Friday, October 20, 2006

Heterodox Aftershocks 7: Aion / Aionios

I've noted before that the weak spot in the Christian Universalists armor is the fact that the entire matter is contingent on a translation matter. There are plenty of strong arguments that appeal to logic, emotion, philosophy, and the nature of God. But those arguments can all be undone with the definition of two words. (Assuming you take the Bible to be authoritative.)

That the Bible speaks of punishment for sin there can be no doubt. No one who takes the Bible and its message seriously can deny that God judges actions and attitudes and that those who fall short and are not justified are in for some horrific experience. Both in this life and the next. That I do not dispute. The contention lies in the rendering of two related Greek words: aion and aionios.

I've compiled the following quotes from a paper about these words below. As I've noted, I'm not a Greek speaker. I'm not a linguist. I can't even speak any language except English. The force of my own arguments on this issue are weak at best. And arguments between non-Greek-scholars about it is like blind men arguing over the color of the sea. This analogy is apt on two levels. First, in translation most words can have multiple meaning depending on their usage and context, just like the color of the ocean varies by climate, sky, depth, etc. And secondly, as blind men, we must take the words of others to build our case. The analogy breaks down here though. For few men place the weight of tradition and ideas about the destiny of humanity on the color of the sea. So it's unlikely that you will have partisans attempting to persuade you that the ocean is red because that fits their world-view. You won't find a person who is so set in their ways that, having heard of a red tide, they began to tell everyone with convincing passion that the ocean MUST BE red. Or a man who has only lived in the Caribbean and can't fathom the concept of a gray ocean trying to convince you that water is always blue-green.

But such is the case with the translation of aion / aionios in the Bible. The vast majority of people who purport to know what those words mean have little or no experience in the fields necessary to make an informed decision on the matter, and thus take the word of a trusted authority on the matter. That fact that their trusted authorities have predominantly been schooled to understand the matter a certain way makes no difference to them.

And as a blind man myself, I am forced to choose which argument best fits the facts. And I have my own biases to deal with. Since I don't currently have the faculties to determine the meaning of these words from an etymological or linguistic perspective, any arguments concerning the matter must appeal to other forms of understanding that I do possess. Of course the art and science of translation do not exist in a vacuum. Other disciplines are woven throughout. So one can hopefully expect that an argument based in these spheres will overlap with others and can be made sense out of by them. In other words: if a translation argument is illogical due to some bias or other problem, the faculties of logic still apply to the argument and can be used by a non-linguist to dismantle said argument. And conversely, a non-linguist can approach an appeal made on linguistic grounds with the tools available to him and find an argument strong. But because he lacks the 'tools of the trade', he should always be aware that there could be a vital understanding that would unlock some sophistry unknown to him.

Because I realize that in my own field of sculpting I would have the upper hand in a debate with a non-artist concerning sculpting. I could probably convince someone with no sculpting experience that an armature is not necessary when sculpting large figures. I could use all sorts of lingo and find obscure examples, and even walk them through a few steps of the process in demonstration. But then if they asked another artist about my teaching, that artist would scoff and could explain to them that the materials just don't work that way.

Should my non-artist friend push any of my deceptions, I think my ruse would collapse as quickly as my armature-less sculpture. If they researched the materials that I use, asked other artists about it, tried it themselves, etc, they would debunk me. And it could be done without much artistic expertise or skill.

And so it is with that level of scrutiny that I approach my study of this issue. I have several books on the subject from different points of view. I'm looking for scholars of all persuasions to ask. (Thanks for your help with that, dad!) And I'm most importantly of all, praying fervently about this process of inquiry. Because when it comes to epistemology, I am resolute in opinion that any truth in this life is only had by the Light that is Christ.

I've compiled the following quotes from a long, scholarly paper about these words below. This comprises the very best argument I've heard on this topic so far. I've emphasized the points that really stuck out to me.

Excerpts from AIÓN -- AIÓNIOS, TRANSLATED Everlasting – Eternal IN THE HOLY BIBLE, Shown to Denote Limited Duration. By Rev. John Wesley Hanson:

"The original Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek, by seventy scholars, and hence called "The Septuagint," B.C. 200-300, and the Hebrew word Olam is, in almost all cases, translated Aión Aiónios etc., (Aíwv, Aíwvios,) so that the two words may be regarded as synonymous with each other. In the New Testament the same words Aión and its derivatives, are the original Greek of the English words, Eternal, Everlasting, Forever, etc.. So that when we ascertain the real meaning of Aión, we have settled the sense of those English words in which the doctrine of Endless Punishment is erroneously taught. It is not going to far to say that if the Greek Aión - Aiónios does not denote endless duration, then endless punishment is not taught in the Bible. We proceed to show that the sense of interminable duration does not reside in the word."

"We next appeal to Lexicography. Now lexicograph must always be consulted, especially on disputed words, cum grano salis. A theologian, in his definitions, is quite certain to shade technical words with his own belief, and lean one way or the other, according to his own predilections. Unconsciously and necessarily the lexicographer who has a bias in favor of any doctrine will tincture his definitions with his own idiosyncrasies. Very few have sat judicially, and given meanings to words with reference to their exact usage; so that one must examine dictionaries concerning any word whose meaning is disputed, with the same care that should be used in reference to any subject on which men differ."

"The oldest lexicographer, Hesychius, (A. D. 400-600,) definesaión thus: "The life of man, the time of life." At this early date no theologian had yet imported into the word the meaning of endless duration. It retained only the sense it had in the classics, and in the Bible."

" John of Damascus (A. D. 750,) says, "1, The life of every man is called aión. . . . 3, The whole duration or life of this world is called aión. 4, The life after the resurrection is called 'the aión to come.'"

" But in the sixteenth century Phavorinus was compelled to notice an addition, which subsequently to the time of the famous Council of 544 had been grafted on the word. He says: "Aión, time, also life, also habit, or way of life. Aión is also the eternal and endless AS IT SEEMS TO THE THEOLOGIAN." Theologians had succeeded in using the word in the sense of endless, and Phavorinus was forced to recognize their usage of it and his phraseology shows conclusively enough that he attributed to theologians the authorship of that use of the word."

" Alluding to this definition, Rev. Ezra S. Goodwin, one of the ripest scholars and profoundest critics, says, "Here I strongly suspect is the true secret brought to light of the origin of the sense of eternity in aión. The theologian first thought he perceived it, or else he placed it there. The theologian keeps it there, now."

"Even Professor Stuart is obliged to say: "The most common and appropriate meaning of aión in the New Testament, and the one which corresponds with the Hebrew word olam, and which therefore deserves the first rank in regard to order, I put down first: an indefinite period of time; time without limitation; ever, forever, time without end, eternity, all in relation to future time. The different shades by which the word is rendered, depend on the object with which aiónios is associated, or to which it has relation, rather than to any difference in the real meaning of the word."

"Undoubtedly the definition given by Schleusner is the accurate one, 'Duration determined by the subject to which it is applied.' Thus it only expresses the idea of endlessness when connected with what is endless, as God. The word great is an illustrative word. Great applied to a tree, or mountain, or man, denotes different degrees, all finite, but when referring to God, it has the sense of infinite. Infinity does not reside in the word great but it has that meaning when applied to God. It does not impart it to God, it derives it from him. So of aiónion; applied to Jonah's residence in the fish, it means seventy hours; to the priesthood of Aaron, it signifies several centuries; to the mountains, thousands of years; to the punishments of a merciful God, as long as is necessary to vindicate his law and reform his children; to God himself, eternity. What 'great' is to size, 'aiónios' is to duration."

"Human beings live from a few hours to a century; nations from a century to thousands of years; and worlds, for aught we know, from a few to many millions of years, and God is eternal. So that when we see the word applied to a human life it denotes somewhere from a few days to a hundred years; when it is applied to a nation, it denotes anywhere from a century to ten thousand years, more or less, and when to God it means endless. In other words it practically denotes indefinite duration, as we shall see when we meet the word in sacred and secular literature."

"The use of the word in the plural is decisive evidence that the sense of the word is not eternity, in the absolute sense, for there can be but one such eternity. But as time past and future can be divided by ages, so there may be many ages, and an age of ages."

"In tracing the usage of the word, our sources of information will be (1) The Greek Classics, (2) The Septuagint Old Testament, (3) Those Jewish Greeks nearly contemporary with Christ, (4) The New Testament, and (5) The Early Christian Church."

1. The Greek Classics:

"It is a vital question How was the word used in the Greek literature with which the Seventy were familiar, that is, the Greek Classics?"

"We have the whole evidence of seven Greek writers, extending through about six centuries, down to the age of Plato, who make use of Aión, in common with other words; and no one of them EVER employs it in the sense of eternity."

" When the Old Testament was translated from Hebrew into Greek by the Seventy, the word aión had been in common use for many centuries. It is preposterous to say that the Seventy would render the Hebrew olam by the Greek aión and give to the latter (1) a different meaning from that of the former, or (2) a different meaning from aión in the current Greek literature. It is self-evident, then, that Aión in the Old Testament means exactly what Olam means, and also what Aión means in the Greek classics. Indefinite duration is the sense of olam, and it is equally clear that aión has a similar signification."

" Homer never uses it as signifying eternal duration. Priam to Hector says, "Thyself shall be deprived of pleasant aiónos" (life.) Andromache over dead Hector, "Husband thou hast perished from aiónos" (life or time.)"

" Sophocles [employs the word] nine times. "Endeavor to remain the same in mind as long as you live." Askei toiaute noun di aiónos menein. He also employs makraion five times, as long-enduring. The word long increases the force of aión, which would be impossible if it had the idea of eternity."

" Aiónios is found in none of the ancient classics above quoted. Finding it in Plato, Mr. Goodwin thinks that Plato coined it, and it had not come into general use, for even Socrates, the teacher of Plato, does not use it. Aidios is the classic word for endless duration.

Plato uses aión eight times, aiónios five, diaiónios once, and makraión twice. Of course if he regarded aión as meaning eternity he would not prefix the word meaning long, to add duration to it."

" When at length the idea of eternity was cognized by the human mind, probably first by the Greeks, what word did they employ to represent the idea? Did they regard aión-aiónion as adequate? Not at all, but Plato and Aristotle and others employ aidios, and distinctly use it in contrast with our mooted word. We have instanced Aristotle, "The entire heaven is one and eternal [aidios] having neither beginning nor end of a complete aión, [life, or duration.]" In the same chapter aidiotes is used to mean eternity."

" When, therefore, the Seventy translated the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek they must have used this word with the meaning it had whenever they had found it in the Greek classics. To accuse them of using it otherwise is to charge them with an intention to mislead and deceive.

Mr. Goodwin well observes: "Those lexicographers who assign eternity as one of the meanings of aión, uniformly appeal for proofs to either theological, Hebrew or Rabbinnical Greek, or some species of Greek subsequent to the age of the Seventy, if not subsequent to the age of the apostles, so far as I can ascertain. I do not know of an instance in which any lexicographer has produced the usage of ancient classical Greek, in evidence that aión means eternity. ANCIENT CLASSICAL GREEK REJECTS IT ALTOGETHER. . . . " By ancient he means the Greek existing in ages anterior to the days of the Seventy."

2. The Old Testament Usage

"We have concluded, a priori, that the Old Testament must employ the word Aión in the sense of indefinite duration, because that was the uniform meaning of the word in all antecedent and contemporaneous Greek literature. Otherwise the Old Testament would mislead its readers. We now proceed to show that such is the actual usage of the word in the Old Testament."

" Gen. vi:4, "There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, (aiónos), men of renown." Gen. ix:12; God's covenant with Noah was "for perpetual (aiónious) generations." Gen. ix:16; The rainbow is the token of "the everlasting (aiónion) covenant" between God and "all flesh that is upon the earth." Gen. xiii:15; God gave the land to Abram and his seed "forever," (aiónos). Dr. T. Clowes says of this passage that it signifies the duration of human life, and he adds, "Let no one be surprised that we use the word Olam (Aión) in this limited sense. This is one of the most usual significations of the Hebrew Olam and the Greek Aión." In Isa. lviii:12; it is rendered "old" and "foundations," (aiónioi and aiónia). "And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places; thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach." In Jer. xviii:15, 16, ancient and perpetual, (aiónious and aiónion). "Because my people hath forgotten me, they have burned incense to vanity, and they have caused them to stumble in their ways from the ancient paths, to walk in paths, in a way not cast up; to make their land desolate, and a perpetual hissing; every one that passeth thereby shall be astonished, and wag his head." Such instances may be cited to an indefinite extent. Ex. xv:18, "forever and ever and further," (ton aióna, kai ep aióna, kai eti.) Ex. xii:17, "And ye shall observe the feast of unleavened bread; for in this selfsame day have I brought your armies out of the land of Egypt, therefore shall ye observe this day in your generations by an ordinance forever," (aiónion). Numb. x:8, "And the sons of Aaron the priests, shall blow with the trumpets; and they shall be to you for an ordinance forever (aiónion) THROUGHOUT YOUR GENERATIONS." "Your generations," is here idiomatically given as the precise equivalent of "forever." Canaan was given as an "everlasting (aiónion) possession;" (Gen. xvii:8, xlviii:4; Lev. xxiv:8,9;) the hills are everlasting (aiónioi;) (Hab. iii:6;) the priesthood of Aaron (Ex. xl:15; Numb. xxv:13; Lev. xvi:34;) was to exist forever, and continue through everlasting duration; Solomon's temple was to last forever, (1 Chron. xvii:12;) though it was long since ceased to be; slaves were to remain in bondage forever, (Lev. xxv:46;) though every fiftieth year all Hebrew servants were to be set at liberty, (Lev. xxv:10;) Jonah suffered an imprisonment behind the everlasting bars of earth, (Jon. ii:6;) the smoke of Idumea was to ascend forever, (Isa. xxxiv:10;) though it no longer rises, to the Jews God says (Jer. xxxii:40;) "and I will bring an everlasting reproach upon you, and a perpetual shame, which shall not be forgotten," and yet, after the fullness of the Gentiles shall come in, Israel will be restored. Rom. xi:25-6."

" Not only in all these and multitudes of other cases does the word mean limited duration, but it is also used in the plural, thus debarring it from the sense of endless, as there can be but one eternity. In Dan. xii:3; the literal reading, if we allow the word to mean eternity, is "to eternities and farther," (eis tous aiónas kai eti.) Micah iv:5, "We will walk in the name of the Lord our God to eternity… and beyond," eis ton aióna kai epekeina." [Buzz Lightyear?]

" Forever and ever is applied to the hosts of heaven, or the sun, moon, and stars: to a writing contained in a book; to the smoke that went up from the burning land of Idumea; and to the time the Jews were to dwell in Judea. The word never is applied to the time the sword was to remain in the house of David, to the time the Jews should experience shame."

""Everlasting" is applied to God's covenant with the Jews; to the priesthood of Aaron; to the statutes of Moses; to the time the Jews were to possess the land of Canaan; to the mountains and hills; and to the doors of the Jewish temple. The word forever is applied to the duration of man's earthly existence; to the time a child was to abide in the temple; to the continuance of Gehazi's leprosy; to the duration of the life of David; to the duration of a king's life; to the duration of the earth; to the time the Jews were to possess the land of Canaan; to the time they were to dwell in Jerusalem; to the time a servant was to abide with his master; to the time Jerusalem was to remain a city; to the duration of the Jewish temple; to the laws and ordinances of Moses; to the time David was to be king over Israel; to the throne of Solomon; to the stones that were set up at Jordan; to the time the righteous were to inhabit the earth; and to the time Jonah was in the fish's belly"

" No one can read the Old Testament carefully and unbiassed, and fail to see that the word has a great range of meaning, bearing some such relation to duration as the word great does to size. We say God is infinite when we call him the Great God, not because great means infinite, but because God is infinite. The aiónion God is of eternal duration, but the aiónion smoke of Idumea has expired, and the aiónion hills will one day crumble, and all merely aionian things will cease to be."

"While it is a rule of language that adjectives qualify and describe nouns, it is no less true that nouns modify adjectives. A tall flower, a tall dog, a tall man, and a tall tree are of different degrees of length, though the different nouns are described by the same adjective. The adjective is in each instance modified by its noun, just as the aionian bars that held Jonah three days, and the aionian priesthood of Aaron already ended, and the aionian hills yet to be destroyed, and aionian punishment, always proportioned to human guilt, are of different degrees of length. The adjective is modified and its length is determined by the noun with which it is connected."

"Out of more than five hundred occurrences of our disputed word in the Old Testament, more than four hundred denote limited duration, so that the great preponderance of Old Testament usage fully agrees with the Greek classics. The remaining instances follow the rule given by the best lexicographers, that it only means endless when it derives its meaning or endlessness from the nature of the subject with which it is connected."

" Dr. Beecher remarks that the sense of endless given to the aionian phraseology "fills the Old Testament with contradictions, for it would make it declare the absolute eternity of systems which it often and emphatically declares to be temporary. Nor can it be said that aiónios denotes lasting as long as the nature of things permits. The Mosaic ordinances might have lasted at least to the end of the world, but did not. Moreover, on this principle the exceptions to the true sense of the word exceed its proper use; for in the majority of cases in the Old Testament aiónios is applied to that which is limited and temporary."

3. Jewish Greek Usage:

"Josephus applies the word to the imprisonment to which John the tyrant was condemned by the Romans; to the reputation of Herod; to the everlasting memorial erected in re-building the temple, already destroyed, when he wrote; to the everlasting worship in the temple which, in the same sentence he says was destroyed; and he styles the time between the promulgation of the law and his writing a longaión. To accuse him of attaching any other meaning than that of indefinite duration to the word, is to accuse him of stultifying himself. But when he writes to describe endless duration he employs other, and less equivocal terms. Alluding to the Pharisees, he says:

"They believe that the wicked are detained in an everlasting prison [eirgmon aidion] subject to eternal punishment" [aidios timoria]; and the Essenes [another Jewish sect] "allotted to bad souls a dark, tempestuous place, full of never-ceasing punishment [timoria adialeipton], where they suffer a deathless punishment, [athanaton timorian]."

" Philo, who was contemporary with Christ, generally used aidion to denote endless, and always used aiónion to describe temporary duration. Dr. Mangey, in his edition of Philo, says he never used aiónion to interminable duration. He uses the exact phraseology of Matthew, xxv:46, precisely as Christ used it. "It is better not to promise than not to give prompt assistance, for no blame follows in the former case, but in the latter there is dissatisfaction from the weaker class, and a deep hatred and everlasting punishment [kolasis aiónios] from such as are more powerful." Here we have the exact terms employed by out Lord, to show that aiónion did not mean endless but did mean limited duration in the time of Christ.

Philo always uses athanaton, ateleuteton or aidion to denote endless, and aiónion for temporary duration."

" Thus the Jews of our Savior's time avoided using the word aiónion to denote endless duration, for applied all through the Bible to temporary affairs, it would not teach it. If Jesus intended to teach the doctrine held by the Jews, would he not have used the terms they used? Assuredly; but he did not. He threatened age-lasting, or long-enduring discipline to the believers in endless punishment. Aiónion was his word while theirs was aidion, adialeipton, or athanaton, -- thus rejecting their doctrines by not only not employing their phraseology, but by using always and only those words connected with punishment, that denote limited suffering."

" We thus have an unbroken chain of Lexicography, and Classic, Old Testament, and Contemporaneous Usage, all allowing to the word the meaning we claim for it. Indefinite duration is the meaning generally given from the beginning down to the New Testament."

4. New Testament Usage

"Speaking to those who understood the Old Testament, Jesus and his Apostles employed such words as are used in that book, in the same sense in which they are there used. Not to do so would be to mislead their hearers unless they explained a change of meaning. There is certainly no proof that the word changed its meaning between the Old and New Testaments, accordingly we are under obligation to give it precisely the meaning in the New it had in the Old Testament. This we have seen to be indefinite duration. An examination of the New Testament will show that the meaning is the same, as it should be, in both Testaments."

"Ten times it [aion / aionian]is applied to the Kingdom of Christ. Luke i:33, "And he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end….But the Kingdom of Christ is to end, and he is to surrender all dominion to the Father, therefore endless duration is not taught in these passages. See I Cor. xv."

"It is applied to the Jewish age more than thirty times: 1 Cor. x:11, "Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples; and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come…. But the Jewish age ended with the setting up of the Kingdom of Christ. Therefore the world does not denote endless duration here.

" It is used in the plural in Eph. iii:21; "the age of the ages." tou aionos ton aionon. Heb. i:2; xi:3, "By whom he made the worlds." "The worlds were framed by the word of God." There can be but one eternity. To say "By whom he made the eternities" would be to talk nonsense. Endless duration is not inculcated in these texts."

" It is applied to God, Christ, the Gospel, the good, the Resurrection world, etc., in which the sense of endless is allowable because imputed to the word by the subject treated…"

" Even if Matthew wrote in Hebrew or in Syro-Chaldaic, he gave a Greek version of his gospel, and in that rejected every word that carries the meaning of endlessness, and appropriated the one which taught nothing of the kind. If this were the blunder of an incompetent translator, or the imperfect record of a reckless scribe, we could understand it, but to say that the inspired pen of the evangelist has deliberately or carelessly jeopardized the immortal welfare of countless millions by employing a word to teach the doctrine of ceaseless woe that up to that very hour taught only limited duration, is to make a declaration that carries its own refutation."

"It is often remarked that as, according to Josephus, the Jews in our Savior's times believed in endless punishment, Jesus must have taught the same doctrine, as "he employed the terms the Jews used." But this is not true, as we have shown. Christ and his apostles did not employ the phraseology that the Jews used to describe this doctrine. As we have shown Philo used athanaton and ateleuteton meaning immortal, and interminable. He says, zoe apothneskonta aeikai tropon tina thanaton athanaton upomeinon kai ateleuteton, "to live always dying, and to undergo an immortal and interminable death." He also employs aidion, but not aiónion. Josephus says: "They, the Pharisees, believe 'the souls of the bad are allotted aidios eirgmos, to an eternal prison, and punished with adialeiptos timoria, eternal retribution." In describing the doctrine of the Essenes, Josephus says they believe "the souls of the bad are sent to a dark and tempestuous cavern, full of adialeiptos timoria, incessant punishment." But the phraseology of Jesus and the apostles olethros aiónios or aióniou kriseos "eternal chastisement," or "eternal condemnation." The Jews contemporary with Jesus call retribution aidios, or adialeiptos timoria, while the Savior calls it aiónios krisis, or kolasis aiónios, and the apostles olethros aiónios, "everlasting destruction"; and puros aiónios, "eternal fire". Had Jesus and his apostles used the terms employed by the Jews to whom they spake, we should be compelled to admit that they taught the popular doctrine. See this point further elucidated at the end of this volume on the word Aidios."

" it appears that the Seventy, by choosing aiónios to represent olam, testify that they did not understand the Hebrew word to signify eternal. Had they so understood it, they would certainly have translated it by some more decisive word; some term, which, like aidios is more commonly employed in Greek, to signify that which has neither beginning no end."

"It is a pity that the noun (aión) has not always been rendered by the English word eon, or æon, and the adjective by eonian or aionion; then all confusion would have been avoided. Webster's Unabridged, defines it as meaning a space or period of time, an era, epoch, dispensation, or cycle, etc. He also gives it the sense of eternity, but no one could have misunderstood, had it been thus rendered. Suppose our translation read "What shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the æon?" "The smoke of their torment shall ascend for æons of æons." "These shall go away into aionian chastisement, etc." The idea of eternity would not be found in the noun, nor of endless duration in the adjective, and the New Testament would be read as its authors intended."

5. The Early Christian Church

" Justin Martyr, A. D., 140, 162, taught 'everlasting' suffering, and annihilation afterwards. The wicked "are tormented as long as God wills that they should exist and be tormented. . . . . Souls both suffer punishment and die." He uses the expression aperanton aiona. "The wicked will be punished with 'everlasting' punishment, and not for a thousand years as Plato asserted." Here punishment is announced as limited. This is evident from the fact that Justin Martyr taught the annihilation of the wicked; they are to be "tormented world without end," and then annihilated."

"Irenæus says, "the unjust shall be sent into inextinguishable and 'eternal' fire," and yet he taught that the wicked are to be annihilated… and in other parts of his great work against the Gnostics, prove this beyond all possibility of refutation. The inference from this is plain. He did not understand aiónios in the sense of eternal; but in the sense claimed by Prof. Lewis, that is, pertaining to the world to come."

" Origen used the expressions "everlasting fire" and "everlasting punishment" to express his idea of the duration of punishment. Yet he believed that in all cases sin and suffering would cease and be followed by salvation.

… As an introduction to his system of theology, he states certain great facts as a creed believed by all the church. In these he states the doctrine of future retribution as aiónion life, and aiónion punishment, using the words of Christ. Now, if Origen understood aiónion as meaning strictly eternal, then to pursue such a course would involve him in gross and palpable self-contraction. But no one can hide the facts of the case. After setting forth the creed of the church as already stated, including aiónion punishment, he forthwith proceeds, with elaborate reasoning, again and again to prove the doctrine of universal restoration. The conclusion from these facts is obvious: Origen did not understand aiónios as meaning eternal, but rather as meaning pertaining to the world to come. . . . Two great facts stand out on the page of ecclesiastical history. One that the first system of Christian theology was composed and issued by Origen in the year 230 after Christ, of which a fundamental and essential element was the doctrine of the universal restoration of all fallen beings to their original holiness and union to God. The second is that after the lapse of a little more than three centuries, in the year 544, this doctrine was for the first time condemned and anathematized as heretical. This was done, not in the general council, but in a local council called by the Patriarch Mennos at Constantinople, by the order of Justinian. During all this long interval, the opinions of Origen and his various writings were an element of power in the whole Christian world. For a long time he stood high as the greatest luminary of the Christian world. He gave an impulse to the leading spirits of subsequent ages and was honored by them as their greatest benefactor. At last, after all his scholars were dead, in the remote age of Justinian, he was anathematized as a heretic of the worst kind. The same also was done with respect to Theodore of Mopsuestia, of the Antiochian school, who held the doctrine of universal restitution on a different basis. This, too, was done long after he was dead, in the year 553. From and after this point the doctrine of future eternal punishment reigned with undisputed sway during the middle ages that preceded the Reformation. What, then, was the state of facts as to the leading theological schools of the Christian world in the age of Origen and some centuries after? It was, in brief, this: There were at least six theological schools in the church at large. Of these six schools, one, and only one, was decidedly and earnestly in favor of the doctrine of future eternal punishment. One was in favor of the annihilation of the wicked. Two were in favor of the doctrine of universal restoration on the principles of Origen, and two in favor of universal restoration on the principles of Theodore of Mopsuestia."

" Augustine (A. D. 354-430) was the first known to argue that aiónios signified endless. He at first maintained that it always meant thus, but at length abandoned that ground, and only claimed that it had that meaning sometimes. He "was very imperfectly acquainted with the Greek language."

" In fact, every Universalist and every Annihilationist among the fathers of the early church is a standing witness testifying that the word was understood as we claim, in their day. Believers in the Bible, accepting its utterances implicitly as truth, how could they be Universalists or Annihilationists with the Greek Bible before them, and aiónion punishment taught there, unless they gave to the word thus used the meaning of limited duration? Accordingly, besides those alluded to above, we appeal to those ancient Universalists, the Basilidians (A. D. 130), the Carpocratians (A. D. 140), Clemens Alexandrinus (A. D. 190), Gregory Thaumaturgus (A. D. 220-50), Ambrose (A. D. 250), Titus of Bostra (A. D. 340-70), Didymus the Blind (A. D. 550-90), Diodore of Tarsus (A. D. 370-90), Isidore of Alexandria (A. D. 370-400), Jerome (A. D. 380-410), Palladius of Gallatia (A. D. 400), Theodore of Mopsuestia (A. D. 380-428), and others, not one of whom could have been a Universalist unless he ascribed to this word the sense of limited duration. To most of them Greek was as familiar as English is to us."

"The Emperor Justinian (A. D. 540), in calling the celebrated local council which assembled in 544, addressed his edict to Mennos, Patriarch of Constantinople, and elaborately argued against the doctrines he had determined should be condemned…

But, writing in Greek with all the words of that copious speech from which to choose, he says, "The holy church of Christ teaches an endless aiónios (ATELEUTETOS aiónios) life to the righteous, and endless (ateleutetos) punishment to the wicked." Aiónios was not enough in his judgment to denote endless duration, and he employed ateleutetos. This demonstrates that even as late as A. D. 540 aiónios meant limited duration, and required an added word to impart to it the force of endless duration."

" Thus it has appeared as the result of this discussion that

1. There is nothing in the Etymology of the word warranting the erroneous view of it.

2. The definitions of Lexicographers uniformly given not only allow but compel the view we have advocated.

3. Greek writers before and at the time the Septuagint was made, always gave the word the sense of limited duration.

4. Such is the general usage in the Old Testament.

5. The Jewish Greek writers at the time of Christ ascribed to it limited duration.

6. The New Testament thus employs it.

7. The Christian Fathers for centuries after Christ thus understood it.

Hence it follows that the readers of the Bible are under the most imperative obligations to understand the word in all cases as denoting limited duration, unless the subject treated, or other qualifying words compel them to understand it differently. There is nothing in the Derivation, Lexicography or Usage of the word to warrant us in understanding it to convey the thought of endless duration.

If our positions are well taken the Bible does not teach the doctrine of endless torment, for it will be admitted that if this word does not teach it, it cannot be found in the Bible."

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Heterodox Aftershocks 6: Meeting with my pastor

Our church has some very admirable goals for its membership. The council came up with a comprehensive plan for getting the body to grow in real ways. So we've got a spreadsheet that has all these classes, groups, lectures, etc. that we should be checking off as we go. They deal with the personal, church, and world levels. Well, one of these programs is called the 3-fold group. And it's just the idea of finding two other people to form a little group that meets once a week for prayer, accountability, etc. I tried to get into a group a couple months ago, and none of us had the interest to get past the planning stage, and I forgot about it. Then the other week I got an email from the church office asking if I was involved in a 3-fold, and if not, could they do anything to help. So I wrote back that I was in a failed attempt, but now that I think about it, I had probably not, since I'm getting into all this unorthodox theology and I want to be respectful of my church's doctrine. I don't want anyone to perceive that I'm trying to convince others that they should see things my way. And if I'm in a small group like that, it would be kind of impossible to share anything about my spiritual life without delving into these ideas. Well, they wrote back and asked if they could pass along my email to the pastor. I said that was fine.

I've been wondering for a while now if I would 'get into trouble' at my church because of these ideas. I have no desire to be subversive at it, I don't feel like I have anything to hide; but considering the way these beliefs turn a couple deeply held concepts on their head, I figured it could only be a matter of time before we are politely asked to leave.

Well, last night we were at a prayer group meeting at church and near the end the pastor, (Curt) pulled me aside and asked if I'd talk to him. So I went to the principal's office.

Let me start off by saying that Curt is an amazing man. He is so in love with God that these kinds of issues don't really phase him. He just wanted to get a reading of me and where I was at. He said He loves and respects me a lot, and there was no tone of inquisition at all. So I laid out my issues as best I could. I was trying to sum up everything I'd written in the past 200 pages on this blog in a couple minutes. He had somewhere he needed to be in a few minutes, but we ended up talking for about an hour and a half. (When I apologized for the time he told me I was worth it.) Obviously, I can't really recount the entirety of the conversation, but I'll layout a few parts that I remember.

Curt is an adamant free willer. He seemed to find my denial of free will even more appalling than my denial of eternal torment. Not appalling in the sense that he got upset or emotional about it. Just incredulous. That fact that there is a gigantic Reformed movement that's been going on several hundred years doesn't seem to phase his incredulity. But on the other hand, he says he absolutely believes in the utter sovereignty of God. He used the illustration again. (The one I was just complaining about in my last entry.) He holds his two fingers out and says "This finger is free will, and this one is predestination. I believe in both, fully. It's a mistake to tear down one side in order to make things consistent because they are both scriptural. You have to hang in the tension between them. That keeps you humble."

If there was a theme of our discussion it would be the need for humility. He said that he and I share a lot of the same strengths. And with those strengths come corresponding weaknesses. Namely, for intellectual believers like us, the weakness is pride. He says the reason seminaries are called cemeteries is that the whole thrust of intellectually distilling the truth of scripture into a consistent whole can lead to pride, and many fall away because of that.

I agreed that I care deeply about avoiding pride, and want to be as humble as I can, but that I don't see how seeking clarification and consistency is a prideful activity. I simply want to understand the love of my life as well as I possibly can. I pointed out how I don't believe finding a tension between free will and predestination is valid if free will is not taught in the Bible. He insists that it is. I say 'will' and choices are clearly taught. Not 'free' will. He disagrees. He goes back to the robot argument. I talk about how I felt loving God is an automatic reaction to His revelation, not a choice. Neither of us finds the other's arguments convincing.

I brought up what I wrote about in my last entry about accepting paradox in your beliefs leading inevitably to relativity. If we say our beliefs have contradictions, what measure do we then use to say our beliefs merit acceptance, but other's don’t? I don't remember his answer well enough to do it justice here. But it seemed to me that he was defending relativism a bit. And I suppose I agree that we are hopelessly lost without God's grace and guidance.

I asked why I wouldn't want to embrace a theology that made sense out of some of these contradictions that orthodox theology holds. Things like an all-powerful God making something more powerful than Him, and an all knowing God making creature He knew would spend eternity in torment. If there is a sensible answer to these things that uses the same epistemological source, (the Bible) why not believe it? Why choose answers with contradictions if there are answers without them? Here, he appealed to history, smarter people, etc. Just like I considered at the beginning of this whole thing. Though he did acknowledge that not all orthodoxy is right simply because it is orthodoxy. But he warned that when you knock down one pillar, you will find that others go along with it. I've been aware of this since the beginning and it's the reason I've been approaching the issue with the amount of restraint and care that I have. I have to see the ramifications. I have to see the fruit.

In the end I asked him to pray for me, my humility, and for protection for my family. Because if I'm blundering into foolishness, I'm not the only one who will suffer for it. He did so. And in that prayer he noted that God was reminding him about a need for a theological school at the church. Afterwards he told me he'd like me to get a degree from some seminary on line. (I can't remember the name now. I wrote it down. But it's Pat Robertson's school! He assured me Pat hardly has anything to do with it.) He told me to get that degree and then to come and teach at the school God wants him to start.

I told him I'd look into it.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Heterodox Aftershocks 5: Verses Vs. Verses

Mat 20:28 & Mar 10:45 "even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for MANY."


VS.


Luk 3:6 And ALL flesh shall see the salvation of God.

Tit 2:11 For the grace of God hath appeared, bringing salvation to ALL men,

1Jo 2:2 and he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world.

Fight!!!

Here is an interesting issue. You can have one set of scriptures lined up against another set. Each group gives a certain impression or states a certain fact. What does a good Christian do in this case? These are the options I can think of…

  1. Ignore the set that you disagree with.
  2. Interpret away the set you disagree with.
  3. Remain undecided about the issue.
  4. Try to come up with a middle ground.
  5. Accept both to be true and live with a paradox.

Well, as I stated in part one of this whole ordeal, I’m not a fan of number one. It happens all the time, probably to the best of us. But I think it is a bad practice and should be stamped out whenever possible.

Option two is prone to eisegesis, but I don’t think that automatically invalidates it. It is no secret that many Bibles have been translated poorly. Ask any Biblical scholar to name a few bad translations and they will start rattling them off. So whatever reinterpretation a verse goes through should be held to close scrutiny. Just because some guy comes along and says Paul’s statement that homosexuality is sinful, was actually only referring to temple prostitution, does not make it so. But I wouldn’t base that rejection on simply tradition. The argument fails on several levels under its own weight. The weight of tradition is not necessary to overcome a poor hermeneutic.

Option three (remaining undecided) presents a host of challenges. For me, the main challenge is that I can’t hold many variables in my head at once. So composing a consistent worldview can be problematic if many basic assertions are up in the air. On the other hand, a great advantage of this option is that it does leave a lot of room for growth and new understanding. If I were to decide that I hate France before I visit I don’t think I would have much fun. If I decided that I love everything about it before I visit, I won’t come away with a very balanced view of it. But leaving the issue undecided, pending more data would allow me the fullest possible range of experience for my visit. You can also use this metaphor in regards to meeting new people, investigating a career path, evaluating a collage or political idea, etc. This is a concept I will come back to in a later entry because I think it is very important.

Four (finding a middle ground) only works when the verses present vague impressions rather than opposite views. It really doesn’t work for this particular issue. Jesus can’t save less than everybody AND everybody.

Number five is the option my pastor preaches. See my entry, “The difference between balance and paradox” for more on that. Here, we take contradictory ideas and simply state that they are both true. We say that we can do so because there is a higher understanding that eludes us in this life. I have to say that I’m unsatisfied with this approach. Not because I don’t think there’s plenty of stuff us humans can’t comprehend, but because it leaves the soul unsettled. I don’t think a human mind can actually accept two opposing ideas at the same time. We all have inconsistencies with our world views, but that’s not because we truly believe contradicting truth claims. It’s because we have not explored them enough to realize that there is a contradiction or we are too stubborn to admit that one exists.

Here is my best example of how paradox doesn’t work. We Christians (mostly) state that Jesus was fully human, but also fully God. I believe we make this claim to stay away from slippery slopes that can take us down two separate ideas that effectually render Christianity moot. Jesus as just a man gives you a great prophet and teacher; but nothing more. Jesus as just God gives you a Gnostic idea of physical reality being evil or other such conclusions that make Christ’s sacrifice less than what the Bible makes it out to be. In all honesty, I’m not sure what the ramifications are of believing that Christ was a human, fully-imbued-with-God’s-nature-and-spirit, incarnate-first-born-from-before-the-foundations-of-the-world, would be. I don’t know if that technically makes Him not fully God or not.

Anyway, my point is that when we meditate on Christ’s words, life, etc. we can not settle in our minds the source of those things. Well… I can’t. I may be deficient. I tend to lean towards the Godhood side of Christ and take His words and deeds as those of God. But when reminded that He is supposed to also be a totally real human, I have to flip into another way of thinking about these things. I can’t hold both at once.

Beyond this, you have to take a philosophical leap that can be pretty dangerous when you decide to embrace paradox. You are basically ignoring the logical law of non-contradiction. It is a subtle turning, because we say that there is in fact NOT a contradiction, only that there appears to be one due to our limited perspective. But it seems to me that the more you exercise this particular theological device, the lazier your critical thinking becomes. If you can wave away one sticky point with this device, why not more? And when you erode the law of non contradiction, you are eroding the foundation of your faith. Because if we can allow for some contradictions in our beliefs we can not very well criticize other belief system's contradictions, nor can we fairly compare and contrast ideas, leading us to the inevitable mire of relativism. Maybe this is a slippery slope we all must tread, but I think it's important to know that we are on one when we use the paradox device.

Anyway, I certainly don’t think we should take the issue of partial or full salvation for humanity and categorize it as a paradox. That would be like saying "Everyone on the Titanic died, but not everyone died… I guess it’s just a paradox!"

So I’m going to go back to option two for a bit. (reinterpretation) I sort of misrepresented the idea by calling it “explaining away verses”, probably because that’s what it has been used for so often. But like a hammer, this process can be destructive or constructive depending on the intent and method with which it is employed. I guess what I’m essentially talking about is trying to discover the context and intent of a scripture that seems out of line with other scriptures. This can get pretty complicated and involves several different fields of expertise like history, sociology and language. And none of those will help you unless you have a mind guided by God’s Spirit.

When you have contradicting scriptures, you can argue both ways, pitting verse against verse. It seems like the best way to determine which side should get the closest scrutiny is the side that sticks out against the grain of the Bible as a whole. Though determining that may be problematic. Because any particular person reading the Bible as a whole will be bringing all their biases into that reading. Their mind will be emphasizing passages that tickle their fancy, and glossing over parts that don't. What I find in arguments for Hell™ time and time again is the phrase, "God is love, but…" Then come the qualifiers. It is as though they are attempting to balance the positive attributes of God with the negative. I would accept this angle if we were talking about a great man. "Bob is really smart, but… he has a temper." But we are not talking about Bob. We are talking about God. Rather than balancing, why don't we look at it this way: God is love. Everything He says and does grows out of that. There are no conflicting attributes to His love. If that were so, the scripture would say God is loving. So "God is Love… but He is also Just", would be better stated, "God is Just because He is Love." So what kind of Justice comes out of Love? Simply punitive justice? Or remedial, refining, purifying Justice? When a concept can be thought of both ways, I say it's best to read it the way that flows from God's Love, not against it. When we read about God's jealousy, wrath, indignation, etc, are we reading it as those attributes would apply to Bob? Or are we reading those attributes as they would flow out of Love, from a perfect God? Are we balancing conflicting, bi-polar emotions, or harmonizing the way we view the nature of God?

When evaluating the words of Jesus when He says He will give His life as a "ransom for many." You can see it a couple of different ways. If you use the Jesus-saves-us-from-Hell™ paradigm (nowhere explicitly stated in scripture) you will read that as Jesus' ransom is paying for some to be free from Hell™ . Whereas if you read it from the Jesus-saves-us-from-our-sins-in-this-life perspective (found in many places in scripture), you see that it makes perfect sense that only some are ransomed. Specifically: those who accept Him in this lifetime. He paid the ransom that our human nature demands, so that we can be free from our wicked nature that enslaves us. To me, that harmonizes with all the verses that plainly state that Jesus saves everybody. And even more importantly, it harmonizes with the way God describes Himself. (Just, merciful, loving, etc.) It harmonizes with all the parables He gives about finding every single lost sheep, searching for the lost coin until it is found, and others that clearly show His intention to redeem every single human He made.

So there you have it. That is how I 'explain away' Matthew 20:28 and Mark 10:45. I've read many, many, many attempts to 'explain away' the several verses that point to universal salvation, and found them all much more convoluted and questionable than my argument. That certainly doesn’t mean that I'm right and they are wrong. But it showed me that a lot of extra-biblical, theological presuppositions are required to pull it off. I've found that if you strip away those extra complications you are freer to read more scripture at its face value than otherwise. I realize I do so at my own peril, and recognize that those complex doctrines may be safety buffers keeping me from careening over a chasm. That's why I'm driving slowly and doing my best to examine the road ahead of me.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Witnessing Tips

I remember in High School the times when my group of highly enthusiastic evangelical friends and I would cruise over to the local arcade and 'witness' to people. I remember the fumbling of introductions, the dry mouth, and nervous hand shakes. The pressure of trying our best to save as many heathen as we could. Before the outings we would pray that God would make openings for us. Then we would launch into the awkward situation of trying to convince a stranger that we were right about God and they were wrong; over the blaring music and sound effects of Bad Dudes killing ninjas on the mean streets.

Looking back I don't know how much good or harm we did. I guess only God knows. The only convert I can notch my belt with was a freshman kid I was friends with my senior year. I invited him to a big revival concert. He contacted me years later and told me he was going to seminary. I think the fact that I had a relationship with him was key.

We had a guest speaker at my church a couple months ago and his topic was about effective evangelism. He said a lot of things that I've been thinking for a long time, so I thought I'd share some of his teaching with you.

There are four aspects of evangelism that many Christians get wrong.

  1. The Motive of many Christians for witnessing is simply guilt. They know the Bible tells them to, so every once in a while the guilt builds up enough for them to try to do something about it. Our motive should be compassion. We should be leading people to Jesus because we love them and want them to be saved from their sins. Without this motive, everything we do or say will simply be a clanging symbol.
  2. The Goal of evangelism is not to win an argument or prove that you are right. The Goal should simply be conversation. God's love comes through us when we are in a relationship with others; not a competition. People can tell when you just want to win an argument rather than build a relationship.
  3. The Perspective we should not have is that our interaction needs to bring a person to salvation. We need to understand that each person is on a Journey. And our job is to help them along. It helps if you picture a scale from -10 to +10, with 0 as salvation. -10 would be absolute hatred for God and +10 would be the best relationship with God that is possible. Now everyone can be charted on this graph. When you encounter a -7, your job is not to get them to 0. It's to get them to -6. That's what the Bible means when is says some sow the seeds, others water them, and still others reap the harvest.
  4. The Response that you give to their objections to Christianity needs to be appropriate. There are 3 kinds of barriers to accepting Christ. Emotional, Intellectual, and Volitional. Emotional barriers are caused by bad experiences from church or Christians. Obviously the best way to deal with these is to simply demonstrate love to these people. Giving them statistics and charts won't heal their heart. Intellectual barriers are issues like science versus religion, or logical contradictions. This is where facts and figures can actually help. Someone who thinks that all Christians believe the world was made 6,000 years ago doesn’t need a hug. They need facts. And finally, every person has a Volitional barrier. This is simply a matter of God not having revealed Himself to them yet. There is nothing to do about this except to pray.

Often it is easy to tell whether a person has an emotional or intellectual barrier, and to tailor your response appropriately. But there are also times when it is very difficult to tell which it is. Often times an intellectual face is put on an emotional barrier, or visa-versa. And of course most people have some of both. This is where prayer and allowing yourself to be led by the Spirit is of paramount importance. Because when your response is inappropriate, you can end up knocking a -7 to -8. Saying, "Smile, Jesus loves you!" to an agnostic evolutionist is just going to strengthen their argument that Christians are all intellectually feeble. And when a person tells you that their brother was molested by a priest, showing them statistics that prove what a small minority of priests do that sort of thing will just strengthen their argument that Christians are cold and heartless.

Because relationship is key, certain types of communication will work better than others. I see a lot of 'witnessing' happening on the internet. It seems to me like that will work for people with strictly intellectual barriers. Right information can counter wrong information. But how do you really show love on the internet? (Insert inappropriate internet porn joke here.) How do you build relationship? I've noticed that active members on a forum do tend to build what I would call proto-relationships, in a little proto-community. That is: there is the potential for real friendship, but a face-to-face encounter could swing that either way.

But when it comes to building on-line relationships with those who are hostile to the gospel, it seems that a simple attitude of civility and cheek-turning are the best way to communicate love online. I know I've failed at this miserably many times. Heck, I fail at this in real life all the time. But one thing that never fails to amaze me is all the times I see Christians just berating dissenters. I've seen name calling, insinuations of moral and intellectual superiority, mocking, sneering, etc. And I have to wonder, what is the point of these exchanges?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Heterodox Aftershocks 4: Context

As part of a comprehensive analysis of my shift in doctrine I'm trying to consider not just the pure arguments that have gone into the change, but the players involved as well. And I guess I'm the main player in my own play, so I'll examine myself first. I touched on this in one of the CSH (Considering Some Heresies) essays where I imagined what sort of emotional states could prompt this kind of shift in a person. The most obvious one would be a person who had lost a loved one to suicide. Most Christian doctrine considers them damned, so I could see an adoption of Christian Universalism as a coping mechanism in this case. While I don't think it has any bearing on the merits of the argument, it would cause me to be more suspicious of the idea if many adherents came from similar backgrounds and had similar characteristics.

So I'm looking at my life, and the particular time I'm at in it. If you read my last post you know that I'm riding pretty high right now. I just celebrated my first year anniversary to the greatest woman that God could have made for me. My kids have been improving in leaps and bounds. (though they still have several more leaps and bounds to go!)

When I survey my spiritual life up to this point, here is what I see.

Age 0-13: Infancy. Learning facts about Christianity, failing to apply them in any way.

Age 13-18: The Zealot Years. I got popular in my youth group, got into judgmental Christian music, and eventually started my own judgmental heavy metal band. I wrote lyrics about how there won't be any partying in hell, how grievously dead all the Catholics were, and how evil the wolves-in-sheep's-clothing who smoke and drink were. As a highly judgmental person I was equally judgmental about myself. This was a time when I had to struggle constantly with lust. I got engaged at 16 and after that I was hopeless.

Age 19-26: The Roller Coaster Years. (Mostly down.) Becoming one with a person can be the most devastating thing you can do. Especially when that person is a…. Well, I guess that's not important to this discussion. I had a high point where I quit my career because of my convictions, but the rest of those years were marked with total spiritual apathy. We'd try to go to church, mostly because of the momentum of the beliefs our parents instilled in us. But none of those churches were a 'good fit' for her. So our attendance was sporadic, and our Bible reading and prayer were almost non-existent. We were in one financial catastrophe after another. Our constant borrowing from our parents strained our relationships with them and with each other. The birth of our boys were certainly high points, but everything else was stress and misery.

Age 27-30: The Breaking Years. As Stacie pulled further away, I pulled closer to God. I took my dad's advice and started helping at a church. I had to go to the only one within walking distance since Stacie often had the car for days or weeks at a time. But I started going and serving consistently. Then I lost my job. Then I lost my wife. Then I lost my money. I learned what a panic attack feels like. I learned what it was to feel so scared for a person that you get physically ill. And finally I learned that I absolutely needed my extended family to survive. Not their money. But a relationship. At the same time I was learning that I needed God to survive. Not His blessings. But a relationship. This time is recorded on this blog. It was a time of shedding my old perceptions about a God of rules and regulations. I learned what the Old Testament was supposed to teach us: that we are hopeless to follow the rules. I found God coming to me as I was, miserable, broken and hopeless. And He pulled me out of it all. He used His faithful servants like my parents and Heather to accomplish that salvation.

Age 31-?: The Questioning Years. (For lack of a better title.) I actually started this process with the good ol' Problem of Evil back in the late 90's when I realized that the party line I had got of "Whoops! Mankind exercised his free will and is doing everything I hate now!" view of God just didn't cut the mustard. But what I find curious is the fact that my most intense questioning to date is happening when I'm most content with life. It seems to me like most people have to hit some sort of bottom before they start questioning life and their assumptions about it. But perhaps that only applies when they hit the bottom because of their poor assumptions. (Like alcohol will make me happy, or sex will make me loved, etc.) So if bad ideas bring you low until you have to address them, could the opposite be true? Could good ideas take you so high that you… I don't know… get board with them or something? And then go looking for new ideas? Well, that doesn’t make any sense to me. But I'm just trying to brainstorm here.

My point is that I don't understand what's motivating this exploration other than a simple discontentment with what I see as inconsistencies in the orthodox view. I've read what many call the very best arguments for those more orthodox positions and find them lacking. While I'm not a genius (I don't even know how to spell genius.) or anything, I think I'm bright enough to follow those arguments. A lot of smarter people seem to be content with them though. And I don't know how to explain that. Except in a way that could seem insulting, but actually would not be if fully understood. It goes back to that idea that God reveals parts of His Truth to some and not others. Effectively leaving some blind spots in everyone's vision. Which, to someone who disagrees with me, may seem like I'm calling them blind. But I'm trying to say that I'm blind too. But just in different areas. Of course that's assuming I'm right about any of these heterodox views. But I fully acknowledge that I could be pitifully wrong. In Mere Christianity, Lewis talks about the 'science' of theology. And Christendom being collaboration of millions of people experiencing God as a sort of telescope that figures things out about him. He goes on to say that a single person who goes against that collective knowledge is like a guy with field glasses looking at the stars and coming up with some new theory, then going to argue with the whole field of astronomers that they are wrong and he is right. Lewis failed to mention that Martin Luther was just such an individual. Besides, I'm not a single voice. I have found that there is a strain of Christian Universalism that stretches back to the very beginning of Christianity. Indeed, a strong argument can be made that most of the first several generations of the Church believed this way. So I don't see my self as a crack pot pseudo-astronomer or as a Martin Luther. I'm just a guy who sees a lot more sense and a better understanding of God in a theology that has largely been marginalized over the past 1,600 years.

So anyway… I guess the thing I really wanted to record is the fact that I'm so happy with my life right now. I'm in love with God, and know that whether I'm right or wrong, He is Love and He will be Just in all his dealings with humanity. And that's what is important to me. I may disagree with orthodoxy about what that Love and Justice look like, but I think I'm in full communion with them concerning those attributes of God.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The best year of my life

I just celebrated our first anniversary yesterday. After church we went to a family fun center place with go carts (I drove mine so well that a wheel popped off!) and mini golf and such. We did a whole family celebration because our marriage really was the beginning of a healing for us. So we really want to emphasize that this is a family thing, not just a Heather and me thing. The boys seem to get that and expressed appropriate feelings about the event. Heather and I are going to be celebrating ourselves later this month at a marriage retreat in Whistler Canada that our church is doing.

On Saturday we were at my parent's house where my dad's family was gathered to celebrate the recent marriage of one of my cousins who got married in New York. My parents wrote us all nice letters about how far we have come in the last year. I gave Heather a trophy that said "One year of exceptional motherhood" because she deserves a trophy for how hard she has worked with the kids. All my lovey-dovey polish aunts told Heather how amazing she is and what an answer to their prayers she is.

Yesterday we picked up a cake I ordered from Costco. It was the same one we got for our wedding. I made Heather a card that said, "Even after all these year…" on the front.

I've talked about this before, but it bears repeating. Heather is the single greatest miracle in my life and my son's lives. And I don't mean 'miracle' in the sentimental way. I mean in the God-intervening-in-nature sort of way. Sure, I could say that it was just coincidence that I happened to run into this beautiful Christian woman who was willing to marry a guy with two kids and care for them better than they ever had been before. But why would I say that? I believe God exists, that He created everyone exactly the way they are, and has a beautiful purpose in it all. So I always thank Him for the miracle that is Heather.

The year has gone by so fast. I think it's safe to say that we are past the honeymoon stage now… I guess. I'm still overwhelmed with feeling for her every time I look at her. When we snuggle up in bed together I get the biggest smile on my face. We have physical incompatibility issues, and healing issues that are sadly persistent, and some parenting idea differences. But somehow they haven't caused us any serious problems in the way we relate to each other. Probably because we are trying to see them as sovereign acts of God rather than random, meaningless thorns. We have yet to get into a fight. I'm still perplexed by that one, but just attribute it to God's grace. After a marriage spent almost entirely in self-repression and servitude, I'm just grateful for every day of wonderful peace that I get. It's amazing living in the ideal where we are not simply compromising with each other so that we both feel that we are getting the best deal we can. But instead we are both laying ourselves down for the other, anticipating each other's needs and doing our best to meet them. I would die for her and she would follow me anywhere God leads me. It’s a beautiful thing.