive. Not in the sense that I think those who believe in Free Will® are evil and stupid. But in the sense that it radically affects your view of reality and God. If God really HAD to give us Free Will® for His plan to work, and He knew that in so doing, billions of souls would be eternally tormented, than He is either evil, or operating on a whole different logical and ethical paradigm than us. Whereas if He knows what He's doing from the beginning and applies evil to us for "a moment" in order to bring His whole creation into His family, than He is consistent with what He says in the Bible.

But the current take is that He made us with Free Will®, knowing we would sin and make each other's lives miserable. Then, He punishes us in this life for sinning. Then, He punishes us with death. Then, He punishes us for eternity because we sinned. (Minus the tiny percentage that heard the Gospel and repented.) It just doesn’t make since. I can't keep pretending that it does. There has to be something missing from our equations.

And the thing that jumps out at me is the factor of post-resurrection activity. The Bible is very clear that there are all sorts of important things that happen after our life on earth. What is unclear is what exactly those things are. Because all of them are symbolic. I assume this is because we can't understand spiritual reality. Hopefully no one believes that Jesus is literally a lamb with seven eyes, and simultaneously a lion. Or that believers are resurrected as sheep, and unbelievers as goats. Or that the lake of fire is a literal lake with literal fire that literally burns the flesh of those inside it. Beyond the symbols we have conceptual ideas such as judgment. I think these kinds of concepts are inter-dimensional. Love, Mercy, Justice, etc. These things are understood by men, angels and God. In fact their very meaning and definition comes from God. That is why I don't think you can say that "God is Love" is consistent with "Eternal Torture of the Wicked". I understand that we humans don't fully 'get' what love is completely, but we would have to be completely reversed to associate Love with torture. Same thing with Justice. Modern Christianity teaches that a woman in China who steals a chicken, never hears of Jesus, then dies, will be punished eternally. If our conception of Justice comes from God, then this can not be Justice. Sure, we humans have never achieved perfect Justice, but we have a recognition of its basic substance. And eternal torture for chicken thievery ain't it. But I'll be getting into Hell™ next time.

Back to the big picture view I painted. I like it because it gives God enough credit to say He's in perfect control. It incorporates evil in all its manifestations as a tool that God uses to change us into His children. And no matter how unspeakable that evil is, like the rest of our life, it is a mist that fades away. It means Satan is not a rogue being, foiling God's attempts left and right. He was made specifically to introduce and cultivate the evil in the world. (Sowing the tares.) And as a created being he was designed to do exactly what he does. Nothing more or less. And most of all, this big picture view paints a totally victorious God. The kind of God who can lead an army into battle and win without any casualties. You know, a perfect God.

Rather than a God that tells us to show mercy and love to our enemies, then turns around and eternally tortures His enemies. Rather than a God who tells us to strive for justice, then turns around and ignores justice because He can. Rather than a God who created Free Will® which overpowers His own will. (The ultimate logical fallacy.) Perhaps it is possible that God created man's will in such a way that it could overcome His own will. Perhaps He could create a stone so large He could not lift it. But then… He wouldn't be all-powerful, now would He? And He would be a liar for all those times He says that His will WILL be accomplished. And why would He make a rule like, "I can never overcome man's Free Will®." Then go and break it with the conversion of the worlds most famous Christian? (Paul)

Another great thing about this viewpoint is the comfort it provides me when it comes to the suffering of me and my family. Rather than seeing us as victims of the powers of darkness, or suffering because we don't have enough faith to compel God to free us from our suffering, we are being forged in the fires of God. He is working us into a beautiful thing. He is humbling us, teaching us patience and perseverance. Faith, hope, and love are being burned into our souls. Those everlasting qualities that bring us into communion with Him.

God didn't create us so we could have a nice life in a nice house with air conditioning and 3 cars. When I'm creating a sculpture I'm not concerned with any sort of attempt to minimize the amount of 'pain' my creation would go through with the poking, prodding, carving, baking, etc. I'm concerned with the end result. I think God is much more concerned with our eternal relationship with Him than our momentary affliction on this earth. God subjected us to vanity, (mataiotēs mat-ah-yot'-ace From G3152; inutility; figuratively transientness; morally depravity: - vanity.) not because we chose it, because He has a process in mind. He designed us this way. It wasn't an accident. He's not on Plan B, and all will end in triumph, not tragedy.

But what about all those verses that talk about hellfire and damnation? That's next.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Testing some heresies, Part 2: I choose not to believe in Free Will®

It is almost impossible for a human to see that they don't have complete freedom to make choices. Most people laugh at the thought. Who knows, maybe God was laughing when He designed our minds this way. (Monkeys are proof that God has a sense of humor. So are televangelists.)

I think this difficulty is the result of our perspective, and our idea of control. Most people's revulsion to the idea of predestination is probably based on the idea of God forcing us to do things. As though He is sitting in heaven with a joystick, moving us around like we are Mario. Well, I would ask a simple question then. Since you believe that YOU have that joystick, what's causing you to make the decisions you do? I hope you don't say "nothing". Let's take a really simple example to start with… Please look at the following dot.

.

Now… You may have looked at the dot, or you may not have. (Or you may have stopped reading altogether, but for the sake of simplicity let's just say there are only two options.) You obviously had a choice whether or not to look at the dot. But was your choice uncaused? The realm of nature has no such example. The only entity we know of that was uncaused is God. So you think your choice is on that same level? Of COURSE something caused you to make the decision that you did. It may have been curiosity. Or a compulsion to complete something you started. Maybe you are a contrarian by nature and you don't like taking orders. Maybe you have no sense of humor and found the exercise pointless. There are many, many other reasons for looking at, or not looking at the dot. Just because you can't put your finger on it doesn't make it go away.

Let's pick one of those examples a follow it for a bit. Let's say a hypothetical reader (Those are the only ones I have!) refused to look at the dot because they don't like being told what to do. (If you believe that God is omnipotent and omniscient you will be able to follow along here.)

Question: Why is she a contrarian?

Answer #1: She is genetically predisposed due to her genetic makeup.

SubQuestion #1: Who designed DNA to work the way it does?

Answer #2: Her father was cold and too strict with her so she learned to hate authority.

SubQuestion #2: Who created her father?

Answer #3: She hangs out with friends who are of like mind and she would fall out of favor with them if she was seen following orders.

SubQuestion #3: Who created her friends?

Now you can continue to parse this explanation almost infinitely, but I try to keep my essays just a few pages short of eternal. So I'll pick one branch and follow it a little ways. I don't think many Christians would argue with me about the DNA part. They all acknowledge that God created some people smart, some stupid, some gifted in speaking, other's building, etc. But once environment – namely other people – enter into the equation they feel like they can say it's out of God's hands. So let's pick up on Answer #2. Her dad raised her in such a way that she grew defiant and angry. Well, you say, surely God didn't make her father be such a crappy father. Surly, if God had His way He would have given her a loving, perfect father who would not have hardened her heart. Clearly, her father decided to defy God when he raised her poorly and that is the whole problem. Well, the problem with that argument is that it just turns into trail that leads back to Adam. Once you ask why her dad is the way he is, part of that answer comes from the way HIS father was, and his father, and his father, etc.

OK. So why did Adam sin? Can a perfect being sin? After all, that is what we are taught. We've been told - even though there is no scripture that says so – that mankind was created as a perfect being. But how could a perfect being desire what is not right? All actions come from the heart, and the so-called fall of man is proof that man's heart was created sinful. But the traditional answer to that is that Free Will® gave Adam and Eve the ability to choose sin. But wait. If you make something perfect… and it fails… how is it perfect? People seem to think that Free Will® somehow gets God off the hook for evil and sin, but all it does is push it back one step. If a perfect God Who knows the future made a perfect being… it wouldn't screw up! But I'm getting ahead of myself here. I'm talking the problem of evil and suffering in the next installment. Let's go back to the contrary reader and her upbringing.

The advocate of Free Will® will say that since her father choose to raise her that way, God doesn't intervene and she becomes contrary and refuses to look at my carefully placed dot. Well let's examine one of the free choices her dad made in rearing her. I'm going to leave out any of HIS parent's issues, because as I just showed, that leads back to Adam. This is not sidestepping the issue, it's simply putting a bookend on it so that it's possible to examine how one person affects another. Of course this is an oversimplification because no one is affected by only one other person, but the rules remain consistent no matter how many people you add to the mix.

Let's say her father decided that children without discipline are an embarrassment to their parents, so he decides to put more value on rule-following than emotional connection. Well what made him think that unruly children embarrass their parents? He must have observed this process at some time. And when he did his God-designed eyes sent a signal to his God-designed brain where it was processed and then interpreted by his God-designed spirit/heart/soul/will. (Whatever you want to call it.) So at which point of this opinion-forming experience did God lose track of what was going on? Where was His lack of omniscience and omnipotence? Did He not foresee that this guy would interpret what he saw in that way? Free Will® says, "Of course He foresaw it. But He didn't directly intervene it the process so that the guy could control his own destiny." The problem is that this argument completely misses the point. God DESIGNED that man's spirit exactly the way He wanted it. And in the process of design, He knew exactly how this guy would react in every situation he would ever encounter. He knew exactly how many times the guy would blink, how many hours he would sleep, how often he would relieve himself, how many hairs would be on his head at any given moment.

You see, if you acknowledge that God designed you, and acknowledge that He knows all that is, was, and is to come, you have NO ROOM for Free Will®. God designed you in such a way that you would react exactly as He planned for you to react. To make every choice and decision that he planned for you to make. To have every opinion and attitude that He planned for you to have. To say otherwise is to contradict that God designed you OR that He knows all.

You can have a god who knows all but just lets his creation run on its own without him, procreating on its own with no intervention from him. But that's not the God of the Bible.

You can have a god who designed you, but wasn't sure exactly what you would do after he let you loose since he gave you Free Will® and all. But that's not the God of the Bible.

But you can NOT have a God Who knows all AND designs you with that knowledge in mind, and believe that you can make a choice that He didn't design, foreordain, and plan for you to do. Don't believe me? Go ahead and prove that you have Free Will® by choosing to look at the dot. Then go back in time and chose not to look at the dot. Go ahead… I'll warm up the Flux Capacitor for you. Oh wait, that's right. There is no way to prove that you have Free Will®. It's just nice to think you do. You make decisions based on your desires. But to pretend your desires originated from nothing is absurd.

So why would a God who designed us to make every choice we ever do exactly the way we do, admonish us to do anything? Why are we told to choose who we will serve? Why are we told to believe, hope, obey - to work out our salvation with fear and trembling - if our choices are inevitable. It's quite simple. God uses the world around you to influence you, to affect your desires. Or more accurately, He designed you to be influenced by the world around you in precisely the way you are. Or do you think He didn't know you would read those admonitions in the Bible? Did he not design you to take comfort or be challenged to action by His words? He admonishes us to action because His words are one tool in a toolbox of trillions of tools that He uses to accomplish His will. The whole universe is His tool box. He's a fantastic potter, you see.(Jer.18:6) And his pots never jump off the wheel to do their own thing. (Rom. 9:19) God has a plan for you and you can't stop it, no matter how much Free Will® you use.

Philippians 2:

13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

Hmm… I wonder how our will can be Free® when it is God working in us not only to act the way He designed, but to will the way He designed? Free Will® retorts, "Maybe that just means that God works in us to will and act only when it's His good purpose. But we can choose not to do His good purpose." Wait a minute Free Will®, are you saying that man can and does thwart God's will as he pleases?

Ephesians 1

11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will,

John 15

5 "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

Free Will®: "That must just be talking about people who are saved!" Well Free Will®, I think God disagrees with you. He certainly used Pharaoh to the purpose of His will.

Exodus 10

20 But the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he would not let the Israelites go.

It sounds to me like God doesn’t care whether you follow Him or not when it comes to His will being accomplished.

Isaiah 46

10 I make known the end from the beginning,
from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say: My purpose will stand,
and I will do all that I please.

11 From the east I summon a bird of prey;
from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose.
What I have said, that will I bring about;
what I have planned, that will I do.

Free Will®, "… Except when someone exercises their Free Will®, right?"

Proverbs 20

24 A man's steps are directed by the LORD.
How then can anyone understand his own way?

Jeremiah 10

23 I know, O LORD, that a man's life is not his own;
it is not for man to direct his steps.

Daniel 4

35 …He does as he pleases
with the powers of heaven
and the peoples of the earth.
No one can hold back his hand
or say to him: "What have you done?

It sounds to me like people can't direct their own steps or hold back the hand of God as He does what He pleases no matter how much Free Will® they use.

From what I can tell there are five reasons that Christians cling so tightly to this Free Will® thing even though it is never mentioned in the Bible, and is often contradicted by it. I'll be tackling number 4 and 5 in the next couple installments.

  1. It's seems obvious that we wave the ability to choose.
  2. We are under the impression that we can't love God without the power to choose to love Him.
  3. We need Free Will® to be responsible for our actions and thoughts.
  4. Free Will® is used as a scapegoat for God so we can say He is not responsible for anything bad that happens.
  5. We need Free Will® to explain why people can reject Christ and spend eternity in torment in Hell™.

So I'll examine each of these one at a time. I've already dealt with the idea that it seems obvious that we have the ability to choose. And I agree. But we never will choose something that God didn't ordain. God designed you to will every thought and deed that you do. It may seem a bit mind boggling, but not so much if you give God the credit He is due. Just because we can't see God doesn’t make Him less real. Just because we die, doesn't mean we won't be resurrected. Just because we don't see Jesus doesn’t mean He won't be our judge. Just because we feel like we are making uncaused decisions doesn’t mean we are. I think this sums it up beautifully:

Ecclesiastes 3

11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

The next issue involves love. What a tricky word. It has so many meanings to so many people and is misused and abused constantly. We can fall in love. We can choose to do loving acts of charity. We can love art. We can love evil. So when we say we need Free Will® in order to love God, it behooves us to look into exactly what kind of love that is, and what the object of that love is.

How often do we choose to love someone that we didn't previously love? Sure there are times in every kind of love relationship where you have to grit your teeth and make yourself act in a loving way. But is that love? Is that the kind of love you think God wants from you? Or do you prefer the idea of falling in love with God? I know I do. When we fall in love, or find ourselves loving art, or anything else, it's not an act of the will! It's a natural process of finding elements of your love that fit with your natural inclinations. I fell in love with a woman who complements my weaknesses and shows godly character. She has a good sense of humor and plays piano beautifully. I didn't have to use my Free Will® to force myself to love her. And I would not have fallen in love with a godless, humorless woman. I could have tried as much as I wanted, but it wouldn't have happened.

I love juxtaposition humor, fantasy, the female form, and explosions not because I choose to. I love those things because that's how God designed my mind. Sure there are things like acquired tastes that you have to force yourself to like. I could probably acquire a taste for spicy food, gambling or alcohol if I wanted to. But not if there is no 'fit' in my mind for them. That is, if I can't find a single thing that I enjoy in them I won't be able to develop a love for them. For example, I don't think I could ever acquire a taste for punching babies. I could try it over and over, but it just wouldn't 'fit'.

So do you think God wants us to acquire a love for Him by forcing ourselves to love Him? That seems like it would take a lot of Free Will® to accomplish. It also sounds nothing like what the Bible says.

What if, instead of requiring us to use Free Will® to love Him, God simply IS an object of love for us due to His intrinsic nature? What if He were so wonderful that simply to know Him IS to love Him? What if Free Will® were not required at all? Why is Free Will® required at all? I can tell you from experience. God IS that beautiful and lovely. I'm 31 and I've barely scratched the surface of what it is to know God and I can whole-heartedly say that it took 0.000 effort on my part to love Him. 0.000 Free Will® to love Him.

I wonder if there is a Biblical example of God overriding a person's Free Will®? Hmmm.

Acts 9

1 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples…

3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"

5 "Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked.

"I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," he replied. 6 "Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do."

….

15 But the Lord said to Ananias, "Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.

Hmm.. According to modern theology Jesus should have said, "Saul, will you choose to do what I'm telling you? Because, you know, you can always exercise your Free Will® and do as you please. I certainly don't want to come on too strong or give you the impression that you don't have a choice in the matter. Because if you don't choose me in a totally uncaused way than I know it wouldn't really be real love.

If Free Will® is necessary to love God, it also presents a dilemma of its own. How can our love for God be pure and voluntary if we believe that choosing to deny Him leads to eternal torture? Free will doesn’t solve the problem of our inability to love God, it makes it worse.

So what about number 3: needing Free Will® to be responsible for our thoughts and deeds? After all, if we don't actually control our own will and desires, how can God judge us for them? How can He blame the sinner and bless the saint? How can we keep looking down on wicked and slovenly people if they aren't responsible for them selves? How can we still be proud of our choice to accept Jesus if He's the one who chose us? Most Christians would probably stop me on the last one or two. They would say they shouldn't look down on anyone and they acknowledge that they are saved by grace. Well if you agree with that, follow your logic and apply it to the first two statements. How can God judge us? Why would He bother? Well, we know that God wants sons and daughters, of whom, Jesus is the first. We know that God chastises those He loves. There must therefore be a reason for judgment and punishment. And it must have to do with our souls after the resurrection of the dead.

Salvation by grace is a two way street. You can't say people who are saved are completely saved by grace, but then say those who aren't have chosen their own fate. If you say you are saved by grace that means you did nothing on your own. If you had it wouldn't be grace. It would be mostly grace. I'd love to see a verse that says we are saved mostly by grace. Or as I've heard it preached, "God reaches most of the way towards us, and we just have to make the tiniest movement towards Him." It doesn’t matter how tiny that movement is or how small the decision, it is something that we have done to get salvation. I've never seen that process even hinted at in the Bible.

Romans 3

10 As it is written:
"There is no one righteous, not even one;
11there is no one who understands,
no one who seeks God.

1 Corinthians 15

10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.

You can't earn your salvation with any work.

Ephesians 2

8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.

You can't earn your salvation by summoning up faith with your supposed Free Will®. God has to give it to you. And if God is 100% responsible for your salvation, He must likewise be responsible for the lack of salvation for others. You can't have it both ways. You can't say you are saved by grace through faith that maybe you had a little bit to do with. That's not Biblical. You can't say you are completely saved by God with no contribution on your part, (As it clearly states in the Bible.) but then say the unsaved are responsible for themselves. All humans share the same responsibility for their salvation: zero. God takes all responsibility for Himself. He can handle it. He's God. God never says "Whoopsey!"

Romans 9

18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.

19 One of you will say to me: "Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?" 20 But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?' " 21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?

22 What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? 23 What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory—

Here is one last way of looking at this enigma of our supposed Free Will®. God makes it clear that He works with us on our level. He asks us questions that He knows the answer to, such as when He asked Adam where he was, or Cain where his brother was. There are a lot of things in the Bible that seem contradictory until you realize that some are written from our perspective, as reality seems to humans, and the other is God's transcendent truth. Here are some examples that I copied from L. Ray Smith's rebuttal to a sermon by Dr. James Kennedy.

THE RELATIVE:

" ... seek, and ye shall find ... " (Mat. 7:7)

THE ABSOLUTE:

"Not one is seeking out God" (Rom. 3:11)

THE RELATIVE:

"God changed His mind" (Ex. 32:14)

THE ABSOLUTE:

"God is not a man Who changes His mind" (I Sam. 15:29)

THE RELATIVE:

" ... choose you this day whom ye will serve." (Josh. 24:15)

THE ABSOLUTE:

"Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you ... " (Jn. 15:16)

THE RELATIVE:

" ... whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God ... " (I Jn. 3:10)

THE ABSOLUTE:

"All is of God" (II Cor. 5:18)

THE RELATIVE:

"Zechariah was just before God" (Lk. 1:5) (Comparing him to the corrupt priests)

THE ABSOLUTE:

"Not one is just" (Rom. 3:10) (Comparing man with God)

In the same way, it is true that Cookie Monster likes to sing about cookies, but it is more true that Frank Oz is really the one singing and making him move his mouth. In the same way it is true that we seek God and work out our salvation, but it is more true that God causes us to seek Him and He works through us all the things we do in our life. We perceive that Cookie Monster sings and that we make uncaused decisions, but our perceptions are carnal.

Ephesians 4

6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

The number three reason that Christians want to believe in Free Will® is that we just can't stand the thought of God creating evil. Creating beings that do evil. Creating situations that involve evil. Willing evil upon us. Well, they have to cover their eyes when they read much of the Bible.

Next, I'm going into the dark depths of the Bible to reveal the evil it contains.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Testing some heresies ~ Part 1: Faulty Towers

Preface:

In my last entry I alluded to some unorthodox views about Christianity that I have recently found which I find highly enticing. In the next couple entries I'm going to attempt to articulate why they make so much sense to me. After I'm done with this series I am going to do my best to debunk these arguments to see if I can find myself back in agreement with tradition. (And thus, stay within the good graces of my spiritual leaders within the church.)

In my last entry I talked about the anxiety I've felt over this process. In my mind, the stakes are high. I'm very mindful about the word picture Jesus painted for those who teach others falsehood. I'm not excited about tying a millstone around my neck and jumping into the ocean. I'm not happy about risking my family's souls because of the way I feel. On the other hand, I can't very well parrot teachings to them that I no longer believe. It may well be the case, that after thoroughly examining the claims of these heresies, I end up back where I began. But it may not. The one thing I take comfort in is the fact that God put in me a real desire to seek Him and His Truth. I believe that my soul will not be satisfied with anything less.

Let me quickly say what these heretical ideas do NOT include. They do not include discarding any part of the Bible or accepting any additional material as Truth. They do not include changing my behavior, adding or subtracting rules, or making me love anyone less. They do not include joining any sort of group, giving money to anyone, or accepting the word of someone as a prophet. They do not include any way to salvation other than Jesus Christ. They do not include any secret information that is only available to a select few. They do not include a redefinition of God as He is revealed in the Bible.

I also want to state up front that while I love these ideas, I'm not going for them hook, line and sinker until I have tested and tried them to the fullest of my abilities. I'm not teaching them to my kids or anyone else. In the following entries I will be advocating them, but I will not be in my daily life until I have God's assurance that I am not harming anyone by them.

This process reminds me a lot of my decision to marry Heather. I was very aware of the devastating effect marrying the wrong woman would have on my family. So I approached it with a lot of council, prayer, and trepidation. I looked for signs that it was right or wrong. I listened to my soul. (And presumably what God was saying to me.) Well, I think that process paid off in spades. (I have no idea what that term means but I'm pretty sure it's good.) I married an amazing woman who is so perfect for me it's spooky. She is an amazing mother despite her doubts and frustrations, and she loves me and supports me in ways I didn't even know I needed. So since that process worked with one life-changing, potentially devastating situation, I'm confident that it will work with this one as well.

In this first part I'm going to explain why I am able to consider these heretical ideas despite my upbringing that taught me not to ignore the church's theologies.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I picture Christian theologies as towers made of rocks. We take our verses or passages that we consider holy and inspired by God, and cobble them together in the best way possible, leaving as few holes as possible. We step back, look at what we've built, and call it doctrine. We end up with things that are not specifically mentioned in the Bible, but that, logically, seem to be the best way to assemble the rocks. Things like the Trinity. God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There are verses that clearly describe them as having the same attributes such as omniscience, omnipotence, etc. (Well, God and Jesus anyhow… I'm not sure how God's spirit got lumped into it as a person rather than just, well, God's spirit.) Yet it's clear that God wants us to know Him as a single entity. I've always wondered why we assume that there are only 3 parts to God. Yes, He has revealed 3 (or 2) to us. But why do we assume that God has shown us all that there is of Him? And why did Jesus repeatedly say that God was greater than Him, and He couldn't do anything without the Father, yet God the Father never said the same about Jesus? Well, that's not the point of this.

Anyway, back to my tower analogy. Everyone has biases. Everyone was taught what they know by people with biases. Everyone wants God to be what they desire Him to be like. So they find verses that support their view and fit them together in a way that makes them happy. The problem is that there are so many verses to choose from that it's difficult to keep them all coherently informing your thoughts as you build your tower. So a lot of rocks get left out of your tower. People who like the thought of a vengeful, angry God Who smites their enemies have plenty of rocks to use, but overlook the ones that don't fit their thought. Same with the people who want a lovey-dovey, peace-and-flower's God Who would only bless everyone. I've never been content with most of the theologies I've heard. I've always felt that they left out too many rocks. Too many scriptures that -according to our beliefs- hold just as much truth as the ones they are using.

Now here is where things get tricky. Our 'rocks' are not the same rocks that were around 2,000 or 3,000 years ago. They have a lot of sediment build-up, or corrosion from time. Why? Because the Bible has gone through so many translations (corrosion of the original idea), and because so many verses have had doctrines built around them. (sediment adding more weight than was originally intended.) We here in America, reading our NIV or King James Bibles really have a heck of a time fitting all our oblong, misshapen rocks together. As a result, I think we have a lot of pendulous, precarious towers built of verses that didn't quite mean what everyone thought they did.

A good example of this can be found in the modern television evangelist sphere. They have created a culture that has incubated this incredibly stupid doctrine of prosperity that contradicts the vast majority of scripture. They preach that when you give enough money, time, etc. to God, (Or by proxy: them.) He WILL bless you financially in order for the world to see your blessings and want what you have. Never mind that entire quarry of stones over there that say our life as Christians WILL be difficult. That we WILL be tested with fire from God. That we should expect suffering and persecution. No. They have focused on the rocks they like so much that they myopically build their theological tower out of far too few stones. And it WILL come crashing down around them.

I want to talk about the condition of the rocks in my analogy. I'm beginning to think that our building material needs a really good examination. I think the core of each stone is solid, and is truth. But I mentioned two conditions that afflict the rocks we are working with. Build-up, and corrosion. Build-up occurs when a verse is taken from its context and cemented to other verses to form a theological premise. At that point, when we look at the rock by itself we can't help but think about the other rocks attached to it. Even when we break it off, it still has bits of cement and pieces of other rocks stuck to it. Here is a classic example of two verses cemented together that formed a doctrine.

Isaiah 14:12 How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!

Luke 10:18 He replied, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven".

There you have it. Satan used to be an angel named Lucifer and he went bad and got kicked out of heaven where he has been wreaking havoc ever since. Most Christians can't read one of those verses without thinking of the other. Never mind the context of each of these verses is completely different. Never mind that Isaiah was clearly talking about a Babylonian king. (All you have to do is read the verses around it to see that.) And never mind that Jesus was painting a congratulatory analogy for his apostles after they came back to Him rejoicing over the power He had given them to cast out demons. Never mind that 1 John 3:8 says Satan "sins from the beginning."

That's what I mean by build-up. The residue of other verses, stuck together incorrectly has rendered those verses difficult to evaluate and use correctly. One has to chip away all the incorrect associations before they can incorporate those stones into their tower properly.

Another kind of build up that occurs is sediment. The sediment of our traditional understanding of scripture and the traditions of men. Where do we see the idea of a church building in the Bible? Where do we see any political activity endorsed? How about spending tens of thousands of dollars to send a small group of teenagers from your church to Africa where they will spend a week "helping", instead of just sending the tens of thousands of dollars to the Christians who are already over there struggling for every scrap they have? Sure, if you poke around in the Bible enough you can find snippets of verses to support that stuff, if you interpret it the way you want. But I've seen vegetarians, communists, and homosexuals do the same thing. If you don't approach the Bible holistically, you can't claim it as authoritative.

Then there is the corrosion. And this is a really tough issue to deal with since it involves so many fields of expertise. I have to sadly admit that I am unilingual. But I have read that when anything is translated from one language to another it is impossible to make it have the exact meaning that it did in the original. There are some words that have exact matches, but for the most part there are shades of difference between them. Then there is the problem of analogies, euphemisms, and a dozen other forms of writing that subsist wholly on using words that don't mean what they normally mean.

Since the King James Version of the Bible was an Olde English translation of a Latin translation of Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew words you can imagine the difficulties involved with keeping true to the words that God spoke into ancient Greek, Aramaic or Hebrew speaking minds.

The King James Bible was translated at a time when Christendom had many, many established traditions and had become a world super-power. The translators were looking at Latin text from hundreds of years earlier and applying their filters of established church doctrine to the work. King James was THE established publication of the Bible for a long time, so the ideas in it had a lot of time to build momentum, further instantiating these traditions and theologies, embedding them not only in the texts, but in the minds of countless theologians, writers, priests, pastors, etc. For example, I read that the word "eternity" or "eternal" do not exist in Greek or Hebrew. But it does in Latin. So whichever Latin speaking scribe that translated all those verses about eternal life, or eternal fire, made a judgment call. This has to happen all the time when translation occurs. But suppose the Greek word, "aionios" never meant eternal or carried its connotation. But church teaching has embedded the idea of eternity in the head of the translator so well that they justify translating it as such due to a belief in the perfection of church teaching. Well if that was the case, you would find a huge shift away from the original meaning of the text, and every reader from that point on would learn and teach and enforce doctrine based on a misinterpretation.

But this particular scenario begs the question of why the founding fathers of the church, who were Greek speakers, would develop theology that includes eternal punishment or reward if such concepts are not found in the text. The answer I have seen is the milieu which they inhabited. The Greco-Roman culture which was heavily influenced by Egyptian mythology ends up leaking into the church in all sorts of ways. You can see this with the word Hades, which is universally used to translate the Hebrew word Sheol. Jesus talks about Hades and Gehenna which His disciples translate in the Gospels (Probably from Aramaic to Koine Greek so who knows what the actual, specific words He used were.), John talks about Hades, but were they referring to the underworld according to Greek myth guarded by Cerberus and holding Elysian Fields and Tartarus? Clearly their teachings contradict these myths in every way conceivable. But using the word Hades automatically brings with it the baggage of Greek myth. So while John may have understood the limited meaning of the word as the closest facsimile to what he was communicating, later readers could easily misunderstand exactly what elements of Hades he was referencing. A modern corollary would be a Christian preaching in a Muslim area, using the word Allah instead of God. Well, which aspects of Allah is the missionary referencing? Allah/God who created the universe? Allah/God who spoke to Abram and changed his name? Allah/God who spoke to Mohammad and ordered him to go around killing people? Clearly the missionary would not be using that last connotation.

But would readers of the Gospels a hundred years later be so clear about what aspects of Hades are, and are not implied by the use of the word? What if they built doctrine about hell based on a misunderstanding about the use of the word Hades? This is the kind of thing I'm talking about when I say our towers of theology have stones with a lot of corrosion. There are a lot of what-ifs and who-knows, and the consequences of turning the shade of meaning of a single word can have massive effects on the stability of the tower.

What this all comes down to for me, is that I don't see a need to be slavishly bound to traditional church doctrine. I see a need to be slavishly bound to God and His revealed Word. It would seem safer to stay within the bounds of what others have figured out over the course of 2,000 years; to sit safely in one of these towers built upon the thoughts and ideas of millions of Christians. But I'm feeling more and more uneasy about the workmanship of these towers. You see, I really don't trust man and his workmanship. I don't have a lot of faith in giant organizations. They are great for keeping things stable. But if they are keeping a wrong thing stable, I don't want to be there when the wind and the waves come.

But what other option do I have? Do I build my own tower? Do I ignore the weight of thousands of brilliant Christians' ideas? Do I say that MY feelings on the matter trump all the tower-building that went on before me? If that was the case, there would be only one explanation: I have been chosen. Not in a Golden Child sense, as though I have merited favor from God so He blessed me with some brilliant insight. No, it would be more like: He put a heart in me that couldn't bear the way that traditional church doctrine demeans Him. He put fiery experiences in my life that taught me that my old understanding of Him was wrong.

OR. Or I'm just chasing a blasphemous doctrine because it sounds right to me. I pray that God will burn away any desire I have to believe anything wrong about Him or His will for my life. I pray that He will dampen my enthusiasm for anything that is not of Him. And mostly I pray that He will mold me into the best spiritual leader for my family that I can be.

Coming up next: My 3-fold attack on traditional church doctrine! Who will win? (God. He always wins.)

Monday, July 17, 2006

Strange feelings

I've never experienced anything like this before. I'm getting a depression-like feeling from the anxiety that I will find some facts that destroy some ideas I really, really like concerning my faith. It's an odd thing. I have geared myself towards following Truth wherever it may lead me. And I found a place that I want to stay. Let me explain… The last couple of years of my life have brought me through some really tough emotional valleys. And that experience set my thoughts on a trajectory that I've been happily pursuing for the past while. I see it as a maturation of my faith as I've wrestled with reconciling my experiences and newly learned spiritual insights with what I used to understand about Christianity.

Of course, everyone's personal spiritual journey is fraught with epistemological problems. We all must consider how we know what we know, and how it was learned. Since a personal spiritual experience is not subject to repeating for analysis it's hard to justify any actions or attitudes that come about as a result of that experience. Everything that happens to us is subject to interpretation, and as such, is going to be defined by the ideological lens through which we view it. I can truly state that I am very comfortable with the lens that I am using. I've studied it from a multitude of angles, compared against reality, seen it work well in many situations, and understood its benefits. I am speaking of a Christian worldview. Yet, I pause when using that phrase…. After all, the number of philosophies and viewpoints within Christendom are legion, and it's really hard to boil them all down to one generic idea that fits all. (C.S. Lewis did an admirable job, although those who fall outside of his "Mere" Christianity probably disagree with that.)

And this is where my wandering mind has found a place of comfort. I've been recording my spiritual journey on this blog for the past couple years and that has helped me to see the trajectory that I've been following for a while now. I call it a trajectory because it truly feels like my divorce was like an explosion that shot me out of a cannon in a specific direction. How much of this is God, and how much is my own imagination is open to debate, but that is how I feel.

There are three areas of Christian doctrine that I have been having quite a few issues with over the past several years. The idea of Free Will, the Problem of Evil, and the doctrine of Hell. They are all intertwined to be sure, and I'm not going to delve into them just yet. I just wanted to record the fact that I've stumbled across some literature that has wrapped all of these problems I've had up, and serve as a logical conclusion to where my mind has been racing towards for the last couple years. These writings have a good side, and a not-so-good side. The good side is that they are pulled from the Bible with a deep reverence for it as the Word of God. The thorny part is that they approach the Bible from outside of the traditional teachings of the Church and its theology. And they involve some very important translation issues. AND the guy presenting these issues is not a Greek or Hebrew scholar. For these reasons, I am approaching this material very, very carefully. Yet, it's hard to be careful when you are in love. And I have to be honest here, and say I am head-over-heals about these ideas. Everything is clicking for me. It's like a golden epiphany. Suddenly all these loose ends have been tied up in a way that my soul has been searching for. All that is required is to sever the Gordian Knot of Christian theology.

Which may be a foolish thing to do. That's why I'm not diving in, even though the waters are so inviting. First there are several heavy duty questions that need to be raised. Like: if this stuff is true, how did everyone get it wrong? And by everyone, I'm including many people who are much smarter and spiritually mature than I. And if they all did, what makes me think that this guy, and me, and a handful of others got it right? (I do have some theories.) Well, modesty must be the bit in my mouth, reining me back as I explore this. And that's where the anxiety comes from. I don't want to be shown that this is wrong. I don't want it to be disproved. I like it. I like how it exalts God. I like how it diminishes me. I like how it presents answers from the Bible that I've never seen before.

One thing is certain though. No matter how this pans out, it is a good thing. I have never hungered like this to study God's word. I've never had such a desire to read the whole Bible in detail. But now I do. I want to see how these ideas line up with all of it. I want to look into the Greek and Hebrew, and see if these translation issues are valid. I want to talk to experts in the field and learn about the actual words that God inspired. God has never seemed so alive in me, and I'm very excited, though also apprehensive, about delving into all this.

I'll be posting more about this as it develops. First looking into traditional Christian theology and dogma, (as I understand it.) and then examining the truth claims of this new theological framework.

One thing my dad has drilled into my head is that "Ideas have consequences." And so I'm looking down the road so to speak. Where does one end up if they follow this radical thinking. Well God bless the internet… there is a forum of like-minded people, and I'm checking that place out to see what kind of fruit is evident. If this idea's consequences result in diminishing my love for others or God, than it is surely one I will drop quickly. Ultimately, God knows my heart. I mean, He IS the one who designed it and gave it to me. He knows that I sincerely seek Him in so far as my limited capacity will allow. He hears me when I say I don't want to be fooled by "every wind of doctrine". He promised that if I seek I will find. And I trust that will be the case.

This may not be true, but I feel like my heart will be crushed if I have to go back to thinking about God in the same way I did before.