Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Empathy, thy name is not OneSmallStep.

One of the critiques I see in response to the Christian faith is the element of prayer, and how it doesn't measure up to what Jesus says in certain New Testament quotes. Prayer is meant to bring one closer to God, or provide a sense of peace.

Essentially, God is not a gumball machine, and your prayers aren't quarters.

I came across this blog recently that was for a woman who's husband had a bad accident, and ending up dying from the injuries a month later. A lot of the posts were from people who knew the woman and her husband, and these people were reporting on the husband's status, as well as asking for prayers.

And here's where I come across as incredibly callous.

While I had did have a lot of sympathy for what the woman was going through, I kept stumbling over the prayer reports. Many of these prayers were asking for specific things -- that the doctors would know what to do, that the injuries would subside, that the husband would be okay.

And any amount of improvement, any positive sign, was treating as an answer to the prayers. When the husband was looking better? The bloggers said that the prayers were working and to keep them up. They encouraged others to prayer as well. When the improvement continued? It meant that God was really responding, and then the bloggers listed out more prayers. They also praised God for His goodness, when the doctors reports were encouraging.

Isn't this situation pretty much treating God as a gumball machine? The thing is, based on what I read, I wouldn't say these people were shallow about their faith. They were certainly sincere, they obviously had read quite a bit of the Bible. They might even be people who would say that non-Christians are just reading those certain Jesus verses wrong, and prayer isn't meant as a laundry list.

Yet, do they really believe that? Because all of their behavior points to treating God as though prayer influences Him. All of this behavior points towards taking those Jesus verses as a literal statement. So then how can non-Christians be accused of misinterpreting the verse, or taking the verse out of context, when Christians treat the verses in the same manner?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Bible has voices in its head.

I find it much easier to read the Bible when realizing that not all of it is going to agree. If I have to read it with the belief that it's inerrant, then it ends up looking incredibly schizophrenic to me.

For example, forms of Christianity teach that we are all depraved, cannot please God without Jesus, have no righteousness of our own, God hates us (unless Jesus intercedes), the Law is only meant to show how sinful one is, following the Law leads to death and self-righteousness and so forth.

Then I read a few Psalms:

Thou hast tested my heart and watched me all night long; thou hast assayed me and found in me no mind to evil. I will not speak of the deeds of men; I have taken good note of all thy sayings. I have not strayed thy path and never stumbled.

Psalms 17: 3-5

The Lord rewarded me as my righteousness deserved; my hands were clean, and he requited me. For I have followed the ways of the Lord and have not turned wickedly from my God; all his laws are before my eyes, I have not failed to follow his decrees. In his sight I was blameless and kept myself from willful sin; the Lord requited me as my righteousness deserved and the purity of my life in his eyes

Psalms 18: 20-24

The law of the Lord is perfect and revives the soul. The Lord's instruction never fails, and makes the simple wise. The precepts of the Lord are right and rejoice the heart. The commandment of the Lord shines clear and gives light to the eyes.

Psalms 19: 7-9

These are just a few examples. In other Psalms, we have the writer pleading with God to establish justice, for the writer's cause is innocent. Or stating that God will help the poor, the oppressed, the widows, and the orphans. And it's stated in such a way as though they deserve to be rescued by God -- aka, they don't deserve their current state of poverty or oppression.

And, yes, there are many Psalms where the writer is lamenting on his state of sin, and praying that God have mercy on him. But my question would then be if those Psalms are taken at literal face-value, to support a claim in man's sin-state, that has no goodness ... why can't the other Psalms also be taken at face-value, in terms of the writer stating that he's innocent, or he follows the law completely? What methods are there that would cause someone to take one literally, and the other figuratively?

Can we truly say that the Psalmist would agree that all people are wholly depraved, deserve nothing but eternal torment, lack any element that would please God, completely fail to follow a Law?

Friday, June 19, 2009

A sinner by any other name.

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person --- though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in the while we were still sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Romans 5: 1-12.

In a lot of blogs, I see the claim that while a Christian is saved, the Christian is still a sinner. Or a saint and a sinner. Or will still struggle with the effects of sin, while still being redeemed through the work of Jesus on the cross. Maybe they're a forgiven sinner, or something like that.

But is someone who is saved still supposed to lay claim to the title of sinner? In the Bible paragraph I just quoted, Paul makes a reference of Christ dying for us while we were still sinners. Usually, when someone is phrased "still [fill in the blank,]" it means that the person is no longer that [fill in the blank] at the time of the discussion.

For example: "I had a red car when I was still married."

"I had a lot of friends when I was still happy."

"Jesus died for me while I was still weak."

"Jesus died for me when I was still an enemy of God." -- and this example I find key. I would say that any Christian would claim that s/he is no longer the enemy of God, as s/he has been saved through what Jesus did. The unsaved are still enemies of God. Yet the Christian would claim to still be a sinner in some fashion? Based on the Bible paragraph, Paul comes across as inferring that the Christians are no longer enemies of God. He's also inferring that Christians are no longer weak. So in using the same language style, isn't he also inferring that Christians are no longer sinners?

On a different note, I read in a blog that someone used Romans 5: 8-9 to support the claim that God loves us and God proved this love by -- through Christ -- punishing Himself for everyone's sin so that no one would have to be punished. The applicable passages are in bold.

A couple problems I have with that idea. First, given all twelve verses, Paul is setting up a definite difference between God and Christ. The God one has peace with is different than the Jesus who provides that peace. The God views people as enemies is the God that Jesus reconciles those enemies to. The God that Paul boasts of boasting of through the Lord Jesus Christ. The God who has the wrath is the God whose wrath averted through the Jesus who is saving people. The only possible way the two are combined is in verse eight with God proving His love while Christ dies while people are still sinners. But based on the other verses, it makes more sense to conflate the idea of God's love with God providing His one and only Son.

Second, where in this verse does it say Christ is punished in the place of sinners? It says that Christ died for people while they were still sinners, and his blood justifies people so that they are saved from the wrath of God. It doesn't say how the blood saves, and it makes no clear claims of Jesus being punished for anything. Nor does it even make the death part be the end, since a later verse says that Christians will be saved "much more surely" by the life of Jesus.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Windows Vista is the Operating System of my Better Nature.

So here's a thought that hit me a few days back --

I think we've all heard the idea of appealing to someone's better nature, in order to accomplish something good. And there's a certain branch of Christianity that holds the idea that humanity essentially has no better nature, and anything good one does comes from God, and anything bad comes from the individual person. The only thing you're responsible for is the bad things. You have no control, no input, and nothing to do with the good things (which, in a way, almost makes the good things impersonal, because if it all comes from God, couldn't the good things come from anyone? Whereas the bad things are a result of the person's personality. Some people might steal, whereas other might murder).

Anyway, for people who believe that ... do they have a better nature to appeal to? After all, their better nature is a result of God, and not having any connection to their personality. So in appealing to their personality, wouldn't someone just be appealing to God? If so, why not cut out the middle man/the vessel and go to God directly?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

God stole my third dimension.

On occasion, I'll listen to Christian music. And I'm wondering how much of it provides an insight into how Christians view a non-Christian life, and thus who are non-Christians. Are the lyrics merely hyperbole, or is there an element of 'this is what the outside looks like?'

I used to think that me, myself, and I were all that mattered

Alive, by Rebecca St. James.

The song here is basically about how God makes the person come alive (perhaps you gleaned that from the title itself). But my understanding is that Rebecca St. James became a Christian at a rather young age, and so I would doubt she'd have much non-Christian personal experience to draw upon. So in looking at this, does she truly think that those who are non-Christians think that they are the only people who matter? That they behave in that two-dimensional, selfish way? Not only that, but I've heard her introduce this song as "This is about how God makes us come alive!" So I'd say the song is meant to include more than just one person.

Shine on me with Your light/Without You I'm a cold dark stone

You are the Sun, by Sara Groves.

And while the singer here is singing from first-person ... does this mean then that all non-Christians are considered "cold dark stones?"

The only thing that isn't meaningless to me/is Jesus Christ and the way he set me free.

Conversations, by Sara Groves.

The ironic thing about this song is that it's written as an attempt by a Christian to explain to a non-Christian about how Christianity is helpful. Yet, if I take this verse extremely literally, then as the non-Christian isn't Jesus Christ, the non-Christian holds no importance to the Christian.

And even if I don't go to the extreme methods in literalness, I still find elements in it to be disturbed. To make one thing matter to the exclusion of all else can be dangerous to those around you. It's what we see in people who believe Jesus is returning any second now, and so why bother caring for the environment? It's not like we'll be needing one in the future. Or perhaps someone who is so pro-environment that it doesn't matter what happened to a group of people so long as a tree was saved. Or I just read that PETA is using the Tiller murder to promote vegetarianism with signs like "Pro-Life? Go Vegetarianism," and "Pro-Choice? Choose Vegetarianism."

Things like this are a huge roadblock for ever wanting to become a conservative Christian. As much as they can say that it makes them more compassionate, more loving people, I don't like how it almost forces them to view the non-Christians. There's no longer nuances, those shades of gray. People become these two-dimensional paper dolls. You're either alive in God, or solely self-focused. You either have God's light, or you're a cold dark stone.