Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Free will freeforall.

I recently saw a comment on free will that I'm trying to wrap my head around: God loves people too much to violate anyone's free will. So if a guy named Eric wants to kill Harry, and Eric is stronger, more capable than Harry, and really just has the power to do so, then God will not stop Eric from killing Harry. God does this out of love for all human free will.

I'm utterly at a lost as to how this type of God can be reliable or trustworthy. If God favors human free will that much, then how you can possibly rely on this God to protect you from anything in this life? Say Harry is a Christian -- why would he even bother praying to God to help save him from Eric? Or stop Eric? Isn't that essentially telling Harry that God loves Eric's free will more than he loves Harry's safety?

Or let's say Eric is about to abuse his five year old son. God loves Eric's free will more than the five year old's safety? Seriously?

Not only that, but if you truly love someone, there are times when you step in and violate their free will. If you know your best friend is about to commit suicide, you would try to get that person help, even take away the method of suicide. If you knew that your best friend was Eric, and about to kill Harry, wouldn't you do everything in your power to stop Eric? Plus, when you're in a relationship with someone, there is this trust that the other person will step in when you're about to do something stupid, or dangerous. That the other person loves you more than your ability to exercise your free will.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

I deserve nothing, but I totally deserve to keep my money.

I had a recent thought about the connection between conservative Christians and the horror felt over a concept of "spreading the wealth." It's a generalization, yes, but one sparked by the recent US presidential election.

In many cases, I think we can say that conservative Christians are also Republicans, and also felt rather angry over the response to the infamous question from Joe the Plumber: how Obama wanted to "spread the wealth" and all that.

From what I've seen, the conservative Christian theology tells you that you deserve nothing more than to simply go to hell, but Jesus took the punishment you deserved, suffering the horrible fate that you deserve, all so you can go to heaven -- a place that you really don't deserve. Your good works, no matter what they are, earn you nothing. If you're really conservative, they're nothing more than "filthy rags," unless one has Jesus.

Yet much of the anger I saw in terms of Obama's comments was that Obama was taking their hard-earned money and giving it to people who did not earn it.

I'm wondering if that anger is a backlash against the theology that teaches someone they deserve to be tormented eternally, that they are filthy disgusting creatures in God's sight and can do nothing to remove that filth on their own. That any good works they do are from God, and yet anything bad they do is their own personal responsibility. Maybe there's a latent sense of injustice over that, which then translates into another sphere such as finances? Even though "spreading the wealth" somewhat echoes the concept of grace, which gives mercy and help to those who deserve it the least.

Especially when looking at those who did favor Obama's tax plan, which placed a higher burden on the wealthy, and wants a safety net for the poor and unfortunate. Many supporters of Obama would say that good works would count for something in the afterlife, that we do deserve good things in life.

Like I said, this is a generalization. Not every Republican would feel that no one deserves anything good, nor would every Democrat feel that we're all good people. But in watching how Sarah Palin motivated her crowd -- much of whom were conservative Christians -- and the words she used, it makes me wonder.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Credibly seeing.

I saw a comment on a blog recently about credible Christians leading by example -- if someone says that hating people is wrong, then we would see the Christians consistently try to not hate. The whole idea of "walk the walk, not just talk the talk."

A comment in response to that essentially said that Christians cannot that credible, because they're as sinful as everyone else. The real focus should be on announcing Jesus and what Jesus has done for everyone -- that would be much more valuable than trying to be credible.

I didn't post a response on that blog, as my response would've been a tangent. Yet this idea I see - Christians as sinful as everyone else - is the same problem I had with Tim Keller's book. Mr. Keller was going with the idea that you should actually expect non-Christians to behave in a better fashion that Christians. The idea in this comment is that Christians will behave no better and no worse than non-Christians. An idea we all certainly see in everyone we encounter ... yet then where's the validity behind the conversion experience? Not only that, what's the value in the salvation? There's no evidence at all of this "healing" in this life? Then what confidence does one have for something in the next life?

If someone says that Jesus saved them, gave them a new life, a new mind or a new heart ... shouldn't we see evidence of any of this? Otherwise, how can you back up your claim? It would be like an overweight person claiming that drinking Slim-fast would help you lose weight, just like it helped him. However, a year of Slim-fasts later, the overweight person still weights 300 lbs. You'd have no "faith" in Slim-fasts ability to do what was claimed.

Plus, isn't the whole idea of what Jesus did tied to making the believer the "new man?" That we would know his disciples based on their love for people, that there the fruits of the Spirit that should be evident in believers. I mean, if one is going to proclaim that Jesus has done this great thing, that claim has to be backed up with credible support.

But if becoming a Christian means that they won't be credible in their message, that the message in fact doesn't deliver upon what it says ... why would anyone become a Christian? It becomes empty rhetoric.

Friday, November 14, 2008

I am an old, old man.

“We know that the man we once were has been crucified with Christ, for the destruction of the sinful self, so that we may no longer be the slaves of sin, since a dead man is no longer answerable for his sin.” Romans 6:8

“Give up living like the pagans with their good-for-nothing notions. Their wits are beclouded, they are strangers to the life that is in God, because ignorance prevails among them and their minds have grown as hard as stone. Dead to all feeling, they have abandoned themselves to vice, and stop at nothing to satisfy their foul desires. But that is not how you learned Christ. For were you not told of him, were you not as Christians taught the truth as it is in Jesus? That, leaving your former way of life, you must lay aside that old human nature which, deluded by its lusts, is sinking towards death. You must be made new in mind and spirit, and put on the new nature of God’s creating, which shows itself in the just and devout life called for by the truth.” Ephesians 4: 17-24

“ … now that you have discarded the old nature with its deeds and have put on the new nature, which is being constantly renewed in the image of its Creator and brought to know God.” Colossians 3: 10-11

“If you are guided by the Spirit, you will not fulfill the desires of your lower nature. That nature sets its desires against the Spirit, while the Spirit fights against it.”

To the best of my knowledge, Paul has very little complimentary things to say about a person prior to that person finding him/herself in Christ. It's very simple for him. The old man was someone who was full of vices and negative lusts and essentially just not a pleasant person. The new man -- the one created new in Christ -- is a reformed, more pleasant person.

So the unsaved is the "old man." Therefore, if we go back to person A (the unsaved) and person B (the saved), when person B is praying that person A receives salvation, does that not put person A in the category of the "old man?" For surely person A cannot qualify as the "new man," for person A is not saved.

Yet person A is also claiming person B to be a close friend, and accepts person A just as s/he is. Based on how Paul tends to describe the old man, who in their right mind would accept that type of person as a close friend? And if we take this exactly as Paul describes the old man, does this not mean that Person B is supposed to view person A as this lust-filled, vice-seeking, nature-fighting-against-Spirit ... person?

In many cases, I don't think evangelicals follow this black and white thinking, and divide people into these neat, organized categories. On the other hand, maybe they do, as I've seen the reason why an unsaved person is better behaved is because the person secretly believes in God. Or there's the idea that people are better behaved than Christians because that's what their religion teaches them -- they receive heaven based on good works, and thus the good behavior is really just driven by selfishness. And there are evangelicals out there who do view the world in these narrow compartments, absolutely convinced that that all unsaved people are just soaked through and through with sinsinsin, and are just waiting to burst forth and do all that sinful stuff.

I think person B falls into the category of an unnarrow viewpoint, to some degree. However, I'm also thinking that person B has no idea of the implications behind the sincere desire that person A be saved, and what that entails about person A's character. That it means person B is calling person A an "old man" and Biblically, that's not the most complimentary thing to say.

But person A is left with the feeling that person B cannot one the one hand say that person A is a very close friend, and wants person A to trust person B, and then at the same time hold this belief that person A is only the "old man." And that's not even getting into the idea behind certain Bible verses about how the only reason why one rejects Jesus is because of this burning desire to cling to the darkness. It's a little hard to maintain any sort of deep friendship when person B's theology leaves little room to see something positive in others.

Yet, I'm also wondering if maybe person A is just being a little hypersensitive.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Who do you trust?

Here’s what this post is not asking: I’m not asking if polite interaction with a born-again is possible. My doubts aren’t involving whether or not it’s impossible to have a friendly conversation with a born-again Christian, or whether you can enjoy a book/movie/play. I’m not asking whether one can have a casual friendship with one. Maybe even a deep friendship, if the friendship involves how both are focused on community service, or volunteering at an animal shelter, or maybe even a political party.

What my post is asking is whether or not it’s possible to have a deep friendship with a born-again, conservative, evangelical Christian. One that is built on trust, in knowing that the person likes you for who you are, accepts you for who you are, and know that you can trust the other person with the very core of yourself.

Take person A: person A’s identity – the very way in which she interacts with the world, the way she functions, and the way she treats people is directly impacted by her views on the following: the environment, science, reproductive rights, a woman’s place in the home vs. the workplace, education, tolerance, and the fact that she doesn’t feel humanity deserves to be tormented for all eternity simply because humanity had the misfortune of being born. If any of those are changed, then person A has become a different person.

Take person B: person B is a born-again Christian, aligning very closely with the fundamentalist/evangelical mindset, and all that it stereotypically entails.

Person A disagrees with person B on a lot of matters, obviously. And she doesn’t see how much of person B’s mindset can be followed – and they’ve had discussions on this – yet it’s person B’s life (Although person A has had her moments of frustration in wishing for some sort of change).

Person B prays for person A’s salvation, for person A is not a born-again Christian. In essence, though I doubt person B views this as such, person B is asking God to change person A’s identity. Yet person A and B are also very close friends, and a key component of friendship is accepting the other person as she is, virtues, flaws, and all.

So Person B says to person A, “I accept you.” Yet at the same time, person B is praying that the “you” being accepted is saved, and gets the entire identity re-worked.

Can a friendship exist under these conditions? I know that conversations can occur with these two people, common goals can be fought for, and there can even be deep conversations. There can even be a casual friendship, perhaps revolving around the common goals. But can a friendship where both people trust each other implicitly exist, if one person in the friendship is asking a deity to re-work the other person?

For instance, friendship involves listening and understanding. But can person B truly just listen to what person A confides? Or would person B try and use the story in some way to sway person A towards Jesus?

Can person B even be capable of listening? If person A is sharing an experience where person A believed something connected her to the divine, and this experience contradicts person B’s truth, how well can person B listen to that? Or will person B simply assume that she has the truth position, and thus use that truth position to try and poke holes into person A’s worldview?

Will person B be the most compassionate person to talk to? After all, person B firmly believes that person A – like everyone else – deserves to be sent to Hell. Even if Hell is defined only as the absence of God, this is saying that person A believes person B does not deserve love, light, compassion, mercy, justice.

Can person B even be capable of seeing person A, since person B believes that everyone's life is almost empty without Jesus? That person B believes that for true love/life/happiness/purpose, one must have a relationship with Jesus? No matter what person A may say to the contrary, or that person A's life has demonstrated that it's no more empty that person B's?

Or is there just a day, when person A realizes that person B has no idea what she's asking person A to sacrifice in order to have this "salvation?" When person A realizes that it's almost impossible for person B to not only not understand person A, but it's impossible for person B to even try? When person looks at person B and thinks "You want me to become someone else, and see nothing wrong with that."

How long do these two remain good friends?

Friday, September 12, 2008

How shallow are you today?

I have one more bit of advice for people struggling with some of the Bible's teaching. We should make sure we distinguish between the major themes and the message of the Bible and its less primary teachings. The Bible talks about the person and work of Christ and also about how widows should be regarded in the church. The first of those subjects is much more foundational. Without it the secondary teachings don't make sense. We should therefore consider the Bible's teachings in their proper order.

Let's take a hot issue today as a good example. If you say, "I can't accept what the Bible says about gender roles," you must keep in mind that Christians themselves differ over what some texts mean, as they do about many, many other things. However, they all confess in the words of the Apostle's Creed that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day.

You may appeal, "But I can't accept the Bible if what it says about gender is outmoded." I would respond to that with the question -- are you saying that because you don't like what the Bible says about sex that Jesus couldn't have been raised from the dead? I'm sure you wouldn't insist on such a non sequitur. If Jesus is the Son of God, then we have to take his teaching seriously, including his confidence in the authority of the whole Bible. If he is not who he says he is, why would we care what the Bible says about anything else?

Think of it like this. If you dive into the shallow end of the Biblical pool, where there are many controversies over interpretation, you may get scraped up. But if you dive into the center of the Biblical pool, where there is consensus -- about the deity of Christ, his death and resurrection -- you will be safe. It is therefore important to consider the Bible's core claims about who Jesus is and whether he rose from the dead before you reject it for its less central and more controversial teachings.

If we let our unexamined beliefs undermine our confidence in the Bible, the cost may be greater than you think.

If you don't trust the Bible enough to let it challenge and correct your thinking, how could you ever have a personal relationship with God? In any truly personal relationship, the other person has to be able to contradict you. For example, if a wife is not allowed to contradict her husband, they won't have an intimate relationship. Remember the (two!) movies
The Stepford Wives? The husbands of Stepford, Connecticut, decide to have their wives turned into robots who never cross the wills of their husbands. A Stepford wife was wonderfully compliant and beautiful, but no one would describe such a relationship as intimate or personal.

Now, what happens if you eliminate anything from the Bible that offends your sensibility and crosses your will? If you pick and choose what you want to believe and reject the rest, how will you ever have a God who can contradict you? You won't! You'll have a Stepford God! A God, essentially, of your own making, and not a God with whom you can have a relationship and genuine interaction. Only if your God can say things that outrage you and make you struggle (as a real relationship or marriage!) will you know that you have gotten hold of a real God and not a figment of your imagination. So an authoritative Bible is not the enemy of a personal relationship with God. It is the precondition for it.

Later, he goes on to say "Sometimes people approach me and say, "I really struggle with this aspect of Christian teaching. I like this part of Christian belief, but I don't think I can accept that part." I usually respond: "If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all he said; if he didn't rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead." That is how the first hearers felt who heard reports of the resurrection. They knew that if it was true it meant we can't live our lives any way we want. It also mean we don't have to be afraid of anything, not Roman swords, not cancer, nothing. If Jesus rose from the dead, it changes everything."

My first reaction upon reading this section: apparently, having moral quandaries about certain Biblical passages is the same as wanting to live in whatever manner I want. The problem here is that whenever the charge comes that people reject God, the person issuing that charge means that the God-rejector wants to just wallow in a sin-fest. A gluttonous, lying, envious, hating sin-fest. If the person *really* wallows, maybe s/he will even murder or steal, too!

So who is truly the person who is not taking the Bible seriously? The one who says that s/he has serious issues with events in the Bible, and certain commands that might support immoral conditions? Or the person who seems to be implying that if you just want to live the way you want if you reject Bible over those issues.

Which is again what frustrates me, because I'm not detecting that the author is taking the problems seriously in any way whatsoever. I'm essentially told that if Jesus rose from the dead, I have to accept everything in the Bible? (Although, I'm not sure how to accept some of those "secondary" issues because there's a vast amount of disagreement, such as proper gender roles. And somehow, the secondary issues such as how widows are to be treated doesn't make sense without the primary Jesus coming back from the dead issue, only I'm guessing the secondary issue still doesn't make sense if there's massive disagreements about the secondary issues).

Not only that, but it's divorcing the resurrection from the moral claims about God. When you say that Jesus is the son of God, you also have to define who "God" is. Is God someone who demands all firstborns be thrown into a volcano to appease His wrath? Yet is this a same God who everyone claims is moral? In which case, the two claims about God are contradicting each other, because our definition of morality is that it is not right to throw firstborn children into volcanoes. So the issue is not "if the Bible says immoral things about gender roles, then Jesus didn't raise from the dead." The issue is, "if the Bible says immoral things about gender roles, then is this truly the work of a good God?"

Second, the false dichotomy between either having a Stepford God or completely trusting all of the Bible completely skews those who are serious about the Bible, and yet don't hold it to be inerrant. Those who find human elements in the Bible find that element because of events that occurred in the Bible, events that would outrage us in any other setting. Take Noah's Ark, for example. Every single person on the planet drowned, and from what I understand, drowning is the worst way to go. Now, the Bible does say that all the people were horrible. But what about the children? The infants deserved to drown? The two year olds? The eight year olds? They all deserved to have absolutely no mercy or compassion? And what if people were in the water, pleading with Noah and his family for help? Pleading for their children? We'd be horrified if people did that today, and yet it's acceptable back then? I have a Stepford God if I believe that a good, moral and just God does not behave in such a fashion? That's a contradiction to assign that type of behavior to an entity that we are also describing as loving?

Yes, in a true relationship, there will be events that piss you off. Such as with a husband and wife. At the same time, though, there are also limits imposed on that relationship. If your wife is a compassionate person, then you also know that your wife won't let infants drown if she can do something to stop that.

It almost seems that the approach in this paragraph is creating an undefinable relationship. If you have an entity that can do something like that, and yet still be called loving, then you have no way to define that entity, because words become meaningless. If you say the entity is loving, and yet the entity can do anything it wants, what does the word "love" mean? Or justice? Or mercy? You're still in a situation where you can't have a real relationship, because you have no way of qualify the entity with whom you have the relationship. There's no way to truly describe the entity, because there's no limits imposed upon said entity. There's no way to truly know who the relationship is with, because those descriptive words -- those qualities -- allow us to know that we are interacting with person A and not person B.

It's like saying that your wife is a loving person, and then watching the wife slaughter everyone on the block for no reason whatsoever. You then have no way of knowing the wife. Words used to describe her are useless.

To enslave, or not to enslave ...

Some texts may not teach what they at first appear to teach. Some people, however, have studied particular Biblical texts carefully and come to understand what they teach, and yet they still find them outrageous and regressive. What should they do then?

I urge people to consider that their problem with some texts might be based on an unexamined belief in the superiority of their historical moment over all others. We must not universalize our time any more than we should universalize our culture. Think of the implication of the very term "regressive." To reject the Bible as regressive is to assume that you have now arrived at the ultimate historical moment, from which all that is regressive and progressive can be discerned. That belief is surely as narrow and exclusive as the views in the Bible you regard offensive.

Consider the views of contemporary British people and how they differ from the views of their ancestors, the Anglo-Saxons, a thousand years ago. Imagine that both are reading the Bible and they come to the gospel of Mark, chapter 14. First they read that Jesus claims to be the Son of Man, who will come with angels at the end of time to judge the whole world according to his righteousness (verse 62). Later they read about Peter, the leading apostle, who denies his master three times and at the end even curses him to save his skin (verse 71). Yet later Peter is forgiven and restored to leadership (Mark 16:7; John 21:15ff). The first story will make contemporary British people shudder. It sounds so judgemental and exclusive. However, they will love the story about how even Peter can be restored and forgiven. The first story will not bother Anglo-Saxons at all. They know all about Doomsday, and they are glad to get more information about it! However, they will be shocked at the second story. Disloyalty and betrayal at Peter's level must never be forgiven, in their view. He doesn't deserve to live, let alone become the foremost disciple. They will be so appalled by this that they will want to throw the Bible down and read no more of it.

Of course, we think of the Anglo-Saxons as primitive, but someday others will think of us and our culture's dominant views as primitive. How can we use our time's standard of "progressive" as the plumb line by which we decide which parts of the Bible are valid and which are not? Many of the beliefs our grandparents and great-grandparents now seem silly and even embarrassing to us. That process is not going to stop now. Our grandchildren will find many of our views outmoded as well. Wouldn't it be tragic if we threw the Bible away over a belief that will soon look pretty weak or wrong? To stay away from Christianity because part of the Bible's teaching is offensive to you assumes that if there is a God he wouldn't have any views that upset you. Does that belief make sense?

The Reason for God by Tim Keller.

The post above is a direct continuation from the slavery quote I just used. And I'm freely admitting right now that my analysis of this might not be the most unbiased piece of work to ever hit a blog, because it frustrated me, and emotions color logic.

My expectation upon this was set up with the idea of Mr. Keller addressing the issue of someone understanding the cultural context of a statement -- such as the slavery issue -- and thus dealing with handling the outrage even in the cultural situation. And thus he addresses what should be done in that instant.

Yet I don't see him doing that in the following paragraphs. Both the Anglo-Saxons and the contemporary British people are analyzing the Bible through their own cultural lens, which is exactly what Mr. Keller advised against in terms of the slavery issue. So how is this supposed to help people come to terms with the Bible if they still find the cultural context outrageous? Because neither group now reading the Bible is attempting to process the knowledge through how the society worked back then. The Anglo-Saxons understand the text to be wrong because of how honor-driven their society is, rather than seeing Peter's actions in terms of the Jewish society.

Not only that, in his examples he goes from a huge moral complication in terms of slavery, to much narrower complications -- the Anglo-Saxons grasp of honor, and contemporary view of judgement and exclusiveness. And my favorite line is this: "To stay away from Christianity because part of the Bible's teaching is offensive to you assumes that if there is a God he wouldn't have any views that upset you." Put that line in context of the slavery issue just discussed, and I have a difficult time reading it as anything but: "To stay away from Christianity because you're offended that the Bible doesn't say slavery is wrong is to assume that if there is a God, he wouldn't have any views that upset you."

I'd be much more impressed with this line of thought if he had tackled the big moral reasons as to why people can't absorb the Bible: how it factored into the New World slave trade, how it factored into the treatment of women, how it factored into situations such as the Crusades or the Inquisition. Even elements such as Numbers 31, or the serious problem people have with a vast majority of humanity in eternal torment for all eternity. This is what makes people have a huge problem with the Bible. At what point are those points of view going to be "weak?" Or "wrong?"

There's also the complication with the fact that we're not allowed to universalize our culture. I'm not sure if that's a blanket statement at our entire culture, or just parts of our culture. Our culture today forbids slavery, has civil rights for all races and genders, has much better child labor laws, has much better opportunities for many of its citizens. Why are we not allowed to universalize that? It's hardly narrow or exclusive to say that if our society previously derailed the freedoms of 90% of its people, that is wrong.

Plus, we can't universalize our culture, but we must universalize the Bible for all moments in time? We keep getting told here that as we go forward in time, many views held now will seem ridiculous in some fashion, and yet we're supposed to hold to a book that was written before all these other examples?

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Slavery's only wrong if you're a mean owner.

Many of the texts people find offensive can be cleared up with a decent commentary that puts the issue into historical context. Take the text "slaves obey your masters." The average reader today immediately and understandably thinks of the African slave trade of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, or of the human trafficking and sexual slavery practiced in many places today. We then interpret the texts to teach that such slavery is permissible, even desirable.

This is a classic case of ignoring the cultural and historical distance between us and the writer and readers of the original text. In the first-century Roman empire, when the New Testament was written, there was not a great difference between slaves and the average free person. Slaves were not distinguishable from others by race, speech, or clothing. They looked and lived like most everyone else, and were not segregated from the rest of society in any way. From a financial viewpoint, slaves made the same wages as free laborers, and therefore were not usually poor. Also, slaves could accrue enough personal capital to buy themselves out. Most important of all, very few slaves were slaves for life. Most could reasonably hope to be manumitted within ten or fifteen years, or by their late thirties at the least.

By contrast, New World slavery was much more systematically and homogeneously brutal. It was "chattel" slavery, in which the slave's whole person was the property of the master -- he or she could be raped or maimed or killed at the will of the owner. In the older bond-service or indentured servant hood, only slaves' productivity -- their time and skills -- were owned by the master, and only temporarily. African slavery, however, was race-based, and its default mode was slavery for life. Also, the African slave trade was begun and resourced through kidnapped. The Bible unconditionally condemns kidnapping and trafficking of slaves (1 Timothy 1:9-11; cf. Deuteronomy 24:7). Therefore, while the early Christians did not go on a campaign to abolish first-century slavery completely, later Christians did so when faced with New World-style slavery, which could not be squared in any way with Biblical teaching."

The Reason for God by Tim Keller.

What's bothering me about this particular section of the book is that I don't see any declaration that slavery is immoral. The whole defense started because Mr. Keller was approached by a young person who was infuriated by the particular Bible verse of slaves should obey their masters. Rather than be able to respond that of course the Bible doesn't support slavery, or of course slavery is wrong, the response seems more focused on "Of course the Bible holds no support for the New World slavery."

But where is the defense that owning another person, regardless of the circumstances, is immoral? Why do we suddenly have to apply a sense of relativism to when slavery is and is not bad? The author flat-out states that the Bible condemns kidnapping and trafficking slaves. Why can't we get just as vocal of a response to the idea of slavery itself?**

Not only that, but look what happens when I contrast this section of the book with what the PBS website says on slavery in Roman times:

Slavery in ancient Rome differed from its modern forms in that it was not based on race.

But like modern slavery, it was an abusive and degrading institution. Cruelty was commonplace.

A common practice

Slavery had a long history in the ancient world and was practiced in Ancient Egypt and Greece, as well as Rome. Most slaves during the Roman Empire were foreigners and, unlike in modern times, Roman slavery was not based on race.

Slaves in Rome might include prisoners of war, sailors captured and sold by pirates, or slaves bought outside Roman territory. In hard times, it was not uncommon for desperate Roman citizens to raise money by selling their children into slavery.

Life as a slave

All slaves and their families were the property of their owners, who could sell or rent them out at any time. Their lives were harsh. Slaves were often whipped, branded or cruelly mistreated. Their owners could also kill them for any reason, and would face no punishment.

Although Romans accepted slavery as the norm, some people – like the poet and philosopher, Seneca – argued that slaves should at least be treated fairly.

Essential labor

Slaves worked everywhere – in private households, in mines and factories, and on farms. They also worked for city governments on engineering projects such as roads, aqueducts and buildings. As a result, they merged easily into the population.

In fact, slaves looked so similar to Roman citizens that the Senate once considered a plan to make them wear special clothing so that they could be identified at a glance. The idea was rejected because the Senate feared that, if slaves saw how many of them were working in Rome, they might be tempted to join forces and rebel.


Another difference between Roman slavery and its more modern variety was manumission – the ability of slaves to be freed. Roman owners freed their slaves in considerable numbers: some freed them outright, while others allowed them to buy their own freedom. The prospect of possible freedom through manumission encouraged most slaves to be obedient and hard working.

Formal manumission was performed by a magistrate and gave freed men full Roman citizenship. The one exception was that they were not allowed to hold office. However, the law gave any children born to freedmen, after formal manumission, full rights of citizenship, including the right to hold office.

Informal manumission gave fewer rights. Slaves freed informally did not become citizens and any property or wealth they accumulated reverted to their former owners when they died.

Free at last?

Once freed, former slaves could work in the same jobs as plebeians – as craftsmen, midwives or traders. Some even became wealthy. However, Rome’s rigid society attached importance to social status and even successful freedmen usually found the stigma of slavery hard to overcome – the degradation lasted well beyond the slavery itself.

According to PBS, slavery was still abusive and degrading. Owners were perfectly entitled to sell their slaves as a whole, not just limited to time and skills. They were whipped, branded, and cruelly mistreated. If killed, there was no retribution. I'm pretty sure that's a big difference between a slave and an average free person (unless this could also happen to an average free person as well?) Yes, slaves looked like everyone else, but that's because the Romans feared a revolt if slaves knew just how many slaves there truly were. And once free, there was still the whole degradation factor of being slaves in the first place.

Now, I do happen to think that there are a lot of great things in the Bible. There are a lot of comforting things, as well. Given that I don't take everything in the Bible as literally true or directly communicated through God, I don't have to defend these verses.

What bothers me is the fact that these verses are defended to this degree at all. That we have to draw the lines between the particular types of slavery, and can't just say, "No, of course the Bible teaches that all slavery is absolutely wrong." Especially given the fact that all those Biblical verses were used as justification for the New World slavery.

**The author does note that there are people familiar with the cultural and historical aspects of the Bible who still get outraged by these texts. I'll touch on that point in my next post.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

You only think you're good ...

Christianity provides a firm basis for respecting people of other faiths. Jesus assumes that nonbelievers in the culture around them will gladly recognize much Christian behavior as "good" (Matthew 5:16; cf. 1 Peter 2:12). That assumes some overlap between the Christian constellation of values and those of any particular culture and of any other religion. Why would this overlap exist? Christians believe that all human beings are made in the image of God, capable of goodness and wisdom. The Biblical doctrine of the universal image of God, therefore, leads Christians to expect non-believers will be better than any of their mistaken beliefs could make them. The Biblical doctrine of universal sinfulness also leads Christians to expect believers will be worse in practice than their orthodox beliefs should make them. So there will be plenty of ground for respectful cooperation.

Christianity not only leads its members to believe people of other faiths have goodness and wisdom to offer, it also leads them to expect that many will live lives morally superior to their own. Most people in our culture believe that, if there is a God, we can relate to him and go to heaven through leading a good life. Let's call this the "moral improvement" view. Christianity teaches the very opposite. In the Christian understanding, Jesus does not tell us how to live so we can merit salvation. Rather, he comes to forgive and save us through his life and death in our place. God's grace does not come to people who morally outperform others, but to those who admit their failure to perform and who acknowledge their need for a Savior.

Christians, then, should expect to find nonbelievers who are much nicer, kinder, wiser, and better than they are. Why? Christian believers are not accepted by God because of their moral performance, wisdom, or virtue, but because of Christ's work on their behalf. Most religions and philosophies of life assume that one's spiritual status depends on your religious attainments. This naturally leads adherents to feel superior to those who don't believe and behave as they do. The Christian gospel, in any case, should not have that effect."

Tim Keller, "The Reason for God."

I've been sitting on this quote for a while, wondering if a few days would dull my reaction to it. Not so much.

On the one hand, it's nice to see a Christian acknowledge that those in other religions or no religions at all can be as nice, kind, compassionate, and overall as good as Christians.

That may be the only positive thing I have to say about this. What I'm really honing in on is the idea that Christians should expect to find non-Christians better than the Christians. One, because I don't see the New Testament as a whole espousing that view. If you are supposed to be the example for non-Christians, if you are supposed to let your light shine and people see your good works so God gets praised, then Christians should be better. I don't see Paul telling the churches that it's okay if they don't behave as well as the pagans. He tells them to stop behaving as the pagans, and be better, because of their connection to God. God/Jesus is supposed to change said believer for the better.

Two, it sounds like an excuse. Since Christians acknowledge their failure and sin-status, and aren't trying as much to merit anything, this is why non-Christians will behave better than Christians. It's okay for the Christian to be "less than" because that's how the Christian gets accepted by God.

Three, it pretty much reduces the non-Christians behavior to selfishness. Yes, the non-Christian may be better, kinder, morally superior and so forth. This is *only* because the non-Christian thinks s/he gets something out of it from God. It's not because the non-Christian might just think it's the best way to live one's life. No, the non-Christian is just being self-focused.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Changing the title, not the behavior.

"The difficulty of interpreting GAlations fairly is compounded by Paul's own extreme views on Judaism, both before and after his messianic conversion: both as a Jew and as a Jewish Christian, Paul was far from typical of Jewish belief and practice. In what he calls his "earlier life in Judaism" he was fanatical, to the point of "trying to destroy" the Jewish movement, people he perceived as enemies to the Torah. Now, despite having renounced his former fanaticism, he continues to believe that as a fanatic he was a model Jew. Once assiduously Torah-observant, he now takes his own past as the measure of what law-observant Judaism has to offer. Never does he consider that a less-strict version of observance might be acceptable to God. On the contrary, "Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey *all* the things written in the book of the law (Deut. 27:26 LXX). Any abrogation of any law brings God's curse. Ironically, the insistence on keeping "all" the laws appears only in the Greek tanslation of Deuteronomy; Paul's standard for legal observance actually exceeds that stated in the (Hebrew) Torah. Even leaders like James and Peter, who favored -- perhaps insisted on -- the full conversion of Gentiles, probably defined Jewishness in less rigid terms than Paul did. For Paul, the covenant was an all-or-nothing affair."

"The Reluctant Parting: How the New Testament's Jewish Writers Created a Christian Book," by Julie Galambush.

This paragraph seems to bring up a point I've only subconsciously considered. When most Christians picture Judaism, do they picture it in all the aspects in which it was taught? Or is taught? Or do they picture Paul's particular lens of Judaism only?

If it truly is an all or nothing affair for Paul, that would explain why I have a hard time meshing his viewpoint of the Torah with what I actually read in the Tanakh. I don't get the sense of the Torah provided to tell everyone how sinful they are, or that it's primary purpose is to show a need for a Savior. I don't get the sense that they dreaded being under it's power, or yearned to escape the burden of the Torah.

Perhaps if Paul held a less rigid view of the Torah and those who practice it ... would he still have proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Reconcile This.

I may have stumbled upon a core reason as to another reason why the penal substitution atonement theory bothers me.

We say that God is just. The Bible has many sections where God's justice is praised, is sought out, and is seen as a wonderful thing.

We know what justice is. If we say that the society is just, we mean that is fair, it is equal, it doesn't oppress its people or exploit them. It's a wonderful place to live in.

If someone breaks a law, and we say that they must face justice, we mean that they must be held accountable for their actions. That person, and not anyone else.

If we look in a dictionary, "just" means as follows:

a: having a basis in or conforming to fact or reason : reasonable -- a just but not a generous decision -- : faithful to an original c: conforming to a standard of correctness : proper -- just proportions --
2 a (1): acting or being in conformity with what is morally upright or good : righteous -- a just war -- (2): being what is merited : deserved -- a just punishment -- b: legally correct : lawful -- just title to an estate --

However, we also have an idea that Jesus took our punishment in our place, thus satisfying God's justice. Therefore, if someone has wronged you, and then repented to God, Jesus has taken their punishment, and satisfied the requirements of justice.

Yet justice demands that the person who did the action is the one held responsible for the action. If Jesus takes on the responsibility for the outcome of the action ... can we still call this situation just?

Can we even still call God just? If our society suddenly changed the idea of justice to be that an innocent person could take the place of a guilty person, there'd be an uproar. Especially from those who are the victims, and the uproar would be because such a change would not be just.

Can saying "God is just" hold any meaning if an innocent man is punished in our place? Even if the innocent man offered to take the punishment, willingly offered with his whole heart, shouldn't the very fact that God is just prevent God from accepting such an offer in the first place?

If Jesus accepting the punishment completes God's justice, then it seems justice is no longer about what is right or what is fair, but justice becomes all about a punishment occurring no matter what. Doesn't this mean that the situation is no longer moral?

If the morality of the situation is violated -- the innocent in the place of the guilty -- then can we still have justice? Or does it just become about retribution and revenge?

Friday, July 18, 2008

Bring out your just!

A serial rapist lies on his deathbed. He's been thinking about his life, and a wave of recrimination hits him for all the women he's hurt, all the pain he's caused. He sees what his behavior truly was, and he's grief-stricken. He doesn't want to die like this, realizing that he has not done one iota of good in his life. Sure, no one ever caught him in what he did, and he appeared good on the outside. But he can't avoid seeing the truth now. So he calls out to God, he genuinely repents of his sins, he accepts the cross and the sacrifice of Jesus. Five minutes later, the rapist is dead. Jesus, sitting on the throne of judgement, welcomes the new child of God into Heaven.

Victim #1 was attacked when she was 18. It was long, it was brutal, and she never saw the attacker's face. She tried to pick her life back up, go to college, not be defined by this one event. She talked to a counselor, she considered God, she even had periods in her life where she had forgiven the attacker. She would put this behind her, meet someone, and start a family. Yet every time she tried to get close to another man, she froze. She flashed back to that moment, physical contact repealed her, and she died alone. Jesus, sitting on the throne of judgement, says, "Depart from me, I never knew you."

Victim #2 was attacked when she was 45. A mother of two children, vice president of a company, successful in every way possible. Things like this didn't happen to her. Yet, she was attacked. She rallied back, also determined to pick up her life. With the help of her family, she was successful, and decided to help others who were attacked in the same way, or those exploited by similar situations. She directs her company's resources to this job, and ends up helping hundreds. Her death was mourned by all she helped, and her life was celebrated for how she was not overcome by evil. Jesus, sitting on the throne of judgement, tells her, "Depart from me, for I never knew you."

Victim #3 was special. She was kidnapped by the attacker when she was five, and not rescued until ten years later. She had been used in horrible ways, and consequently, was unable to rise above her circumstances. She offered herself to anyone who would have her, let them use her body in any way they pleased. She found things that made her body feel better, that made her only happy. She died alone, unnoticed, not mourned by anyone. Jesus, sitting on the throne of judgement, tells her, "Depart from me, for I never knew you."

The "worst" person of the group went to eternal paradise. The other three, the innocent victims, end up in hell, because they have "rejected God."

In what way is this just? I've been on a few blogs that had provided examples as to why they find it difficult to believe in God -- such as the circumstances that occured to Victim #3. Or that recent news, where I believe the daughter was held in the basement by her own father.

A common Christian response was that there would be justice done in the end, for what happened to the victim. Really? Because my understanding is that if the attacker confesses his sins and truly repents, the confessor is then free. There is no punishment, there is no justice in a legal system sort of way (such as rape someone, go to jail). Rather, Jesus has almost provided the "get out of jail" free card.

And the victims, since they have rejected God, end up in hell. So at what point did the victims receive this supposed justice?

I have a feeling the argument would be that Jesus took the punishment the rapist deserved, but that really doesn't cut it for me. Jesus didn't rape the victims, the rapist did. And if Jesus takes the punishment, then that is a distortion of what justice is all about.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Blazing goodness.

"Whoever receives a prophet as a prophet will be given a prophet's reward, and whoever receives a good man because he is a good man will be given a good man's reward."

Matthew 10: 41-42.

"For the words that the mouth utters come from the overflowing of the heart. A good man produces good from the store of good within himself; and an evil man from evil within produces evil."

Matthew 12: 34-35.

I've been observing, and somewhat participating, in a few discussions regarding the good fruits one produces, and what is considered 'good' in the first place. Most of the time, the definition of good here gets defined somewhere along the lines of faith in God/Christ, or the good works/fruits produced are speaking of the faith in God/Christ.

However, is that how any of the listeners in the Gospels would've understood the word "good?" Or would they have defined "good" based on characteristics? Compassion, mercy, loving kindness. Such as the two verses above -- people hearing those, how would they have defined the good people? The good man who is received by another, what makes that man good? The good man producing good because of the goodness stored within himself -- what is this goodness stored within him?

In most cases, when we see a contrast between a good person and an evil person, or we hear of a good person being received, we get the impression that there are actually good people, and that we'd recognize these people based on their qualities and actions. If a good person is received by another, then a kind person has been received. Someone who loves his/her neighbors and enemies. Someone who pursues peace.

What we don't mean by "good" is someone who has faith in God, or someone who is a Christian. "Good" has a definite value assigned to it, a concrete definition that we can measure anyone by. Same with "evil." An evil person is a murderer, a rapist, a terrorist, to name a few. The definition of "good" should not suddenly have a relaxed, relative definition.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Asking those who have gone before.

In mulling over the nature of heaven and hell, I recently found it interesting that the "full-death" occurrences in the Bible aren't used. We have at least two people in the Gospels who have died, and Jesus brought back to life: Lazarus, and the daughter of the President of the synagogue (Matthew 9:18-26). Although Luke 8:40-56 has the person named Jairus, and the daughter's age is around 12.

In the case of Lazarus, he was dead for about three to four days. Where was his soul during that time? Heaven or hell? An argument could be made that perhaps heaven, given that Martha said that she believed that Jesus was "the Messiah, the Son of God who was come into the world." Yet that interaction sounds like she believed it at that moment, so who knows what Lazarus believed?

We aren't told what his reaction was upon returning to life, but surely it would've given huge credence to the heaven/hell theology? If he were in hell, I assume he would've been enormously grateful that he had a second opportunity to not go there, and would've gone about the whole nation telling people what a horrible fate awaited them after death.

On the other hand, if he were in heaven, I wonder if he would've been as grateful. He might have gone about telling people how much better heaven was compared to Earth, and especially compared to hell. And possibly been a bit resentful that Jesus made him return to Earth.

Same with Jairus' daughter. I know some Christian traditions hold to the age of accountability, in that any child who dies below a certain age automatically goes to heaven. I'm not sure if that age extends to 12, but even if it does, surely the child would've talked about heaven, for the brief period of time in which she was there? Or hell -- wouldn't the first words out of her mouth be thanks that she was no longer there? Shouldn't her father have mentioned her eternal location?

Even Acts has the "full death experiences." Acts 9:36-43 has a disciple named Tabitha die, and Peter brings her back to life. She would've been pulled from heaven, and yet no mention of the glorious place that she once was at? Or regret that she had to leave it for a brief period of time?

Paul also brings someone back to life. In Acts 20: 7-12, he restores a youth named Eutychus. Although, the translation I'm using makes that a bit iffy, where Paul says for people to stop panicking, as there's still life in Eutychus. However, even if this youth was not dead, it sounds like he was one of the saved who was gathered to hear Paul talk. So if Eutychus was dead, then wouldn't he be in heaven?

Given the current focus on a person's location after death, these four examples don't seem to match up to that fervor. There's no concern as to the location of the person's soul for the daughter, and no rejoicing in the other three, if they are in heaven. There's no reaction from any of the people who were resurrected, as to what location they left. Leaving either should have produced some sort of strong emotion. Those witnessing the deaths shoud have mentioned something about the person being in heaven, or God calling the person home, or something.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Jesus fufilled the Law.

The claim is often that Jesus did what we couldn't do -- he perfectly followed the Law in our place, as that is what God demands.

However, if the claim is also that Jesus is God, then does saying he fulfilled the Law hold any validity?

This isn't a matter of if Jesus was perfect, he lacked the ability to break the Law. It's a matter of if Jesus was God, then some of the Laws had a hard time applying to him in the first place.

For instance, take the commandment "Thou shalt not steal." If God is in fact the Creator of all, and He's made everything, and anything you own is in fact provided to you by God, then God "owns" everything. How, therefore, could Jesus even begin to go about stealing, since it was all his to begin with?

Same with not being allowed to covet -- we again go back to the idea that it's all God's by default. He made it, He owns it, He has the rightful claim to everything. If you own everything, how can you covet something your neighbor has? It's already yours.

"You shall not murder." I'm not going into a debate on some of the acts committing by God in the Tanakh, but the idea is often that if God does kill, it's not murder, it's something He's allowed to do, the same way a painter is allowed to destroy a painting. If God killing is in a completely different category, and His right since He is just and righteous, then where does God even begin to have the opportunity to break that commandment?

If Jesus is God, can we still say he did what we couldn't do? How do you perfectly follow something that doesn't even apply to you? God wouldn't have a chance to even try and break the commandments, because if there's something out there that God can steal, then you lose the very definition of 'God' in a Christian sense. I'm sure the duality of Jesus would come into play here, with the man aspect of Jesus actually under this restriction, but there's no way to make that make sense. You'd have to fall back on the "It's a mystery" idea.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

If the Bible's inerrant, than so am I.

An interesting trend keeps popping up in some of the blogs I visit. I think I notice it more among conservative/fundamentalist Christians than liberal Christians, but given that I have the liberal outlook, I could be blind to it.

I find that for those who hold that truth is more multi-faceted, or that God can be experienced in more than one religion, or even that more than one religion can be true, there's more of a dialogue. If people differ, they are willing to explore why the other person believes as they do, or follows the path that they do. Disagreement doesn't automatically mean that the person disagrees with God.

In a more fundamentalist mindset, it's not the case. If I say that I don't believe the fundamentalist's position, I'm not ask why, my position is not explored. Rather, I'm flat-out told I'm wrong, and why. Not only am I wrong, I'm apparently also disagreeing with God, or have a problem with God.

That's the frightening aspect about it. There seems to be no hint of self-examination on the fundamentalist viewpoint, no willingness to step in the shoes of another. Instead, there's almost an elevation of the fundamentalist mindset, putting it on equal standing with the viewpoint of God.

How can common ground be reached with that perspective? Or compromise, or the middle road? I'm not on God's side, so I'm automatically in the lost/unsaved/hellbound/second status role.

Simply because the Bible might be inerrant does not mean that one's interpretation is at the same level of inerrancy. Yet how often do any of see that awareness? Rather, it comes across more that the person's method of understanding the Bible is also inerrant.

Perhaps this is because fundamentalism does seem to be simplistic, in many ways. It's tied to the idea of the Four Spiritual Laws, or there's this certain set of beliefs one must have to be saved. There's no hint of the depth or complexity found in the Bible in that mindset. Which, granted, if it's thought that every single book in the Bible carries the same core message, than it's easier to be simplistic than complex. If you feel that the message of the Bible is simple and inerrant, then there'd be very little you could do to misunderstand it once you do properly understand the inerrant message.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Who's your Savior?

"Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,

for He has looked favorably on His people and redeemed them.

He has raised up a mighty savior for us

in the house of His servant David." (Luke 1: 68-69).

... In the first century, [savior] did not yet mean what it means for many Christians today. Because Christians have for centuries spoken of Jesus as saving us from our sins through his death on the cross, many Christians automatically connect Jesus as savior with atonement for sins. But in the Bible, the primary meaning of the term is "rescuer," "deliverer."

For example, Psalms speaks of God as Israel's "Savior who has done great things in Egypt ... and awesome deeds by the Red Sea" (106: 21-22). So also Hosea connects God as savior to the exodus: "Yet I have been the Lord your God ever since the land of Egypt; you know no God by me, and besides me there is no savior" (13:4). A song attributed to King David speaks of God as "my stronghold and my refuge, my savior; you save me from violence" (2 Sam. 22.3). Jeremiah addresses God as the "hope of Israel, its savior in time of trouble" (14:8). In none of these instances is there any connection between "savior" and being saved from sin. To think that speaking of Jesus as savior refers primarily to his death as a sacrifice from sin narrows and reduces the meaning of this rich term.

... what the "mighty savior" of whom Zechariah sings will do is the theme of the middle part [in Luke]. He is the fulfillment of God's promise, "the oath that God swore to our ancestor Abraham," namely, "that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us," so "that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve God without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him in all our days" (1:71, 73-75). "Being rescued from the hands of our enemies" is the role of the "mighty savior"; this is what it means to be saved."

The First Christmas: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus's Birth, by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan.

I'm wondering if the idea of Jesus as a Savior from sins, and thus saving "to" heaven, is taking the easy way out. The salvation itself is something that comes to past in the next life, is something one must have faith in. Therefore, it's not something that can be necessarily demonstrated in this life. Yes, we can see amazing turnarounds in the lives of those that repent -- but we can see that turnaround in any sort of religion. We can even see that in someone who goes from a fundamentalist Christian to agnostic/atheist.

Not only that, but the sin is very self-centered. Jesus saves you from the sin that's inside you, the "old man," the nonspiritual man that has earned the wrath of God. The focus becomes on being rescued from something you deserve ... and if you think you deserve an eternal torment, it might be hard to ask for salvation from an unjust situation, because is there such a thing?

But if you start saying that God is a Savior from times of trouble, or from war, or from enemies ... that' something that speaks a lot more towards this life. Being rescued from the land of Egypt was something that occurred in a non-heaven life. Even the song that Zechariah sings about Jesus gives the impression of this life. Of something that can, or even will, occur in the here-and-now. God saves an innocent person from the hands of his/her enemies. Half the time in Psalms, the psalmist seems to be crying out over the injustice, asking God to deliver him from something that he doesn't deserve.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Not what Jesus Intended

"Brothers, I am not a pastor. I am a healthcare worker. I do HIV/AIDS work in Khayelitsha." At this everyone nodded. Known as an informal settlement to some, a squatter area to others, Khayelitsha is the third-largest township in South Africa. Its shacks made of scavenged building supplies stretch along the nearby airport road as far as the eye can see, providing substandard shelter for immigrants from villages across the eastern half of the country. Around half a million black and colored people had landed there seeking a better life after the fall of the apartheid, but now they suffered from predictable problems associated with migration, poverty, and unemployment: substance abuse, domestic violence, and HIV infection. Many of these pastors were working in Khayelitsha, setting up tents to conduct services there Sunday by Sunday.

The young man continued, "You pastors are ..." He hesitated as he raised one outstretched hand toward heaven. "You are causing such destruction in Khayelitsha. It reaches to the skies. I know you mean well, but you don't realize that you cause devastation in the lives of the people among whom I work."

Eyes widened, pastors shifted in their seats, and the young man continued. "You come to Khayelitsha every Sunday and set up your tents, which is good, but I have listened to your preaching, and you are preoccupied with three things, and three things only. First, you constantly talk about healing. You tell people they can be healed of HIV, and some of them believe you, so they stop taking their medication. When they stop, they develop new resistant strains of the disease that don't respond well to the medications, and they spread these tougher infections to other people, leaving them much sicker than before. Then you're always telling the people they need to be born again, but after they're born again on Sunday, they're still unemployed on Monday. They may be born again, but what good is that if their problems are the same as before? You know as well as I do that if they're unemployed, they're going to be caught in the poverty web of substance abuse, crime and gangs, domestic violence, and HIV. What good is that? All this born-again talk is nonsense ..."

"Then what do you do? After telling these desperately poor people to get born again and healed, then you tell them to tithe. You tell them to 'sow financial seed' into your ministries and they will receive a hundredfold in return. But you're the only ones getting a return on their investment. You could be helping so much. You could be monitoring people to learn employable skills, you could teach them and help them in so many ways, but it's always the same thing: healing, getting born again, and tithing ..."

"You know your problem? You Pentecostals and you evangelicals specialized. You specialized in healing, in getting people born again, in creating financially successful churches -- but you need to go beyond that. It's time to get a better message -- something bigger than just those things. If you stop there, all your preaching is nonsense ..."

"By talking only about individuals being born again, [you] keep Khayelitsha and our whole nation from being born again in a fuller sense of the term."

Everything Must Change, by Brian D. McLaren.

Putting aside the fact that there were several sects of Christianity floating around in the first few centuries, I often wonder if the gospel went astray with the marriage of Rome and Christianity. As soon as the religion became a political force, as soon as it had that political power and clout and became the only official and recognized religion, and as soon as it persecuted the "bad" religions ... can you really still relate to the oppressed? If your political clout means that you will have access to medicines, and food, and education, can you truly relate to those who struggle? The struggle and oppression are no longer a lifestyle for the Christian. How can you be free from oppression or poverty -- something that Jesus promised, if you're not in either camp?

If you no longer cry out for a Savior to be rescued from Rome, but rather get to dictate how Rome operates, then can you still hear the cries of those Rome crushes?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Good fruit hiding in the bad.

I've come across this concept on a few different blogs now, and I'd be curious as to what others think.

One of the difficulties I have in the idea of an exclusive truth boiling down to the right belief set is that we are given specific criteria as to how one stands with God: the fruits of the Spirit, or the fact that the peacemakers are the children of God, or that if we love someone, we know God, and so forth. Or the idea of the peace that "passeth all understanding". I can find examples of those in all religions, not just Christianity. If I have someone living that way, I have a really hard time telling them their relationship with God is wrong, especially if they're producing much better fruit that I am.

However, what I'm essentially told is that good fruit is truly only good if it's produced by someone with the right relationship with God. All other fruits are counterfeits fruits, or are really bad fruits, or something else along those lines. Or it is fruit that's produced, but it's not fruit that truly comes from God.

I can't help but feel this changes the meaning of the word "good." For instance, loving your enemies is good. Feeding the poor is good. Helping those struck by a natural disaster is good. Contributing to charity is good.

In each sense, "good" holds a basic definition. If I describe a person as good, or an act as good, we all know what that means.

But if good fruits can really only be produced by someone with the right faith, then doesn't that make the word "good" relative? Doesn't the word essentially get boiled down to whatever a Christian does? If I have an atheist and a Christian both loving a horrible person, only the Christian is actually doing a good act? And it's not because loving a horrible person is good, it's because the Christian is the one loving the person.

Yet if I reverse that, and have the atheist and Christian both killing innocent people, both are seen as doing the "bad fruit." It's not because of anyone's faith or relationship with God, but because killing innocent people is evil within itself.

Doesn't this seem like a discrepancy in evaluating fruit? We judge bad fruit based on the acts themselves, and good fruits based on a person's faith?

Not only that, but if we're specifically told that a good tree cannot produce bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot produce good fruit, then there's an expectation of that "good" and "bad" mean, and it can't mean that it's whatever a Christian does, because then the very example becomes meaningless. Instead, there's certain behavior expected. But if we can all only access the good tree after repentance and faith, then it seems that every single non-Christian should only produce bad fruit. They can't produce any good fruit, because that only comes from God.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

When the kindgom comes, the fruit's already there.

I ran across a reading of Matthew 21: 43, which said, "Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits."

Now, I've looked at various Bibles, and it's also translated as the kingdom will be given to a people who will produce the fruit. I have no idea how the Greek works here, especially since I'm seeing both ways in a lot of Bibles.

There's also the context to consider. The quote itself falls amidst a parable of the landowner, who has a vineyard (with a wall put around it, dug a wine press, and builds a tower), rents it out, and goes on a journey. When the harvest comes, the landowner sends his slaves to receive the produce. One slave is beaten, one killed, one stoned. Another group of slaves is sent, and the same occurs. The landowner sends his son, figuring that the son will do okay. The renters say that they will kill the heir, and seize the heir's inheritance, and do that. Jesus then asks what the landowner will do when he finally arrives at the vineyard.

The Pharisees say that the current tenants will get what they deserve, and the landowner will rent out the land again to people who will actually cooperate, and pay what's due to the landowner at the proper time.

Jesus asks if they've never heard of the stone that the builders rejected becomes the chief cornerstone, it came from the Lord and is marvelous to the eyes. At that point, Jesus says that the kingdom will be removed from the Pharisees, and given to those who produce/are producing/will produce the fruit.

What if it is given to a people already producing the fruit? Can people produce the fruit of the kingdom before even being given the kingdom? If so, what does this do with the idea that true good fruit can only occur after one is saved?

I'm also wondering what 'fruits' are referred to here. I'm assuming that the tenants were working the land, and simply not giving any of the produce back to the actual owner. So literal fruit was produced. Therefore, more than just developing the land, and using the land for its literal purpose, must be required. Recognition of the owner's rights must be taken into account. Maybe it has to do with the fact that the land, and thus the produce, wasn't the tenants in the first place? They were simply renting?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

God hates you. Get over it.

"You have been told that God is a loving, gracious, merciful, kind, compassionate, wonderful, and good sky fairy who runs a day care in the sky and has a bucket of suckers for everyone because we're all good people. That is a lie... God looks down and says 'I hate you, you are my enemy, and I will crush you,' and we say that is deserved, right and just, and then God says 'Because of Jesus I will love you and forgive you.' This is a miracle. "

Mark Driscoll, in one of his sermons on November 6, 2006.

The sermon was in audio format, and I'm pulling this quote from Wikipedia. So I admit I could missing a few things, especially due to the ellipses.

But if this were the case, then shouldn't the verse read, "For God so loves His son that He loves and forgives the world for the sake of Jesus?" Instead, it says that God loved the world, that He gave His son.

Or, rather than "Everyone who loves is a child of God and knows God, but the unloving know nothing of God. For God is love; and his love was disclosed to us in this, that He sent His only son into the world to bring us life." 1 John 4: 9-10.

Jesus changes God's hate to love, according to quote.

I'd have a really hard time trusting this sort of God who hates me. Or loving this sort of God. I'd keep relying on Jesus to keep me safe from this God, and why would I even want to be with this God? This God doesn't love me, He loves Jesus and only Jesus.

Not only that, but I don't get this sense of God hating us all from the Tanakh, and only loving us due to intervention. We could bring up the sacrificial system, but how many Psalms are so grateful for animal blood because it makes God love them? Or changes God's hate to love?

Why would God even create what He hates?

I also don't believe that God is a giant sky fairy with a bucket of suckers.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Define God.

1) A central aspect to Christianity theology is that the word of God became flesh. The lamb of God takes away the sins of the world, and through the Incarnation, God became man.

2) "Be generous to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you. In a word, as God's dear children, try to be like him, and live in love as Christ loved you, and gave himself up on your behalf as an offering and sacrifice whose fragrance is pleasing to God." Ephesians 4: 32, 5: 1-2

3) "You are on a spiritual level, if only God's Spirit dwells within you; and if a man does not possess the Spirit of Christ, he is no Christian. But if Christ is dwelling within you, then although the body is a dead thing because you sinned, yet the spirit is life itself because you have been justified. Moreover, if the spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells within you, then the God who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give new life to your mortal bodies through his indwelling Spirit ... For all who are moved by the spirit of God are the sons of God. The Spirit you have received is not a spirit of slavery leading you back into a life of fear, but a Spirit that makes us sons, enabling us to cry "Abba! Father!" In that cry the Spirit of God joins with our spirit in testifying that we are God's children; and if children, then heirs. We are God's heirs and Christ's fellow-heirs ..." Romans 8: 9-11, 14-18

4) "He is the image of the invisible God ... He is its origin, the first to return from the dead, to be in all things alone supreme. For in him the complete being of God, by God's own choice, came to dwell. Through him God chose to reconcile the whole universe to himself, making peace through the shedding of his blood upon the cross -- to reconcile all things, whether on earth or in heaven, through him alone." Colossians 1: 15, 18-20

5) "For God is love; and his love was disclosed to us in this, that he sent his only Son into the world to bring us life. The love I speak of is not our love for God, but the love he showed to us in sending his Son as the remedy for the defilement of our sins. If God thus loved us, dear friends, we in turn are bound to love one another. Though God has never been seen by any man, God himself dwells in us if we love one another; his love is brought to perfection within us." 1 John 4: 7-12

6) "But go to my brothers, and tell them that I am now ascending to my Father and your Father, my God and your God."/ Thomas said, "My Lord and my God!" John 20: 17, 28.

I get rather frustrated when discussing the Trinity, or the concept of Jesus as God, and I think I'm starting to understand why. I see no consistent method in defining the word 'God' in orthodox Christianity. As it stands, God can either stand for the Triune God, God the Father, God the Son or God the Holy Spirit. When the term 'God' is thus used, our understanding of the type of God who is referred to is not dependent upon a definition, but rather upon the context of the discussion itself.

For instance, take #1. The definition of God does not remain consistent. We are told that it is pivotal to Christian theology that the word of God has become flesh. The term 'God' here cannot refer to the Triune, or to the Son. It has to be the Father, for it's the word of the Father. Same with the "lamb of God." God there must also mean the Father. Then we get into God becoming flesh. The 'God' there can no longer mean 'the Father.' It now means 'the Son.' In this very paragraph, we have two different usages of the word 'God.'

In #2, the definition of 'God' there can only be the Father. God forgives us in Christ. We are God's (the Father's) dear children, we should love as Christ loved, and then offered himself as a sacrifice pleasing to God.

In #3: we start out with God's Spirit, and then there is a reference to the Spirit of Christ. Does the 'God' there then refer to Jesus? Triune? The Father? It can't be the Holy Spirit, since the paragraph is referring to the Spirit. When we keep going, it mentions that if you have the spirit of Him who raised Jesus, then that God will give your mortal bodies new life. The 'God' there must refer to the 'Father.' Can we then say that the original use of 'God' at the beginning also means the Father? I tend to lean towards that, since this holds to a definite hierarchy. Christ is referred to as God's heir, and then humanity is described as Christ's fellow-heirs (leading me to wonder if Christ is God, does that makes us fellow-heirs with God?)

#4: I believe this one is used as support verse for Jesus is God. However, the verse itself doesn't just say, "Jesus is God." It says that Christ is the image of the invisible God. The contexts makes me think this is God the Father. And then a few sentences down, in Christ, the complete being of God, by God's own choice, came to dwell. The 'God' there also seems to refer to the Father, especially since it goes on to say that God chose to reconcile the whole universe through Christ, by choice. By this same choice, the complete being of the Father came to dwell. But why mention the word 'choice' at all if this complete being is something that Jesus always possessed?

In #5: the God in use here has to be God the Father. This is the same God who sent His son, and thus proved His love for humanity. I've seen references elsewhere about how the best way God proved His love for people was by becoming a man, and dying for us. But then wouldn't it be logical to include that in a paragraph like this? To say that God is love, and thus came and died for us? Incarnated Himself for us? Instead, the emphasis is on God sending His son.

In #6: Thomas calls Jesus 'My Lord and my God.' But how was Thomas understanding the 'my God' portion? As we see, Jesus earlier tells Mary that he is now ascending to his God and her God. Wouldn't this also be the same God of Thomas? But this 'God' that Jesus describes cannot include himself, for he's not ascending to himself. And when Thomas refers to Jesus as 'my God,' it cannot be that God whom Jesus ascending to. I also wonder if Thomas really meant Jesus as God Himself. I know there are parts in the Tanakh where regular people are referred to as God ... and the idea/concept of 'God' there ironically depends on context.

I could keep going, with New Testament verse after New Testament verse. When I'm told about a crucial aspect of Christian theology, in terms of Jesus being God, and how it's obvious in the Bible ... is it really? Take any New Testament verse that gets into explaining God and Christ. How easy it is to find a clear-cut definition? More so, it seems that the idea of Christ as God relies more on inference, and the theological underpinnings for the last 1,700 years.

Jesus as God is presented as a simple fact. Defining 'God' in Christian orthodoxy is not a simple process. Too often, it gets answered by saying that the Trinity is a mystery, that we simply can't comprehend. That's fine. But how well can one "know" a mystery? If you say that you know Jesus is God, that God died for you, that God loved you that much, and yet can't explain the process past the fact that Jesus is God, then how well do you really know it at all?

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Sower.

"A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the footpath, where it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. Some seed fell on rock and, after coming up, withered for lack of moisture. Some seed fell in among thistles, and the thistles grew up with it and choked it. And some of the seed fell into good soil, and grew, and yielded a hundred-fold ...

...The seed is the word of God. Those along the footpath are the men who hear it, and then the devil comes and carries off the word from their hearts for fear they should believe and be saved. The seed sown on rock stands for those who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but have no root; they are believers for a while, but in the time of testing they desert. That which fell among the thistles represents those who hear, but their further growth is choked by cares and wealth and the pleasures of life, and they bring nothing to maturity. But the seed in good soil represents those who bring a good and honest heart to the hearing of the word, hold it fast, and by their perseverance yield a harvest."

Luke 8: 5-8, 11-16.

Some things of interest I noticed about this parable.

The first group of people seem to lack a choice as to whether they get to keep the word or not. They hear it, but then the devil removes it, so that they can't believe. Do they want the devil to remove it? And why is the devil associated with birds, in terms of the parable?

The latter group, prior to believing, apparently already have a good and honest heart, and because they have that good and honest heart, they hear the word, hold to it, and then produce some great fruit. How would this be reconciled with the idea that we're all bad people? Or that we can't have a good heart prior to the intercession of Jesus?

It's also rather work-based. The last group holds fast to the word, and because they persevere, they produce a harvest. Wouldn't holding to the word entail effort on their part? Though it might depend on what the 'word' is that Jesus is referring to. 'Hold to it fast' could also refer to faith, but then why not simply say faith?

The word is also connected with growth. It originally starts as a seed, and then must grow. There has to be some sort of end result. It's not just a matter of believing, it's a matter of what is produced.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Jesus is perfect?

A huge portion of Christianity is focused on the idea of Jesus being the perfect, sinless sacrifice. Although, I'm not sure if this is as big in Eastern Orthodox. The perfect/sinless idea seems very tied into the penal substitution idea, which Jesus taking our place, and accomplishing what we cannot do. So I'm not sure I can say that Christianity as a whole is incredibly focused on that narrow idea of sacrifice, or if it's just Evangelical Christianity.

But I'm wondering what this perfection is based on. Before people go quoting me the letters, such as Peter or Paul, where they push forth the idea of Jesus knowing no sin becoming sin for us, or Jesus tempted like us yet not sinning, I'm wondering what actions the claim is based on. Too often, it feels that we are told Jesus is perfect because Peter says so. Or Paul says so. But I don't see them pushing forth any "proof." I don't see them saying, "Jesus is perfect because he did such and such." Rather, the idea is simply that Jesus was sinless, no proof required.

However, if we took the Gospels, which are the only accounts we have of day to day actions, would we reach the same conclusion? If we took the Gospels and replaced all the names, and then gave them to someone who lacked familiarity with the stories, would the person conclude that the Jesus character behaved perfectly? Would any of us?

Or do we all just say that Jesus is perfect because that's the assumption? Because that's what the New Testament letters tell us?

What actions are used to determine the perfection of Jesus?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Rags and righteousness.

"Never has ear heard or eye seen
Any other god taking part of
Those who wait for him.
Thou dost welcome him who rejoices to do what is right,
Who remembers thee in thy ways,
Though thou wast angry, yet we sinned,
In spite of it we have done evil from of old,
We all became like a man who is unclean
And all our righteous deeds like a filthy rag;
We have all withered like leaves
And our iniquities sweep us away like the wind."

Isaiah 64: 4-6.

I see this Isaiah verse get quoted a lot, in terms of a blanket statement on humanity. We all have, at any point in time or history, righteous deeds like a filthy rag. No ifs, ands, or buts. It applies to everyone, even today. If you're unsaved, then all your deeds are filthy rags.

But does the verse itself support that blanket statement, or is it speaking about a point in time? And all deeds done filthy rags, regardless of the deeds themselves?

It seems more that the verse is speaking of a particular point in time. I'm no expert on the book of Isaiah, and I believe scholars say that it contains more than one author that was all eventually grouped under one name. I also believe that portions of Isaiah were written in a time of huge conflict, with Israel either attacked or overrun by invaders. Such an occurrence would most likely be interpreted as no longer being in God’s favor, and so wouldn't the Israelites start examining their own behavior? Wouldn't such examination produce verses such as these?

As for all deeds as filthy -- let's say a non-Christian helps the widow, the orphan, feeds the poor and so forth. There are quite a few Bible verses that say such actions are just and righteous. So it can't be every single deed across the board.

However, the verse itself seems to narrow the kinds of deeds. First, the people are doing what is evil in God's sight. Evil acts would be ignoring the helpless, for starters. Or chasing after false gods, or indulging in gluttony, or just living a non-good life. So wouldn't there be a natural connection between someone doing evil, and thus the deeds becoming like filthy rags? Not only that, but if the deeds truly are as filthy rags, then the deeds can no longer count towards any sort of righteousness. The verse almost reads as sarcasm. If the deeds are in fact filthy, then they cannot also be righteous. The two words contradict one another by their very definition. Rather, the speaker of the verse seems to demonstrate a realization that the deeds performed are not in fact righteous. Which means the deeds cannot be those like helping the helpless.

So does anything in this verse support the idea that all deeds of any unsaved people are filthy? Or does the verse focus more on specifics, as to why the deeds are filthy?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Congratulations! You're adopted!!

I was involved in a discussion on another blog, in which I claimed that God is humanity's Father from birth. I justified this with sections such as the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus tells the entire crowd that God is their Father. The person discussing the matter with me claimed that God is only one's Father after one is "saved." You are then adopted into God's family.

I find the latter view interesting, simply on how adoption works. When a child is adopted, there are two parents involved in the process. Parent A is the parent who gave birth to the child. Parent B is the parent who then adopts and raises the child, and legally is entitled to all rights and decisions regarding said child. However, Parent A and Parent B are never the same person (to my knowledge. Someone with a better familiarity with the law might want to chime in). I know that Parent A could lose parental rights, but if s/he has the opportunity to regain those rights, it's not considered adoption, which is "to take voluntarily (a child of other parents) as one's own child."

So, if God must adopt us in order for us to be children, that makes God parent B. Who, then, is parent A? Who is God adopting us from? I'm fairly certain the standard answer here would be Satan or the world or the flesh or possibly a combination of all three.

But what does that mean? The very act of creation is attributed to God and only God. Satan didn't create us, nor the world, nor even “the flesh”. If we are here, it's because God has decided that we should be born in this particular time. If God didn't decide to embark on the act of creation, we wouldn't be here.

Yet somehow, that doesn't make God a parent, nor does that give humanity the right to consider God a Father (the other blogger's perspective). But why not? That is part of what makes a parent an actual parent – s/he played a role in your creation.

Only, per this viewpoint, that’s not enough. You must choose to be adopted into God’s family (assuming a non-Calvinist viewpoint here), and then you can call God Father.

Okay. We still come back to the idea of who was our original, or first, parent? If you go with the idea of something not-God, then that calls into question how much “ownership” God has over us, and how much right God then has to demand any sort of obedience or allegiance, if He’s not even the Creator in the first place.

If we take this metaphorically, and say that Satan is our Father until said adoption takes place, then at what point did Satan become our Father? Clearly not in the aspect of creation.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

A Year with C.S. Lewis

I received 'A Year with C. S. Lewis: Daily Readings from his Classic Works' as a Christmas present. It was from a friend who knew that I was reading religious books, and so picked this one because it really made her think. She's an evangelical, and I've heard from her, and others, that CS Lewis is a great reader. He's often recommended by devout Christians. I think they're under the impression that if non-Christians read it, it'll be completely convincing?

Not quite. Here are some of my impressions, based on what I've read.

Exploration #1: "All sorts of people are fond of repeating the Christian statement that 'God is love.' But they seem not to notice that the words 'God is love' have no real meaning unless God contains at least two Persons. If God was a single person, then before the world was made, He was not love." Page. 41

This doesn't seem to take into account the very character of God. First, we go with the idea that God is omniscienct. Ergo, God is all-knowing. Therefore, can there ever be an instance where God does not 'know' of His creation?

This gets even trickier when the concept of time comes into play. If part of creating the universe includes the creation of time, then God is not bound by time. God created time. So God is 'outside' of time. What occurs to us in a linear fashion would occur to God all at once. To God, Henry the VIII is king while simutaneously, I'm typing on this computer. God doesn't have to 'wait' for something to occur like we do.

So why couldn't God, if always knowing of us, and having creating time, have also constantly be in a relationship with the humans He creates? Constantly love His creation? God's love would always be directed outwards, to those whom He created. Does the world need to be 'made' in order for God to love outwards? In order for God to be love?

As it is, Lewis explores this idea: "All times are eternally present to God. Is it not at least possible that along some one line of His multi-dimensional eternity He sees you forever in the nursery pulling the wings off a fly, forever toadying, lying, and lusting as a schoolboy, forever in that moment of cowardice or insolence as a subaltern? Pg. 75

As soon as you remove God from being constrained by time, and give God that type of knowledge, the idea that there must be more than one 'Person' in God is no longer applicable.

Exploration #2: "We can all understand how a man forgives offences against himself. You tread on my toes and I forgive you, you steal my money and I forgive you. But what should we make of a man, himself unrobbed and untrodden on, who announced that he forgave you for treading on other men's toes and stealing other men's money? Asinine fatuity is the kindest description we should give of his conduct. Yet this is what Jesus did. He told people that their sins were forgiven, and never waited to consult all the other people whom their sins had undoubtedly injured. He unhesitatingly behaved as if he was the party chiefly concerned, the person chiefly offended in all offences. This makes sense only if he really was the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin. In the mouth of any speaker who is not God, these words would imply what I can only regard as a silliness and conceint univalled by any other character in history." Page 49.

Okay, I'm only aware of two instances in the New Testament where Jesus specifically announces forgiveness. The first is Mark 2: 1-12. There, Jesus says to the paralyzed man, 'My son, your sins are forgiven.' The laywers says that its blasphemy, and only God can forgive sins. Jesus knows what they're thinking, and asks if its easier to say 'sins are forgiven' or 'Stand up, take your bed, and walk? But to convince you that the Son of Man has the right on earth to forgive sins .' The man does.

Luke 5: 17-26. Same situation. Jesus says, "Man, your sins are forgiven," the lawyers and Pharisees say its blasphemous, only God can forgive, and Jesus asks the same thing as in Mark, says that the Son of Man has the right, and so forth."

A few things about what Lewis says. Matthew 28:18 has Jesus saying that all authority on heaven and earth has been given to him. Given. It would have to be 'given' by God. Wouldn't that authority include the 'right to forgive sins?' Wouldn't Jesus, since he is one with the Father and the Father dwells in him, know who God forgives, and thus announce it for God?

Exploration #3: "Yet (and this is the strange, significant thing) even his enemies, when they read the Gospels, do not usually get the impression of silliness and conceit. Still less do unprejudiced readers. Christ says that he is 'humble and meek' and we believe him; not noticing that, if he were merely a man, humility and meekness are the very last characteristics we could attribute to some of his sayings." Page 49.

Okay. Let's say I'm the smartest person at math in the world. It's an obvious fact. If this is true, would it be prideful or wrong of me to acknowledge that? To tell people that I'm the smarest person at math in the world? So in the case of Jesus, if God did choose him as the Messiah, and part of being that Messiah is a light unto the world, or the bread of life ... how does that not make Jesus humble or meek if both are simple facts? It would be neither 'silliness' nor 'conceit.' It's simply what God designated Jesus to be. Jesus is the Messiah, and as the Messiah, plays a pretty big role. How is it not humble or not meek to declare that? If judgement is left up to the Son of Man, then stating that is stating a fact.

Exploration #4: The Trilimma. Arguments against that have been done to death.

Exploration #5: "Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possiblel any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata -- of creatures that worked like machines -- would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other ..." Pg. 57.

So, if evil must be possible so that goodness or love are worth having, what about God? Doesn't this mean it must be possible for God to do evil? Except if God is perfect, and abhors sin, then God cannot possess the ability to even contemplate evil. Not only that, but is anyone else bothered by the fact that he's essentially saying it wouldn't be worth creating something that can only do good? Could only be good? That somehow, lacking the ability to do evil means that one is a robot? (Again, I wonder what that makes God). I mean, there are thousands of ways in which to express goodness. To only express good makes one a robot?

The other thing this would call into question is the idea of 'freedom.' THe idea here seems to be that God won't 'force' someone to choose Him. However, force only comes into play if God is going against what the person wants. If a person willingly chooses God, then the person is not forced.

But the force itself only comes into play if a person has the ability to either want to choose God, or want to choose against God. To choose against God is to choose against good. So the person has the ability to choose evil or good. If the person is created to only have the ability to choose good, to only want to do good, then the person would never be forced to choose God. The person's free will would always align with good, and thus voluntarily always choose God.

So what Lewis is saying is that the whole thing is worthless unless we also have the ability to choose evil? It just seems very odd that an entity that is all good, abhors evil, would rather create something with the capability of doing evil instead of a being that can do only good. It's like He'd be going against everything in His nature to create that.

I'm only into the month of February, in terms of reading the book. I'm not sure I'll be able to finish, just because I'm finding it frustrating. It's praised left and right, and yet I'm finding it ... not that complex. At all. It's another one of those things written for those who already believe, and with every new entry I read, my reaction is, "Seriously? This is the best you've got?"

My friend did hope it would make me think. Which it's doing, only not in the way she was probably expecting.