Saturday, December 15, 2007

Where there's a will ...

I often see on Christian blogs prayers that someone surrender their will to God, or let God's will be done. I believe it's CS Lewis who said that on judgement day, there will be two sorts of people. One who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, "Your will be done." The latter end up in hell.

In a lot of ways, I'm finding this a false dichotomy in that there are only two choices. You can do God's will, or follow your own selfish will. But what if your will matches God's? What if you want the elimination of evil, or justice throughout the world? What if you want to be a better person? What if the wills align?

It's almost like saying you're never going to want anything good on your own, or you can't want anything good independently of God. It's like the only way you want something good is if you actively tell God that His will must be done. If you don't specifically say that or pursue that, you're suddenly selfish? In the parable of the Samaratain, he would've been seen as not following God's will, because he had heretical views. And yet he was the one Jesus praised. His will was seen as opposed to God.

Maybe it's more of anytime the sentence starts with "I want [fill in the black,]" the choices above indicate that it's automatically selfish, because it starts with "I." Not all "I" statements are selfish.

I think a big problem here is that it's almost an unhealthy idea of surrender. If you surrender and only do God's will alone, and let God decide ... where is the person in the equation? Doesn't the identity get swallowed in the will of God? The way I was taught while growing up is that one doesn't look to God to see how sinful you are, or how fallen, or how corrupt one's will is. You look to God to see who you are, because the more you understand God, the more you understand how you were created. You see Who's image you truly are. You see that there shouldn't be competing wills, that they should mirror one another. You get a true sense of your identity.

Under the other idea, I just see a bunch of robots. I really do. I see all identiy of the person swept away, replaced by God and His will. Where's the healing in that?

Of course, this could lead to another post. Wanting your will done is seen as selfish. Yet God having His will done is not selfish. It's the same idea for both, and yet the latter is not selfish, because God cannot be selfish. I find this a relative situation, because it's not dependent on the wanting, but on who is doing the wanting. It's like saying if Person A murders it's bad, but if Person B murders, it's okay. The situation is standard, the players differ. The players determine the morality of the situation. Is that really how we should judge morality?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Thank you, God, for making me better ...

... than 50% of the people out there. Then again, I suppose that would make God a respecter of persons. O:-)

And here was another parable that he told. It was aimed at those who were sure of their goodness and looked down on everyone else. 'Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-gatherer. The Pharisee stood up and prayed thus: "I thank thee, O God, that I am not like the rest of men, greedy, dishonest, adulterous: or, for that matter, like this tax-gatherer. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes on all that I get." But the other kept his distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven, but beat upon his breast, saying, "O God, have mercy on me, sinner that I am." It was this man, I tell you, and not the other, who went home acquitted of his sins. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled; and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." Luke 18: 9-14.

I've been ruminating upon this passage, in connection with my opening sentence. So far in my life, there are instances where I'm thankful that I'm not like other people. That I'm not as arrogant, or that I'm more compassionate, or that I don't judge the way someone else does.

I do think that there are people I'm "better" than, in terms of good behavior. I don't think this in regards to every single good behavior out there. There are some behaviors that I'm horrible at, that other people are better at that I am. That's true of everything. I'm good at math: not everyone is. Other people are good at astrophysics. I can pretty much point out Orion's belt, the Dippers and possibly Cassiopeia.

But I'm not sure I can say the behavior goes against this parable, for a couple reasons. I think the crux of this is a matter of pride: it was aimed at those whose surety in their goodness caused them to look down on everyone else. It was as though they were saying, "Well, at least I'm not as bad as that person," and then went on with their lives, still self-focused.

We can see that in the parable itself. Three qualities are listed: greed, dishonesty and adultery. He doesn't thank God that he gives thousands of dollars to the poor, or feed the poor, or that he pursues justice. He is honest, he doesn't hoard things (whatever that means) and he doesn't cheat in marriage. But he doesn't go out of his way to love his neighbor as himself. Although he may have the "love self" very much under control.

He also points out two good things he does -- fasts, and tithes on whatever he receives. Those actions seem rather easy, as well. He fasts, which is self-focused. He denies himself food, but he doesn't say why. Is it for appearance, or does he honestly feel that it brings him closer to God? He also tithes. However, I'm not sure how tithing works back then. Does that just mean it was money paid to the temple, and the temple decided where the money went? Because that seems like an easy way to donate.

I just have an image of a very satisfied person, patting himself on the back. He found sins that would make him bad, but conveniently looks on the very sins that are easy for him to avoid. He then thanks God that he's not like those people, but he doesn't even thank God for creating him to not be attracted to those sins, or thank God for helping to avoid them. It's almost like the thanking God portion is perfunctory.

Then we have the closing words: whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. The Pharisee was exalting himself at the expense of others. He was prideful in his accomplishments, and bragging about them. Had he been humble, he would've thanked God for his strengths, while still being aware of what needs work, and being aware that it can be too easy to become prideful.

The thing about humility is that it's the opposite of pride. It should make one reflective. But if you know that you are a compassionate person, and go around saying how you aren't compassionate, then that's almost false humility. It looks like you just want people to praise how compassionate you are, that you're trying to get people to feed your ego. Which can be another aspect of pride.

Can you find yourself better at something, and not exalt yourself? Yes. Now, are there times I'm prideful that I'm better than everyone else? Oh, I'm sure. However, I, and I know others, who use those opportunity to say, "Okay, I find that behavior arrogant. Are there times when I'm arrogant like that? Or arrogant in other ways?" They use the situation as a training example, to be on watch for their own behavior. If I'm standing somewhere and thanking God that I'm not like so-and-so, and then I skip home, satisfied with myself, then I'm just bragging. The Pharisee was bragging, and using the sins of others to exalt himself. If I use the behavior of another, and say that I'm a compassionate person so long as I'm %0.0001 more compassionate than he is, then I'm not looking to better myself, I'm looking to justify my current behavior. I'm looking to an excuse to stay the way I am.

Or there are times when I'm just really grateful that I'm not like that. I think we've all had moments like those.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Wheat 'n' Tares.

I'm not going to type out the whole parable, as it's a bit lengthy, but I'm about to post on the Wheat and Tares parable from Matthew 13. It's from verses 24-30.

I've seen this verse used before in describing those destined for heaven and those for hell. Obviously, the wheat are the saved, and the tares are the lost. But can we really say that the wheat and tares represent people?

The farmer would clearly be the Son of Man (given that it's what Jesus said), who has created the "wheat," if we're using a people comparison. That works. God creates all of humanity. Then the enemy comes, and sows the tares. Here's where the comparison would fall apart for me: only God can create man. The enemy cannot. So we can't then say that the enemy also created other people, which are the tares. But if the tares aren't created people, then can we really say that the wheat are also created people?

Except Jesus does -- in verses 37-43, he says that the good seed are the children of the Kingdom, and the tares are the children of the evil one. When the harvest comes, the angels will gather everything that makes men stumble, and those whose deeds are evil, and they'll be thrown into a blazing furnace, while the righteous will shine as bright as the sun.

This is almost taking universalistic tendencies at this point, since every person on this earth would have to be the wheat. The enemy can't create. Yet the tares are specifically called the children of the evil one, and are separate from the wheat. They grow together, but always remain separate. There's also no point at which a tare becomes a wheat. The wheat belongs to the Creator from the very moment it's planted. Same with the tares.

(On a side note, Jesus says that the Son of Man is the sower of the good seed. But I'm not sure that we can then say the Son of Man is the Creator, because he simply planted the seeds, he didn't create the seeds that were planted).

The tares are almost two-fold. They are things that cause men to stumble, as well as those who deeds are evil (and another interesting thing: this is action-oriented only, with no mention of faith. Deeds are what get the tares out of the kingdom). However, while the tares are called the children of the devil, are they ever referred to as men? In the explanation, Jesus says "those/them" which do evil things. But he never says "people." Simply because he earlier says the children, can we really say that it's the same kind of children?

The other interesting thing about this parable is that it refers to the kingdom of God, and it's not something that is seen as instantaneous. In the parables before and after this, the kingdom of God is something that takes time to develop. It's also something that people are a part of at that moment, not something that people step into after death. In this particular parable, the enemy is also within this kingdom, sowing tares, and those tares are gathered out of the kingdom at the end of time.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Hiding Behind Jesus

Your Father is light and live, always faithful to His promises. No matter where you go, no matter what you do, He will allow you to return, running to embrace you. His arms always welcome you. You can't go too far or too fast to escape what He offers. Simply turn around, and it's yours.

You wanted to see the world, and so asked for your inheritance. You got more than you bargained for. They always said pigs were smarter than dogs, and actually preferred to be clean. Both are true.

Your Father has always been kind. Even to pigs. Perhaps He'll take you back. Didn't He always say that you don't have to be perfect for Him, that you don't have to be good? You only need to repent, and He'll take you just as you are.

You need that. You need one person who loves you, no matter what you've done. One person who won't reject you, one person who will look at your whole life -- even the mistakes, especially the mistakes -- and say, "It's all right. I'll still take you."

The pigs didn't watch you go. Someone sees you coming, and rushes to the other side. You both pretend that he doesn't watch your reflection in the store windows, dirt staining your robe in haphazard patches. Shoes crumbling off your feet with each step. Even you can smell your self.

It's a long walk, and easier to travel at night. You're like everyone else, then (except for the smell). Night masks imperfections, and assumptions are given free-reign. The smell, at some point, deters most. Except for the drunks. They're too drenched in their haze, and toss out slurred greetings.

Father always kept a light on from sunset to sunrise. Tonight's no exception. You hover at the fencepost. You should care about your appearance, at least try and clean yourself up. But you're so tired.

He won't reject you. Father doesn't do that. Father keeps His word.

One step. Two.

The front door bursts open. Father flies out. His form intersects the light, and all you see is this blog. Then it slams into you -- it's Father.


His arms cradle you. He's laughing. His child has come home. His child has returned. Why wouldn't this child, when Father leaves the light on?

You slump against Him, releasing those cares. Everything seems like a dream now.

Father asks you a question. You can't hear the words -- you just feel the vibration in his chest. But surely your Father sees that you're too tired to answer ,you're just too overwhelmed that you're home, that you're --

An answer? You gave an answer? How? You didn't even hear the question.

Wait. Why are you pulling --- you want to stare into your Father's eyes? But you weren't ready for that yet, you weren't ready to see --

Your Father's eyes are now mirrors, capturing this shimmering white form. Serene. Peaceful. Untainted. Something you never were, something you never could be.

The form's lips move, still saying those words. Its arms move, and you realize your arms move in time. Father's very happy. He's crying. "My son," He cries. "My son is home. Lost, and now found!"

Found? How am I found? This reflection in my Father's eyes -- how could I be found, when that's not you? Father always knew who you were, always told you ... who is your Father embracing?

Who am I, Father, if You don't see me?

The above italics are probably dramatic, if not overly so. But I'm hoping to explore the potential dark side of seeing Jesus as a sacrifice for sins. Paul says somewhere that it's no longer him that lives, but Christ that lives in him. Other New Testament passages reference being cleansed by Jesus' blood, and I've read on other blogs how Jesus' blood was perfect enough to cover all sins. Other times, I read/hear people pray that the "lost" always see Jesus/God in them.

The blood itself was necessary because God can't look upon sin. So I would see this as logically entailing that God can't look upon any human unless Jesus' blood is first in place.

However, evangelical Christianity also presents God as accepting you, "just as I am." I was involved in a discussion on another blog as to whether that idea is found in the Bible. In that precise wording, no. But the idea I get behind "just as I am" is that it's supposed to contrast Christianity against "work-based" religions. You don't need to try and be good before approaching God, He'll come and meet you no matter where you are (provided you either admit how bad you are, or how much you need God). Hence, "just as I am," entails all the sin was is currently infested with.

I'm not sure these two ideas are compatible. If God requires blood in order to look upon humans, then we aren't accepted just as we are. Especially since under the original sin concept, every iota of us is twisted/tainted with sin. If our parents or spouses tell us that they take us just as we are, the line of thought behind that is that we are accepted in both good and bad parts -- and both parts are acknowledged and seen.

(A possible way around this might be as follows: if going on the Trinitarian concept, then it could be said that God the Son accepts you just as you are, and yet God the Father must have blood in place. However, then you've got the different persons acting in an inconsistent fashion, with one capable of doing something the other can't.)

However, in referencing my parable above -- the Father wasn't accepting the prodigal child. He was accepting another creature in the prodigal's place. When he looked at the child, He saw Someone else. Isn't that how Jesus is used? God must see Jesus' blood in order to look upon you, for if you were actually seen, then you'd get thrown into hell? Can it even be said, then, that God loves you? Or is Jesus loved in your place, and you're just an afterthought?

If a parent only accepted a child after slaughtering a lamb and dumping the blood on top of the child, what would we say about that parent? What would that do to the child?

Does evangelical Christianity truly follow the story of the prodigal son? I'm not sure it does. It says that a sacrifice must be in place, so that one can be welcomed into heaven. In the parable, the son was simply welcomed, as he was. No mediator was necessary.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Magnifying God's love.

Would God's love pack as much of a punch as it does if we weren't also told how depraved we are? One of the things I notice in Christianity a lot is how overwhelmed people are that this most holy God loves the most wretched sinner, and how much humanity doesn't deserve this love.

But what if humanity was told that sometimes it does deserve that love? Would the love itself then be that overwhelming? Or just par for the course? Does Christianity need humanity to be in that depraved state in order to emphasize the nature of God's love? Does it need humanity to be depraved in order to make sure its followers never forget how humble they should feel, or that the followers should constantly be amazed? How much value would God's love have if humanity were perfect? Or even a mixture of good/bad?

Sunday, October 7, 2007

More blessed than you know.

I've been reading the Sermons on the Mount/Plains, and have noticed something interesting about the following two verses:

From the King James Bible:

Matthew 5:11: "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake."

Luke 6:22: "Blessed are ye, when man shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man's sake."

If you read this verses alone, and just these verses (can you say "out of context?" I can!), all those Christians who falsely (although perhaps not just falsely, if looking at Luke?) persecute in Jesus' name are actually doing the non-Christians a huge favor, for they are "blessing" the non-Christians. The non-Christians are being persecuted in Jesus' name, which does match the two verses ... it doesn't match the verses surrounding this, but that's not the point. :)

In other news, I've been having this nudge to change the name in my blog. Not the title, but my name-name. I'm getting this feeling that it would be less than wise to have it available, as though someone in real life could stumble across it. Half the time, these nudges come true. The other half of the time, I feel like I'm paranoid. I'll err on the side of (paranoid) caution here, and am thus known as "OneSmallStep." If you abbreviate you, you can make a semi-snake sound. "Oss." Although, now that I see this, it's very similar sounding to "Ass."

My name may change again in the near future, due to this sudden revelation.

On the plus side, I can now refer to myself as, "The blogger formally known as so-and-so." And really, who doesn't want that?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Listen, my children, and you shall hear ...

… of the midnight ride of Paul Revere.


A new blog post. Same thing. :)

In my last post, I touched on a discussion my friend and I had. Given the different viewpoints she and I brought to the table, it was only natural that we disagreed on a majority of what we discussed. However, there were also times that I felt her responses indicated that she wasn’t really listening to me, and that got me thinking.

How do we as individuals determine whether the other person is actually listening to us?
For example, take the problem of evil argument. I’ve found that when discussing the concept of a Christian God, with the omnipotence, omniscience and all-loving characteristics, it tends to slam head on into the amount of suffering we see in this world.

Now, the common response I often see runs along the lines of simply because bad things happen in my life does not mean that there isn’t a God. The problem with this is that those who use the POE hardly ever, if at all, use their lives within that problem (from what I’ve seen). They take the lives of others. They take events like the Holocaust, or Rwanda. They may also take “smaller” events, such as the rape and murder of a five year old, and try and reconcile that into the idea of God. So to me, the response indicates that the responder didn’t listen to the question, because s/he isn’t addressing any of the points raised in the question, but rather the questioner him/herself. The responder has reduced, almost radically, the nature of the question, and made it look as though the questioner was complaining.

The other common response I see to the POE is the nature of free will, and man can choose good or evil. I may be on shakier ground here, but the reason why I feel this also doesn’t address the question involving the POE is because when evil happens to a person, that person’s free will is getting violated.

Please note: I’m not actually looking for a debate on the POE, or the nature of free will. That’s not the point of this post. The examples above are simply used to try and work through how we determine whether someone or not listens to us.

One of the ideas my friend and I were discussing is the idea of God “fixing” everything in the end, and the knowledge that it doesn’t matter if you screw up, everything will still be completed in the end. It’s along the line of the reason used for not being environmentally smart: since the second coming will occur eventually/soon, and the Earth will burn and God’s going to create a new one anyway, why bother preserving it?

I told my friend the problem I had with this entire notion is how God gets used as an “escape clause.” If you absolutely believe that God is going to completely restore creation in the end, and that it will be fixed eventually no matter what you do, will you put 100% effort into trying to fix the problem? Let’s put it this way: if I know that I’m going to get an ‘A’ on a math exam no matter how much I prepare, what are the odds that I’m going to study that much, if at all? Why would I put 100% effort into studying, if I knew that I’d pass no matter what?

Her response to this was that if one person fails to achieve something, it doesn’t mean that God is helpless. The outcome will still happen, if it is meant to.

I told her she wasn’t listening to me. And I repeated myself, as people who don’t feel like they’re listened to are prone to do. She then repeated herself and we were in a cycle for a few minutes. Then we moved to a new topic (and a new cycle. We went through quite a few cycles, actually).

So what was I basing this “lack of listening” on? I think I based it on the fact that she wasn’t repeating my ideas back to me, but going in an area that I wasn’t even focusing on. At the time, I felt that her response indicated that she missed the point, and I’m wondering if I thought she missed the point because she didn’t agree with me.

The point of my question wasn’t “How can something happen if people don’t commit 100%?” Because I feel that’s the question she was answering, as though I were discussing the outcome. I wasn’t – the outcome wasn’t my concern. My focus was on the amount of effort applied to any situation, and why you’d even bother if you knew someone else, should that someone else will it, will see it occur anyway. You can tell yourself that you will commit 100%, but going back to the math problem, how feasible is it that subconsciously you won’t? (This may have gone better if I used the math example with her – I just came up with that example in relation to this post). I was focusing on the negative aspects of certainty. I mean, she even brought up the point that life here is horrible, but that’s what heaven is for – a place where no horrible things are. But that’s too close to the idea of simply enduring this life for a reward in the next, and with that mindset, why bother trying to make this life better at all? That was what I was trying to get across: the potential dangers that lurk in the viewpoint.

Please note #2: No comments about how if a person does this, they aren’t really Christian/Muslim/human in the first place, because one of the mandates is to help the neighbor. This isn’t meant to be a discussion in that area, and overall, this example is also used to explore the concept of listening.

But I want to go back to the agreement aspect – is that what we ultimately base listening on? There are quite a few bloggers who I feel “listen” a majority of the time, because when I post something, or comment in theirs, they respond in a way that indicates they understand what I’m saying. Much of this understanding circulates around agreement. It may not be 100%, but they’re agreeing with a majority of what I say.

And there are times when I feel, and I’m sure we all have, that someone has completely missed the point. We read the answer, and wonder if they even read our points in the first place. Coincidentally, these are the same people that don’t agree with a majority of what we say. So is there a correlation between those we feel listen, and those who agree with us? Had my friend and I theologically agreed, would I have felt that she had in fact listened to what I said?
I’m not saying that those who disagree are incapable of listening to opposing viewpoints. I just think it’s a lot harder to listen, because we tend to respond to “trigger” words with opposing viewpoints. Take universal reconciliation. A common response to universal reconciliation is that God is just: wrongs must be punished. Or why would someone who’s unrepentant want to be in heaven in the first place?

However, universal reconciliation is not the same thing as saying it’s okay to do whatever you want. It’s also not the same thing as saying God is unjust. But if I had someone respond to my universalistic tendencies in that God must be just as well, I would say that the person isn’t listening to me, because I never said God was unjust. I also never said that the person would always remain unrepentant.

Or take the reconciliation attempts between the idea of God being love, and the existence of an eternal hell. Aside from the whole “God is just as well” response, I also see responses in equating love with a “warm, fuzzy feeling.” Or a coddling type of love, that always lets you do what you want. With either of those responses, I would again feel as though the responder didn’t listen to me. First, because love isn’t separated from justice, and I never said it was. Second, because I never said that love coddled or was a “warm, fuzzy feeling.” However, the second clash would be a result of the different definitions of love: to me, love means that you don’t let the person do whatever s/he wants. If you do, you’re actually apathetic towards the person. If you let someone go rob a store, and say, “That’s okay, I’ll still love you,” then you aren’t loving that person at all. Love accepts you as you are, and then helps you be better. It challenges you. And it does correct wrong behavior, so that you stop doing that behavior, and stop finding joy in that behavior.

As stated, I would claim in both cases that the responder didn’t listen to me, based on their responses. I would feel that s/he was commenting on something I didn’t actually say. This would no doubt derive from the different concepts of the trigger words, such as “love,” “justice,” or “universal reconciliation.” In the responder’s case, s/he would say that s/he did listen. I think much of why I’d feel the way I would is because of the lack of agreement – but that lack of agreement stems in a large part from the definition of the words themselves.

So what criteria do we use to judge whether or not someone listened to us?

Sunday, September 23, 2007

They shall be without excuse ...

I got into a discussion last night with one of my friends, that eventually drifted into the judgement of God, and rejecting the truth. It started with a critique of the Left Behind series, in that the authors approach the human condition in that everyone knows the Truth: some accept it, some reject it.

That's not the human condition. Many people I know who don't hold to a particular belief structure do so because they find that belief structure is equivalent to 2+2=5. In no way can that be construed as rejecting any sort of Truth. That mathematical equation wouldn't even be in the running. And if someone honestly holds that the Truth is equal to that mathematical equation, then it's the height of injustice to punish them for not holding to that equation.

She then mentioned the Romans passage 1: 18-23, specifically focusing on how all will be without excuse. She had no idea how this worked in terms of someone who never heard of Jesus or read the Bible, but since it was in the Bible and she held the Bible to be true, that statement had to be true as well.

Now, I'm not deeply familiar with the layout of the world 2,000 years ago, especially when Paul was spreading Christianity to the Gentiles. So I could be off on this, and if someone who knows more could enlighten me, that would be great. But I think the "no excuse" idea doesn't quite hold up anymore, in the sense of how it's used with rejecting Jesus.

For one thing, I think that Paul's idea of the world was much smaller than what we have today (well, okay, I don't think this, that's obvious. No one then would imagine how big the world was, or that there were people across oceans -- if they even knew what an ocean was). But for Paul, if his concept of the whole world was pretty much the Roman Empire and some surrounding areas. If Christianity had been introduced to all those areas, and Paul thought only those areas were "the world." However, like I said, I'm not familiar with the geographical knowledge of that time frame, so this entire example may be invalid.

Second, this verse is tied to the idea of finding God in creation. "Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he made." We know a lot more about the nature of this world, this universe, and just the act of creation compared to 2,000 years ago. What I find very interesting is that I read somewhere that 93% of the members of the National Academy of Sciences are atheists. If in fact creation is one of the best ways to see this divine nature, wouldn't the people who are most familiar with the creative process be leading the charge in claiming God's existence?

Third: There's a verse in chapter two about how those outside the law are judged by the law written in their own heart. And I see the "no excuse" verse reflecting that idea a lot more than I see it reflecting the idea of someone rejecting Jesus rejects the truth. To me, the no excuses seems to focus a lot more on worshiping created things, suppressing the truth, and ungodliness and wickedness. For an example, who is the ungodly -- someone who holds the right beliefs and is cruel, or someone who says the right beliefs cannot be the truth, and is kind even to his/her enemies? The person who is kind acts in such a way because she knows, in her conscience, that is the right thing to do. The "no excuses" seems wrapped around the idea of people know how they should behave, and those described in this verse are those who consistently don't behave the right way. This entire verse seems to be about those who are actively suppressing the truth, and deliberately acting in such a way as to applaud such suppression. But those are not the same people who would find a certain belief structure as 2+2=5. There's no suppressing the truth there. (I also find it interesting that in chapter two in regards to the verse of being judged by one's moral compass, Paul makes a mention of those outside the law judged by their thoughts, which "will accuse or perhaps excuse them. It just seems more and more likely that the idea of having no excuse was in relation to a specific group of people, and not applied across the board).

Fourth: the idea of rejecting God has always been a complex notion for me. I think it's easy to reject ideas or notions of who God is. I think it's a lot harder to reject God as God. Say there's a former fundamentalist who flat-out says s/he rejects Jesus, and is now an atheist. As a fundamentalist, this person was legalistic, cruel, and pretty much didn't follow the basic commands as laid out by Jesus. However, this person had the doctrines nailed down (no pun intended). Now as an atheist, the person does live by those basic commands. The person is much kinder, demonstrates more compassion, listens, does try to love every person s/he meets -- has that person rejected God? If anything, I would say that the former fundamentalist has embraced God, through repentance of a legalistic viewpoint. What happened is that the FF looked at the prior lifestyle and said that whoever or whatever God is, it's not the entity as presented by that lifestyle. Can it then be argued that the person has in fact rejected God? Or has that person rejected a false concept of the truth?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Returning the power.

"In the literature where Judaism speaks for itself, Israel's election, embodied in the giving of the Torah, is viewed as God's gracious gift. Obedience to the Torah is the proper response to the gift of the Torah, but it does not earn salvation as such. "Election and ultimately salvation cannot be earned, but depend on God's grace" and mercy."

-- Paula Fredriksen, From Jesus to Christ, second edition.

"We love because He loved us first." 1 John 4:20

In Christianity, the emphasis is on God loving everyone, the undeserving, and that no one can ever be good enough to earn God's love. God's love is not a response to anything we do, and is not correlated to our actions. I think we're putting the focus in the wrong place. It has nothing to do with how good or bad we are. It has to do with power, and who has it.

When you start throwing around words like “deserve,” the word “earn” isn’t too far behind. And if you’re capable of earning something, then you’re capable of behaving in such a way that gets whatever it is you’ve earned removed. When that happens, the power ultimately lies with us -- we would then have the ability to determine when or if God would love us. God's love would be fickle, rather than a constant. And God's love would be less than all-powerful, because it would be the effect to our cause.

Rather, in saying that God loves the world, or God loves us, or that we love because God first loves us, the focus there is on who has the power – and it’s not us. We do not have the power to affect the fact that God loves us. At no point does the love ever come with an “off” switch. Much like a parent with a child, the parent loves. Period. S/he loves because this is his/her child, this is his/her creation, and the child is an expression of the parent, carrying a piece of the parent forward, only in new ways.

There is a complication with this, though. I once asked (well, kind of threw it into an already too long e-mail over theological differences) an evangelical friend about this notion, and said one of the difficulties I have with the “inherent sin” and so forth is that if standing before God, and hearing about God, it makes me ask, “Is there anything about me that’s lovable? What is it inside me that You love? What produces that?”

Her response was that God’s love isn’t dependent on us, but on God.

She missed the point I was driving at, but that’s because I wasn’t clear. One of the difficulties in saying that nothing you do produces God’s love is that it can lead to the idea that God has no choice in loving humanity. It’s like an addictive compulsion and perhaps, given a choice, God would prefer to not love humanity. It's an abstract love, that really has no personal connections. A rock would have equal weight in terms of God's love.

While I do think that nothing we do can alter God’s love, I do think that the production of God’s love is dependent upon us. This is possibly paradoxical, but let’s go back to the parent/child example. The parent’s love of a child simply is, but it is dependent upon knowledge of that child (not necessarily existence, because the child could die, but the parent’s love would not). Without the child, that particular aspect of the parent’s love wouldn’t be. And yet without that love, the child wouldn’t exist (granted, this example is limited to those who actually wanted a child at one point).

Therefore, the thing inside us that God loves is the very fact that we are created. We carry tremendous potential for good, we can demonstrate pure life, light, love in this world, as we were created to be. The very thing that God responds to when loving His creation is everything He put into His creation in the first place. That is precisely why we cannot be responsible for activating or shutting down God's love: we had nothing to do with those original qualities.

One of the reasons I’ve heard for why the Trinity must be true is that God’s love had to directed “outwards,” otherwise it became a selfish love. Therefore, the love was directed towards the three Trinity members. I don’t think this is the case. Even without the Trinity, God’s love would still be directed “outwards.”

God is omniscient. Is there ever a time when God does not know you? Expectant parents love the child in the womb – they know nothing about this child, what it will be like, and yet they still love the child. God, being omniscient, knows everything about you, like you’ve already lived your life. And if God is infinite and eternal, and had no starting point, then we have been known eternally. There was never a point at which God was not aware of us, down the last little DNA strand.

Do we need to exist in this time/space in order to be loved? Does God only love us after we are physically born here? No, because then that love once again has an on/off switch. So if God has eternally known us, then hasn’t that love always been directed outwards?

Now, this doesn't meant that you can do whatever you want, because God always loves you. The best relationships I see that are based on love are relationships of improvement. We are awed and amazed that this person, who is full of goodness and grace and light, loves us. Clearly, if this person who has all these qualities loves us, then there is something of those qualities that the person responds to -- and to me, that would make me want to search myself to see how those qualities could be cultivated, and how the bad qualities could be eliminated. What I glean from the Bible is you take the best human relationship you have and increase by a factor of millions, and it makes you want to be what God sees in you that much more.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Jesus vs Paul, Round One.

“Both Jesus and Paul taught salvation by faith, leading to spiritual rebirth and alliance with God’s purposes. But while these were, for Jesus, freely available from the God who knows how to give his children what they need (matt 5:6; 7:7-11), with Paul, salvation had to be arranged: there was a mechanism of salvation. Christ had to be made sin, had to be handed over for our transgressions. For Jesus, faith is primarily trust. This is present in Paul, but what dominates is an intellectual component, namely belief – assenting to certain soteriological facts: “Believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead” (Rom 10:9); “become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted” (Rom 6:17).

…”For Paul, Christ is a mediator, not a proclaimer, of salvation. Jesus’ own emphatically stated parables about faith, honesty, and growth may be fine wisdom teaching, but they are hardly the essence of salvation for Paul, which is “Christ, and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). A proclaimer of salvation is an apostle, and he never calls Jesus an apostle. For Paul, one dies to the Law not through the teachings but through the body of Christ (Rom 7:4). And so Jesus the teacher becomes Jesus the type, and a type needs to be interpreted.

“Paul never says “your faith has saved you,” as Jesus did, since he is sure it was the Messiah’s ultra-significant death that actually saves; rather, faith means accepting this teaching … Paul could never say “blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matt 5:8), for there are not pure in heart in Paul’s view. There is no immediate and free access to God by the meek or the pure. Access to God required an intervening transaction on behalf of wretched humanity: “Christ died for our sins (1 Cor 15:3). Faith needs to believe that.

“Jesus was willing to use the innocence of children as a sign of the kingdom. For Paul, there is none innocent, and trust itself is not to be trusted since “the evil I do not want is what I do” (Rom 7:19). Paul’s is a religion of catastrophic conversion; Jesus’ healthy-minded religion is not understood. For Paul, there are only extremes: profound enslavement or unexpected redemption, being lost in sin or being dramatically rescued.

“…. We are dealing with two entirely different instincts about God and access to God. Jesus, with fully adult know-how and lack of illusions, is able to say that a sincere and childlike faith opens the portals of heaven. There really are some truth-hungering, merciful, and “utterly sincere” people, who “will be filled … will receive mercy … will see God” (Matt 5:6-8)

“We have reached a state in theological development when we need to acknowledge that the Bible is full of diverse viewpoints and admit that it is not likely to be a transcript straight from the mind of God, though it may indeed be the heavily filtered human reflection of the mind of God, a record of the gradual and partial human reception of God’s initiatives.”

Problems with Atonement, Stephen Finlan.

The first time I ever read the Synoptic Gospels straight through, I was surprised at what was in them -- because most of it didn't seem to be taught in traditional Christianity. Faith in Jesus isn't the overriding factor, and they are heavily work-based. I found this startling, considering the actual words of Jesus were in these three Gospels. But when you look at "what we believe" statements from churches, do the majority of the quotes pull from the Synoptics? Or do they pull from Paul and Company, with a smattering of the Gospel of John?

Then I got to John, and pieces came together. Then I read Paul, and it all clicked. Much of traditional Christianity does seem to be pulled straight from Paul, and anything in the Synoptics that disagrees with this is re-interpreted so that everything fits in one neat pile. For instance, the Sermon on the Mount, where it says "blessed are the peacemakers, for they are called the children of God." To me, that seems clear-cut. Peacemakers = children of God. I would think the crowds listening would understand it as such. Or telling people, in the present tense, that they *are* the light of the world, or the salt of the Earth. Again, clear-cut.

I read somewhere that the Sermon actually applies to Christians almost "after the fact." It would apply to them after they accepted Jesus as their Savior, and could say how one should live after receiving salvation.

Okay, if we're going with the timeline of Jesus preaching for three years, and this is placed relatively early in Matthew ... even if it takes place during the last year, what are the odds that the crowd understood it to apply at a later date? Does anything in the Sermon itself even hint at that? Wouldn't the crowd have rather gone home, and raved about what the man teaching with authority said, and what it said about their relationship to God?

Another idea I've heard is that the Sermon is designed to show one how sinful they are. But again, that's almost reading Pauline theology back into the Sermon. Yes, it makes mention of you kill someone by hating them, and looking at another person lustfully is committing adultery. But to me, that's not showing how hopeless one's situation is, it's showing that it's not enough to just act right. Good actions start from good motivations. You want to stop lusting after the opposite sex while married? It takes more than just making sure you don't look at someone, it requires eliminating the lust at the source -- at the inside. Any murderous act starts in the heart. If you hate someone, you are, in a way, mentally stripping them of their humanity. It's easier to kill what you hate, because you're already killing them inside your heart.

Besides, the Pharisees as interpreted in the Gospels were already going around condemning anyone who wasn't like them left and right, and Jesus had quite a few words for that. Why then would people find Jesus so riveting if he were doing the same thing?

I originally read the book to get a better grasp on all the atonement theories -- and I recommend it for that alone. It also helps show how influential Paul's letters were in designing atonement theories, and how the later Christians tended to stick with just one metaphor, whereas Paul used a combination.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

To miss the mark.

The word sin, in Hebrew and Greek, is based on a hunting metaphor. Hebrew is "chatah" and Greek is "hamartia" which basically meant that the hunter missed hitting what s/he was aiming at, and thus the weapon "fell short." But this would mean that the hunter was aiming at a specific target.

A lot of Christians seem to teach that humanity is willfully disobedient to God, that in its natural state it prefers evil over good, does not seek good of its own accord and so forth. That's sin. But if sin means "to miss the mark" and pulls from a metaphor that says one misses one's aim ... doesn't that mean that humanity is aiming for the mark of goodness, but just falls short? That when humanity sins, it's not "willful" and it doesn't prefer evil and wouldn't want good without outside intervention After all, what competent hunter wants to miss his/her target? If my target is a raise at work, then I'm not going to willfully try to miss that target, nor will my natural state mean that my true desires are to receive no raise whatsoever. Rather, if I miss my target, it would be due to something that I didn't purposely do.

Yet this isn't how sin seems to get taught, but rather that humanity delights in disregarding good and justice and so on.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Liar, Lunatic, Lord.

I'm sure we're all familiar with the Trilemma argument. Aside from some of the problems with it, like the fact that it assumes Jesus literally did/said everything attributed to him, and leaving out the possibility of legend, I'm wondering if it also suffers from another problem.

Does this argument drift into the ad hominem arena in order to to make it's point?

If person A were to make a statement about universal health care being a good thing, and I say person A is wrong about that because person A is an idiot, I have not addressed the claim. Rather, I've sideswiped the claim by focusing on Person A. But person A's supposed idiotic nature doesn't belong to the claim itself.

Part of the Trilemma argument is that we're told we can't simply call Jesus a great moral teacher because good moral teachers don't say what he said. But even if Jesus were crazy, how does that change the command to not judge? Or the Samaritan parable? Or even the golden rule? How does Jesus' mental status have any bearing on the morality of those statements? Crazy people can utter moral statements. So can liars.

No, we wouldn't use crazy people or liars in order to completely orchestrate a moral code (Well ... it might depend on the level of craziness, and how one defines crazy. Crazy could be walking into a war zone in order to teach people about love, yet we could draft a moral code around that).

But my problem is that if the Trilemma is used in order to address the claim "Jesus was just a great moral teacher," then I see the argument itself attacking Jesus, rather than addressing any of his moral statements. Saying that Jesus could be crazy or a liar doesn't show me why he also didn't teach people about morals.

I also realize the argument is meant to address statements such as Jesus saying he was the bread of life, or the resurrection and the life. But again -- these claims don't negate the moral statements themselves.

I mean, there's evidence pointing to Martin Luther King, Jr. having affairs, or plagerizing. But if those claims are true, does that negate that he spoke for peace and non-violence and the end of segretation? No, because the claims themselves are seperate from his character.

So does the Trilemma argument seperate the moral statements of Jesus from the character of Jesus, or lump the two together? If it lumps the two together, isn't that somewhat forcing the listener to reach a specific conclusion? If this claim is that strong, why should any force be necessary at all?

Monday, August 20, 2007

A grateful heart. It's mine, I tell you. Mine!

I'm been ruminating lately, over what kind of line there is between gratitude and selfishness, and whether it's a really thin one at that.

On the other hand, one of the things I try not to think about too much is how better this world would be if we cared more, or if we were less apathetic, or maybe even demonstrated more gratitude.

Now I'm wondering if apathy is always the correct word. Oh, I'm sure that some people are apathetic. But perhaps others are simply trying to survive? For me, there's only so much I can take of the daily atrocities before I can feel myself shutting down, and I have to push the images away if I want to be able to function -- or if I even want to eat an apple without feeling guilty. There are times when I have to read the news like a giant fictional story, so I can process it.

So that's the point in which I have to focus on myself, at the exclusion of all else. How much of that is selfishness, and how much of that is simply so I don't get buried in everything that's around me? There's doing what you can, and then there's surrendering your whole life to this sense of guilt over what I have compared to what a majority of the world lacks.

And often, I take what I have for granted. It's easy to do, as I've never been without it. Gratitude for these things almost takes an extra effort, because I have to stop and make myself think about what it would be like to not have what I do have. However, it's also not an effort, because it can be easy to be grateful even during my daily (well, rather multi-daily. I work with spreadsheets at work a lot, and need breaks) of CNN.

But -- can counting our blessings lead to an inability to let them go, and in fact make us cling to them? Can it make us so focused on what we have that what we have turns into needs, even if it's a certain house, car, clothing, job and so on? Yet at the same time, those "needs" can help me remained balanced, and not getting overwhelmed by all of the suffering in the world.

There's also the sense that I do have these things, and to not be grateful, or even demonstrate a sense of appreciation for them, is wrong. Yet I'd want to do so in a way that doesn't indulge in selfishness.

I feel like I almost have two different topics going on here. I think the connection is that more people than we think are grateful for what they have, and aren't just selfish. However, there's also a part of you that has to take it for granted, or you'll drive yourself crazy in comparing yourself to the less fortunate.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Who, or what, is a Christian?

I saw another post ask this question, and the usual responses followed: justified in the blood of Jesus, someone who holds the right beliefs (resurrection, correct atonement theory, correct belief of the nature of Jesus).

That's not how I would've answered.

When it's used in the New Testament, it means those who followed Jesus, or those who were disciples of Christ. It's reasonable to infer, therefore, that Christian basically means "Christ-like." "Christ" means the Messiah, or Anointed One. So to be Christian is literally to be "Anointed One-like."

I'm trying to think of an exemption to this, but usually when we say that someone is like another person, it's generally to describe characteristics or behavior. If I am like my friend or family member, it's because I would do what the friend/family member would do, or vice versa. So if we are to be Christ-like, then we would do what Christ did. Otherwise, we reduce "Christ-like" to believe as Jesus believed.

The Gospel of John focuses a lot of Jesus as the divine son of God, who Jesus was and his relation to the world and God, and to believe in the son is to receive eternal life/salvation. Inevitably, that gets used a lot in defining Christian.

Here's my problem: John is one of four books that details the life of Jesus. It's in the minority, and yet it gets used as a majority (I'm referring the books that deal with Jesus when he walked on this planet only right now). The other three books show that Jesus places a huge emphasis on action. The harsh words he had were for the religious elites -- those who clung to the correct beliefs at the expense of all else, including their fellow humans.

Let's take the Samaritan. By all accounts, the Samaritan was a heretic, a sinner, and definitely on the "outs" with God because he had the wrong beliefs. And yet that person was the most "Anointed-One like," because he behaved as an Anointed One should. When the three people would stand before God, who would receive the praise?

When we look at our neighbors today, and compare the behavior of some who call themselves Christian to others who call themselves agnostic ... I can't help but think the agnostics are going to receive the praise, because they truly behaved as though Anointed with the Spirit of God.

No, this is not a matter of "earning" salvation. Repentance and turning from sin can come in a variety of ways. If we work with someone who is an absolute jerk, and the understandable response would be to belittle this person, we are repenting through responding with calmness. We are repenting if we decide to see past the jerk-facade, and into the factors that influenced him as a child, or even still influence him. We repent by looking past the surface. We turn from sin when we refuse to hold onto our anger, or refuse to let "the jerk" influence our response, or refuse to let "the jerk" discolor our ability to love him or her.

So who is a Christian? Someone who is Christ-like. Someone who behaves as Jesus did, who sees as Jesus did.

Friday, August 3, 2007

I'm right, you're wrong, end of story, who wants cake?

Note: The title is not meant to be taken as a serious statement.

I've been mulling over my Ephesians post, and the reactions to it. The reactions basically went into two camps, which I figured would happen. Those who found it a disturbing verse, a voice of the time, and those who ... well, for lack of a better word, didn't. Now, this latter camp did find the prior treatment (as in, the verse used to permit subjugation of wives) deplorable, and did focus on the positives of the verse, such as the man must love his wife as the Christ loved the church.

I guess my question would be this: at what point is the verse simply allowed to be wrong, or a product of its time, rather than misinterpreted? In today's time, any verse that comes across as pro-slavery or anti-woman that was once vigorously used is now pretty much explained as a misinterpretation. It didn't really mean that slavery was okay, the people of that time were just blinded.

Okay -- but in 500 years, what else is going to be just a misinterpretation, and actually mean something else? Will there come a point at which everything in the Bible was just a misinterpretation? Where is the line drawn?

I've also noticed a trend with disturbing/bothersome Bible verses. They're almost not allowed to stand on their own, or allowed to say what's in them. In response to Ephesians, other verses were used to interpret it, in order to address the points I made, other verses were used to explain it. We don't do that with verses such as the Samaritan parable. We don't even really do that with the two greatest commandments. Those stand on their own a lot more than some of the other verses.

Now, I'm not denying that it's important to put the Bible in context. Otherwise, we could end up with a situation like saying that Peter was actually Satan in disguise, because Jesus called him Satan once, and so the Catholic Church was actually founded by Satan (although, there may be some who completely agree with the last portion of that). But there's also contextualizing a verse to the point where the interpretation doesn't match the verse at all -- it's almost been re-written through all the other verses. It's been completely twisted out of shape, in order to make people more comfortable. And then, in order to answer a question developed from the uncomfortable passage, another passage is used -- but used in a way that avoids the discomfort of the first passage, period.

That angers me, and I think that is because it comes across as sweeping the verse under the carpet, and moving onto more cheerful matters. I'm going to use a really extreme example here, but Hitler was swept under the rug through use of appeasement (although, in the end, he didn't stay swept under there). The European nations, rather than stopping Hitler when he started taking over other countries, figured that he'd have to stop after that one, and what was the harm in letting him keep it so long as there was no war? (No, they didn't do this casually, having just gotten out of a first World War that had devastating consequences, much of that due to, for those times, modern weaponry). The problem is that you can't do that with something unjust. You have to fix the causes, or you're never going to solve the problem.

In a lot of ways, that's what the Ephesians verse reminds me of. It goes back to the reaction of it was just a misinterpretation, and they didn't focus on the man loving as Christ (although, here's a sobering thought: what if that was forefront in their minds as well, and that was their idea of love?) It's like you can pat yourself on the back for fixing the misinterpret ion, or shake your head over how misguided prior generations were. But that's not fixing the problem, that's appeasement.

I'm not denying that culture played a role in how the Bible was read. It always does, and it always will. But that is almost placing the blame/responsibility solely on culture, and not examining the verse itself. Apart from culture, why was the Ephesians verse interpreted the way it was? What was it in those verses that people responded to? What are the root causes in the verse itself that sparked those ideas? The fact that the woman isn't compared to Christ? The fact that the woman is compared to the man's body? The fact that the woman isn't told to love, but just submit/respect? Maybe it really was the author's intent to portray a non-equal message? If it was, what do we do about it?

We need to address those questions, and not just say that prior generations got it wrong. We can't just use other verses in order to "clean up" the Ephesians verse. We need to be able to identify what the triggers are, what it was in that verse that made people cling to the notion of inequality so long, and we can only do that by taking a cold, hard look at it and going, "You know what? I totally see where they got that from." Otherwise, we're just changing the surface of the passage, and dragging another viewpoint out, trying to conceal the first viewpoint, rather than completely eradicate it. This can, in turn, lead to the danger of the prior interpretation asserting itself.

I still don't find the verse that liberating for wives. But at least now I understand why I'm being so forceful on this issue.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Wives, be subject to your husbands ...

Disclaimer: I am aware of the other biblical verses that assign an equal status to the man/woman or husband/wife. And I do wish that the Christian churches had focused more on something like Galatians 3:28, with everyone the same in Christ. Unfortunately, it hasn't, and the Ephesians verses is one of the reasons why.

The reason why I'm not addressing those other verses is because they seemed to get used a lot to soften what's going on in this Ephesians verse. Ephesians says what it says, and below are all the things I found buried in the verse. Softening them, or using another verse, does not eradicate what is in the Ephesians verse itself.

Yes, I'm aware of the irony, given that I don't hold God ordering much of what happened in the Tanakh, but rather people struggling to understand God. But Christianity tends not to focus on those, because Jesus set a new era. One of the verses in this new era is the Ephesians letter.

End Disclaimer

... if I was someone who believed that there were no such things as coincidences, I'd start questioning why I'm seeing Ephesians 5:22-34 pop up a lot.

It's a familiar verse, with advising women to be subject to their husbands. It's a verse used to show how women are considered secondary in the Bible. The common response to this is that the verse goes onto to tell men to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up, and for men to love their wives as themselves. It's "mutual submission."

I have a few difficulties with that response

1) There is a definite hierarchy established in this verse. Man is head of the woman, just as Christ is head of the church, so as the church submits to Christ, so must the woman submit to the man. The basic principle behind Christ being in authority is that Christ knows all, and humans are to bow to his will. In this comparison, it's establishing that the man knows better than the woman, and ultimately the woman must bow to the man's will.

2) Nowhere does it say for the man to submit to the wife as well. It says for the man to love his wife as Christ loves the church, but the man does not submit to the wife. Ever. It ends with saying that man must love his wife, but the woman must respect her husband. Now, it could be argued that "love" automatically entitles the woman to submission and respect, but that's an inference, and that depends on the definition of "love." For some men, loving their wives means they completely control their wives, because their wives aren't smart enough to guide their own lives. And this is not a "radical" view for Christianity -- from what I've seen of the early church fathers, they weren't all that thrilled with women as a whole.

3) The man is to love his wife as he loves his body. This can too easily reduce a woman to "property," much like the man's body is his own property. It is also saying that a man is to love his wife as his own self. However, self-love can often be egotistical, and self-focused. My version even says that "In loving his wife a man loves himself." In a lot of ways, the woman is almost seen as the extension of the man.

4) Only the man is compared to Christ. The woman is compared to the church. The church and Christ are not equal, so under this comparison, the man and woman are not equal, either. As the church is subject to Christ, so is the woman subject to the man. And how often do we hear that is no longer the person who lives in the body, but Christ? If that's applied here, the woman is not independent, but again -- seen as the extension of the man. The verse does go on to describe how Christ gave himself up for the church and cleansed it. But that comparison leaves us with the man needing to "save" the woman and presenting her with no stain or wrinkle. Plus, the whole purpose of Christ was that man was incapable of saving himself, so God had to step in. In the comparison, woman is incapable of overseeing herself, so the man has to step in.

I've also seen a response for this that the man and woman are equal, they just have separate roles. Yet that strays too far to the "separate but equal" line of thought, and history has shown how well that's worked.

Overall? I still see this passage as a means of controlling women. They aren't given an identity in this passage like men are.

Edited to add:

Another interesting thing I've noticed about this verse -- the wife isn't called to love the husband, simply submit and respect (Now, one can say that both are indications of love. But I also have a healthy respect for the Great White Shark, and not because of any love, but because of how quickly it can kill me. Submission and respect are not synonymous with love). If I'm remembering my history correctly, weren't there a few Greek philosophers that debated if women even had souls the way men did?

This verse almost seems to be classifying love in two different ways. Men can love, and women ... can't? Or have a substandard sort of love? It just seems to assign very clinical aspects to what the wife should do, with almost no emotion involved. It's like there's nothing of the soul involved, in what the wife is called to do. Which, in a lot of ways, would work really well with saying that the husband should love the wife as he loves his own body.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Don't doubt, just believe.

I find myself dealing with a sense of frustration of late, and I think it’s bleeding into my online “tone.” One of the difficulties I have with religious claims is that it ultimately comes down to a matter of faith. How often have we heard that it doesn’t matter if we don’t have the answers here, they’ll be available in heaven? Or a contradiction in the Bible isn’t really a contradiction, even though it appears that way? It just requires more study, or will eventually be a non-contradiction in heaven. If someone has doubts, they are to pray to God until those doubts are removed. I’ve seen some of the methods used to harmonize the Bible and they don’t work for me for two reasons – some are a huge stretch, and if the same principles were applied to another religious text, I don’t see that the harmonizations would then be accepted. Rather, the harmonizing would be seen as … well, along the lines of grasping at straws.

Am I stretching the point? Perhaps. But I doubt it. It’s along the same lines as saying that another religious text can’t be from God because of all the violence, and yet saying the Bible is divinely inspired and directly from God, even though the same type of violence is in the Bible. Violent acts that would persuade someone that the book wasn’t of divine origin in any other context.

The standards just seem to be relaxed when applied to religion (well, to be more precise, conservative Christianity), and that’s the frustrating part. Take a math equation – you can’t say to someone that they don’t need to actually resolve the contradiction, or it will be revealed at a later time, or having the answer doesn’t matter. You do need to solve that contradiction, or the math equation doesn’t work. If you’re basing lives on that equation, you’ll get those lives killed. You can’t tell someone to pray to remove the doubt: the doubt is removed through receiving an answer that either proves the equation, or shows that the equation needs to be re-worked.

Or determining that someone is good: we do that based on lifestyle and behavior. If someone kills another person over a pair of shoes, we would conclude that person A is a bad person. However, when I’ve asked others how they determine that God is good, it pretty much comes down to “God is good because He says He is.” Okay, but that is not the method we use to determine if a person is good. (There have been variations onto this, in that God’s very nature necessitates Him being good. But we know this based on … God saying so, because God is the one who describes what His nature consists of).

And this is after I’ve asked how one determines that one is actually following a good God. What criteria is the judgment of good based on? And before anyone starts saying that I’m imposing my own fallible moral code onto God, I’m not. I am taking what Jesus says is good – behavior that Jesus says is just like God’s behavior – and checking if that is consistent behavior throughout the Bible.

The resolution to this is basically to just have faith. And that reasoning works for a lot of people, and they find it acceptable. Herein lies the problem, though: the people who say to just have faith are the same people laying claim to an absolute truth, and that those of us who aren’t like them need to have this absolute truth right away.

A claim of absolute truth should be associated with the idea that the person has researched, and investigated all sides. I don’t see this coming from those who say to just have faith. Rather, I see the investigation as skewed: all facts are interpreted through an already-established paradigm, and rather than doing independent research, one relies on others for facts.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Does God truly forgive?

From the dictionary, forgiveness is: to give up resentment of or claim to requital for. b: to grant relief from payment of. 2: to cease to feel resentment against (an offender)

Penal substitution is essentially Jesus punished in everyone's place in order to satisfy God's justice. Through this process, humanity can receive forgiveness.

I suppose the first question that arises is this: is forgiveness truly forgiveness if the "pound of flesh" is measured out first? If someone kills your child, and so you kill that person's child in turn and say to the person that you now forgive him/her, have you truly forgiven that person? Or is the forgiveness based on punishment, and what is due to you as the wronged party?

For me, I tend to see forgiveness as not only releasing the negative emotions, but relinquishing any claim to compensation for the wrong act. Jesus mentions this a lot, in that one is to forgive, and not seek vengeance. If vengeance is sought, and then forgiveness is granted, forgiveness becomes dependent on satisfying the vengeance.

So does the Penal substitution theory, which dominates conservative Protestantism (and possibly branches of Catholicism?) violate forgiveness as it's commonly identified? After all, God doesn't forgive unconditionally. Someone still had to be punished before that forgiveness was granted to people. God didn't simply relinquish any claims of satisfaction -- those claims were fulfilled in Jesus, in delivering that required 'pound of flesh.'

The only reason, under this atonement theory, that God doesn't punish people is because Jesus was punished. And to me, that violates the definition of forgiveness, because God didn't give a need for satisfaction, God didn't "cease" to feel anything about sin. The only reason why he ceased is because the person's punishment was still meted out, only not to the person.

That's not forgiveness, that's a transaction. It becomes an 'if-then' statement, it becomes a system of rewards, and paints a rather poor picture of how God forgives. I'm not even sure you can say it's unconditional forgiveness, because quite a few conditions were set before forgiveness even took place.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Sola Scripture.

About five years ago, I read the New Testament from the book of Matthew to Revelations for the first time. I mostly did this because I was starting to get into conversations with one of my Baptist friends, and it was involving Biblical matters. I figured since I disagreed with her on pretty much all theological stances, I should at least have a good idea of the book she was using: especially since I was using it, too. :)

Now, I have never believed in the Trinity. As she is a Baptist, she does, and that is one of the things we discussed. It’s another reason why I read the Bible, because I figured if the Trinity is a ‘make or break’ case for Christianity, it shouldn’t be too hard to find.

After completing the New Testament, I could see what verses were used to support the Trinity, but was also left with an incredibly unsettled feeling. Part of it was because of the following:

John 10:30 of “I and my Father are one” is often used to show that Jesus was claiming to be God. However, the support Jesus uses of that statement when the Jews try to stone him is from John 10:34: “Jesus answered them, “Isn’t it written in your Torah, “I have said, “You people are Elohim’”” If He called ‘elohim’ the people to whom the word of Elohim was addressed [and the Tanakh] cannot be broken, then are you telling the one whom the Father set apart as holy and sent into the world, ‘You are committing blasphemy’ just because I said, “I am the son of Elohim’?”

Jesus does not say that he is God in that statement – the Psalms he pulls from, where God addresses others as ‘Elohim’ is proof of that, because other humans are addressed as gods. (There’s also the fact that there’s no definite article in front of ‘theos’ where the Jews say he’s claiming to be God, and thus the interpretation runs ‘You are claiming to be a god’).

When the fact that Jesus later prays that his disciples be as one just as he and his Father are one is added into the mix, then the “I and my Father are one” completely loses any Trinitarian support for me.

There’s adding what Paul defines as the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15: what he received was that Christ died for our sins, in according with the Tanakh, he was buried, he was raised on the third day in according with the Tanakh and was seen by Peter, the Twelve, more than 500 and him. Nowhere here is part of the ‘good news’ that God becoming flesh. There’s also the sense that given that Paul was Jewish, to go from a Unitarian God to a Trinitarian God should’ve been much more apparent in his letters, and flat-out stated, given that this is a big reason why the Jews regard Christianity as polytheistic (and they were willing to die for the belief in the one God – this is a striking change, and yet there’s nothing). But there’s not, and even in his prayers, he is praying to the Father through Jesus Christ, or directing his prayers to the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ – and yet in today’s churches, the prayers are directed to Jesus, not the Father.

There’s Acts, where what’s proclaimed in the second chapter is that Jesus was a man demonstrated to be from God, and such.

There was the sense from other Trinitarian verses that there were a multitude of explanations for them, many of which were simpler than the Trinity. All of this combined with my sense that the Trinity itself was incredibly vague, led me to do much research.

I’m currently in the process of reading The Divine Truth or Human Tradition? A Reconsideration of the Roman Catholic-Protestant Doctrine of the Trinity in Light of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures? By Patrick Navas (not a Trinitarian, as one might guess), and he put into words why I was so unsettled after reading the New Testament for the first time.

Sola Scripture is essentially that all Christian beliefs and practices must stem directly from the Bible. The second coming does this. The resurrection does this. Jesus dying for sin does this – all are clearly and explicitly stated in the Bible.

The Trinity is not. That is what I found so unsettling about the New Testament. Take any concept of the Trinity and try and find it in the Bible: co-equal, same substance, God the Son, God Incarnate, Jesus as the second person of the Trinity, the Father as the first person of the Trinity, God-man and so on.

As one scholar say:

“As early as the 8th century, the theologian St. John of Damascus frankly admitted what every modern critical scholar of the New Testament now realizes; that neither the doctrine of the Trinity nor that of the two natures of Jesus Christ is explicitly set out in Scripture. In fact, if you take the record as it is and avoid reading back into it the dogmatic definitions of a latter age, you cannot find what is traditionally regarded as orthodox Christianity in the Bible at all.” -- Tom Harpur, For Christ’s Sake

Which is the situation I ended up in when reading the New Testament for the first time. And the book didn’t just quote from this scholar, but from all sorts of Trinitarian scholars who admitted that it is not clearly or explicitly taught in the Bible. He also went through the different ways in which the Trinitarian verses are interpreted, but many of them seem to re-write what the verses actually say, rather than letting the verses speak for themselves. The author himself offered interpretations that seemed simpler, honestly, and were along the lines of what I was already thinking before reading the book.

For example, everyone’s favorite: John 1

“When all things began, the Word already was. The Word dwelt with God, and what God was, the Word was [Also translated as ‘the Word was God’ The Greek grammar gets fun here, in terms of the lack of definite article and such. I would advise looking up both viewpoints, as they’re too long to type here]. The Word, then, was with God at the beginning, and through him all things came to be.”

First problem: how is God defined in this paragraph? When it says that the Word dwelt with God, God cannot refer to the Trinity, because the Word is considered part of the Trinity. So it must be God the Father. However, if it goes on to say that the Word was God, then ‘God’ used there can no longer refer to the Father, because the Word is not the Father. It can’t mean ‘trinity’ because the Word is not the Trinity. So it would be construed as the Word was ‘God the Son, the second person of the Trinity.’

However, the verse itself is no longer standing on its own. Outside qualifications have been applied, including the definition of ‘God’ changing between the two lines.

Second concept: God first created in Genesis, through speaking. “And God said, Let there be light.” This completely ties into God’s Word being at the beginning (of our concept of time, and thus at the beginning of the creation of this finite reality), because the first thing God did was speak, and through that Word, all was created.

Just for fun, another one from Philippians 2

“Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.” It goes onto say he emptied himself, taking on the form of a slave, humbled himself, obedient to the death and because of this, God exalted him and bestowed upon him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bend, every tongue should confess he is Lord to the glory of the Father.

Okay, first – it does not say that at the name of Jesus, everyone worships Jesus. It says at the name of Jesus, every knee should bend and confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of the Father. This gives the Father glory, which is why everyone is doing the action.

Second – the concept of form. I know Trinitarians often go with the idea of 'essence'. I disagree, because the word itself goes with outward appearance in the other circumstances. The verse also later says that the son takes the form of a slave – outward appearance. He never takes the ‘essence’ of a slave, but human likeness and appearance. The use of the word ‘form’ is supposed to build off each other, and thus remain consistent.

Third –When I first read this, I didn’t read it as Christ was equal with God, but rather Christ wasn’t going to grasp/seize/try and gain something not previously possessed in terms of equality – he was going to do what Adam did not do, which was grasp at the equality. The whole verse is basically about humility. Plus, if Christ is co-equal with God, then how can we have the same attitude as Christ? Considering ourselves co-equal is simply not done. The whole point of the same attitude is humility/obedience, and part of that is not seizing at equality with God.

Fourth – it simply says that Christ emptied himself. Emptied himself of what? Emptied himself to the point of humility, so that he didn’t seize/grasp equality with God?

Fifth – Christ and God are separate here. Christ is exalted precisely because of obedience, and thus God gave him a name above all other names. Why would any of this be necessary if Christ was already co-eternal? To me, the straightforward reading is that Christ was exalted because of his actions and obedience to God, and was not exalted prior.

If you gave someone who had no knowledge of Christianity, who was essentially a blank slate, a Bible, they would reach the conclusion of the second coming, and dying for sin, and the resurrection, and Jesus being the Son of God. What that person would not walk away with is any concept of the Trinity as understood today. The person may or may not reach the conclusion that Jesus is God, dependent on how they read the use of the word god in the Tanakh (as in, Moses is referred to as ‘elohim,’ the angels are referred to as ‘elohim’ other people in Psalms 82 as ‘elohim’). But shouldn’t the person be able to, if sola scripture is sufficient enough to reach all doctrines of Christianity? Shouldn’t the Trinity as it is just leap off the pages?

Note: I am fully aware of all the verses used to support the Trinity. Before anyone responds with one of those verses, asking how I would interpret it, I would ask that they either try to locate this book, or another book that deals with the concept of the Trinity from this viewpoint. Or look at the verses again, and see if there’s another possible interpretation behind them. Or just look at different Bibles, to see the variety of ways in which those verses were translated. If you have done so, and wish to comment, okay. But please indicate in your comment that you have an understanding of the alternative interpretation.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Saved through Grace

If living in the Western civilization, you'd basically need to live under a rock to not at least be passingly familiar with the concept of saved through grace, and how it's pulled from Ephesians 2:8.

However, I'm wondering how much of that is taken in the correct context. Here's the verse in full: "For you have been delivered by grace through trusting, and even this is not your accomplishment but God's gift. You were not delivered by your own actions; therefore no one should boast. For we are of God's making, created in union with the Messiah Yeshua for a life of good actions already prepared by God for us to do." -- Complete Jewish Bible, Ephesians 2:8-10.

I get how this translation is saying how no one earns their salvation. I don't see the corresponding factor that nothing we do has any merit, or that people are incapable of earning the salvation. Rather, what it's saying is that any good work one does is a result of God's making. If God made us to do good works, then we didn't independently generate those good works. Therefore, we can't take credit for them, because their not of our devising. They were 'already prepared' for us to do, and we were simply doing what we were created to do.

I also think Paul is unto an important idea here: that no one should boast. If in fact people could rack up enough brownie points to 'earn' heaven, then the good works become a chore, almost. They cease to be good because there's an expectation of reward. Which act is the good one? Someone who returns a purse simply because, or someone who returns a purse because there's a $500 reward? If that is applied in salvation: which person is good -- the person who helps the neighbor just because, or the person who helps because that gets him/her 200 points closer to heaven? The good work then becomes motivation by selfish interests.

The other problem with boasting: it's too often tied to pride, and that one person has an ability the other lacks. Given human nature, if salvation was a matter of doing enough to earn it, think of how quickly that would descend to: "I did 300 more good works than you did, so God likes me better." Or "I'm more worthy of salvation than you."

Instead, Paul almost seems to be saying to not worry about the works. They're already prepared for us, and they're taken care of. We're doing what we're supposed to be doing. Just relax and let go.

However, in a way, works do still 'save' people. Not by the concept of works earn salvation, but that good works demonstrate how grace works in one's life. Works are a way of expressing love, gratitude, compassion, light, and show that one chooses a life away from sin.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Holding God accountable.

I've been reading some different posts, in terms of reconciling the amount of suffering in the world with an all-loving, just, good, omnipotent God. You know, the usual problem of evil.

I'm going to pull from what one blog posted. Marie, at
said the following:

I am reading a book about the war in Bosnia. Here is a passage...

"For a moment I could see nothing in the smoky gloom. My torch began to flicker, dimmed and died. I beat it back to life on my thigh and looked again. Three women looked back at me. They were kneeling in a small box-shaped pit sunk into the stone floor, huddled together in fear, their arms and hands entwined in support. Normally the hole would have been used to store grain and covered with the wooden trapdoor that now lay upright on its hinges behind their backs. It would have been the ideal place to hide. Close the lid and the pit would be nearly invisible. There would have been just enough room for three people to lie beneath it. What gave them away? I wondered. A cough? A sob?

Two of the women were in their twenties, the third was an old lady. Someone had shot her in the mouth and her shattered dentures cascaded with her own teeth down her front like mashed melon pips. One girl had been shot repeatedly in the chest. It was difficult to tell whether the other had her throat cut or been shot; a great gash of blood cresented her neck. The expression on their faces had survived the damage. It was so clear. A time-valve that opened directly on to those last moments. So you saw what they saw. I hope beyond hope that I never see it again."

He also describes a man whose youngest daughter was raped beside him when he was on his death-bed. -- end quote from Marie's blog.

Those experiences are suffering, and they are evil. Plain and simple. It would be hideous of anyone to approach those people and say that it is all part of God's plan, and God's plan is good, and that God loves them so much.

The standard response to this is free will. That the above is a consequence of God giving man free will. Unless, of course, one is a Calvinist, and if that is the case, there's no issue. The problem with the free will argument is that it comes across as God valuing free will above all else. If someone decides to kill me and succeeds, my free will wasn't respected. The murderer's was. My free will was overridden by somebody else's.

Everyone has the freedom to make a choice, yes. But the freedom to make a choice does not coincide into the freedom to act on that choice. If our child is about to make a poor decision, we stop the child from using his/her free will. If an adult is about to commit a crime and we know about it, we are to report that adult, and thus stop the adult from acting on his/her free will. If we do not, we are held accountable for that crime, in the sense that we did nothing to stop it.

So wondering about evil in comparison to the Christian God is valid. Take the current situation in Darfur. It is very, very hard to hold onto any concept of justice in the world when atrocities like that occur. If you think about it enough, it can lead to questioning one's faith.

What's the most interesting part about those questions is the response it generally creates. Marie isn't the only one questioning, Slapdash is going so as well. Here's what I've seen so far.

Common response one: God isn't a genie, and only gives us what's best for us. Simply because you personally have had some bad things happen in your life is no excuse.

Problem with that response: The focus of the question is on situations such as Darfur. It has nothing to do with the individual, so that the response does is change the focus of the question and then attack the questioner as prideful and sinful. But this is attacking the person, rather than addressing the topic.

Common response two: God gave you free will, so you might choose something that's bad, but God also wants to make sure that you choose to love him, if you decide to do so.

Problem: Again, the focus shifts to the individual, and any bad things that might happen to the individual. It completely removes Darfur from the equation, and how the free will of those victims is violated over and over again. This has nothing to do with my free will, and again is attacking me, rather than addressing the topic.

Common response three: Who are we to question God, who is so far above us?

Problem: If you don't question God, how do you know you're actually following God? More to the point, how do you know you're following a good and just God, unless you ask questions? Otherwise, you run into the whole 'I was just following orders' mindset, and we've seen where that can lead. Plus, would you say this to a Holocaust survivor?

Common response four: God's ways are mysterious, and we're just a blip on eternity.

Problem: If God's ways are that mysterious, then again, how can you know anything about God? And if the whole point of this life is to get us to the right location in the afterlife ... what do you use for proof? If God is in fact not saving people from situations such as Darfur when people are praying, what guarantee is there that God would answer prayers in terms of getting to heaven? Or that the concept of salvation is correct? And again -- would you say this to a Holocaust survivor?

Common response five: Man is sinful, and this is the cost of his rebellion. We deserve nothing less.

Problem: This is a horrific viewpoint, holding all of humanity accountable for the actions of two people, and it's pretty much what a man who hits his wife or children would say. Also, would you say that someone who survived the Holocaust deserved that? Would you say that to the survivor's face?

Ultimately, none of the common responses deal with the matter on hand: why is there so much unrestricted evil in the face of claims about God. All of the responses turn the focus back to who is asking the original question, and lets God almost slide off the hook, letting the original problem dangle. And by accountable, I don't mean yelling at God about how everything is his fault. I mean accountable in holding God accountable to claims that God utters, as we would do for anyone. If God says that his character is all-loving, and all-just, what support is there for that, and can we see support of that in the world today?

Basically, the situation in terms of Darfur, or any other atrocity on that scale is essentially holding God accountable to what is said about him/her. If we are told that God is all-powerful, can we then be pointed to a demonstration of that power? Can we see prayers be answered by an all-loving, or just God, in order to back up the claim of God's characteristics? If we can't see a full-scale demonstration of that here, what validity do we have for holding onto a blissful paradise in the next life?

This post has nothing to do with anger, and nothing to do with pride. It has nothing to do with demanding that God answer my every fulfillment. It has to do with a sense of frustration in watching people asking honest, heart-felt questions, and watching the answers attempt to rip them apart without ever addressing the actual problem. I have a great deal more respect for someone who does hold to this view of God and says to me that they don't know why so much evil is allowed, but that they've experienced what the Bible has promised, compared to someone who smugly informs me that I'm a spoiled sinful person who simply wants my own way and God is all-good and such. Because I'm not asking on my behalf: I'm asking on those who have no voice, on those who seem to be put here only to suffer. It also has to do with the fact that if someone wants me to honestly evaluate their answer, they need to honestly answer my question, and not shift the topic to something self-focused. My life is incredibly blessed compared to about ... well, most of the world. Almost all of the world, actually. I am very aware of this, and grateful for this.