Tag Archives: God

‘Dear Lord, the psalmist says You make the rain fall on the righteous & the unrighteous…’


“…which is really just another way of saying, ‘check your local forecast’.”

‘Dear Lord, I really want to love people…’


“…they just need to get their positions right first.”

‘Dear Lord, help me become a minister and a psychiatrist…’


“…so I can always fall back on my prescription pad.”

‘Dear Lord, I know the right positions, and I don’t listen to the wrong ones…’


“…so why won’t You let me pass these classes?”

‘Dear Lord, I passed my theology test, and I hate everyone…’


“…so may I please take Mark Driscoll‘s place and become an evangelical best-selling author? I’ll promise to give some of the money to my ministry. Please? Amen.”

No analogy, please: it’s ALL bad language here


The following Internet meme is false.

Arminian Memes takes on so-called 'Calvinism'

In this internet meme, ‘Calvinism’ is presented as a matter of fate or chance.

Do you understand what the above Internet meme means?

Well, if you take Charles Spurgeon seriously, God’s love or hate isn’t even luck of the draw — meaning the above meme is inaccurate.

Remember, as John Piper says, Spurgeon believed each dust mote in a sunbeam is exactly where it’s at because of God’s appointment. Piper extrapolates from Spurgeon’s authority and passages in the Book of Proverbs and the Acts of the Apostles that God predetermined every sin.

Presumably, according to the Piper-Spurgeon view, God ordained, created, and engineered Language and languages, too.

So whatever you want to call it — providence, sovereignty, neo-Calvinism, predeterminism, or fatalism — it’s not luck-of-the-draw as suggested in the meme above, and it’s not merely about one’s eternal disposition, either.

It’s something worse.

It’s more like God saying, “I’m going to create a Sudanese girl who will be raped and murdered at age 12, and then send her to conscious eternal torment, for my good pleasure.”

You cannot honestly think, as an “out” for this horrible point of view, that God didn’t create the girl to be raped, but rather he just created the rapist to rape (as if that’s any better).

God as all-knowing and all-powerful — and if invested in the predetermined course of everything as Piper says — could not do one without doing the other.

A bit more recently than Spurgeon, A.W. Pink held a similar point of view, believing God not only decided who is saved and who is damned, but also orchestrated all sins.

Furthermore, Pink thought the true believer could take comfort in the heresy of others, as a way to know one is right, but thereby he implies a radical dehumanizing of the unorthodox and unbelievers, which seems like it would run against the grain of New Testament teachings about loving enemies, blessing persecutors, and forgiving those who know not what they do. (Not loving the function performed by enemies and persecutors, but loving the actual people.)

We rejoice in the sufferings of the heretics because the suffering of heretics lets us know God likes us more. Wow. To say it in a contemporary way, Pink missed the anti-narcissism message in the Bible.

The problem might not be strictly related to the moral outrage we ought to feel if this god was the Grand Puppeteer.

The problem probably relates to our human ability to understand anything.

Consider, for example, this passage from the First Epistle of John:

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.

Consider what has just been excerpted from First John and try to work it into the Spurgeon-Piper point of view.

John says God is love and tells us to love one another. He doesn’t seem too concerned about telling us how to love one another — maybe because he’s assuming a natural, intuitive understanding of what it is to love others.

Now consider the Spurgeon-Piper view: Each child suffering is suffering due to God’s direct, purposeful, intentional will and each situation in which someone does not help is also due to God’s direct, purposeful, intentional will.

Consider an analogy: A community of believers preaches that love is demonstrated in procreation for the purpose of experimenting on toddlers and young children.

Now, “God is love,” and if the Spurgeon-Piper stance is correct, God creates toddlers and young children for horrible traumas and painful deaths, because that’s what happens, and everything that happens is directly orchestrated by God.

We could stop here and ask, “How can God do terrible things while telling us to be like Him and to do the opposite of what He does?” We could, because after all: We’re supposed to be like God by loving others, and God’s so much about love that John says God is love, and God willfully and directly creates certain children for suffering, so Susan Smith very well could have been loving her children by drowning them.

You cannot comprehend this sentence

But I think the bigger problem might be the resulting implication that plain, everyday language has the absolute inability to say anything even analogous to God’s intended meaning.

The significance of that problem might not be immediately obvious. Let me put it this way: It’s as if God, as Creator of all things and omnipotent, has set up a situation in which He lobs words at people who will never understand the simplest idea of what He is saying.

Follow these points through, and please allow me to repeat just a little of what I’ve already said:

The New Testament is notorious for telling people to love their enemies, to love their neighbors, to love others in the believing community (despite the fact that these are the last things that characterize communities in which Spurgeon and Piper are highly valued).

In the context of love one another, John says, “God is love.” That suggests some kind of similarity.

As he thought about his audience, John must have intended for his readers to see a connection between how the believer is to live within community and what God ultimately is.

However, no one would ever assume love to motivate the creation of someone expressly for the purpose of horrible suffering, in a powerless earthly situation, followed by horrible suffering in a powerless eternal situation — no one, that is, except the Spurgeon-Piper-ites.

Now, let’s be clear about the Spurgeon-Piper view, because we have to understand its scope, and we have to look at it directly without flinching:

God’s decision to create a Sudanese girl and appoint her for rape and murder at the age of 13, followed by eternal damnation, is love in action.

You might argue her sins warranted her damnation.

But the Spurgeon-Piper view says, specifically, God placed her in that time, and in that place, and in her own sins, and in those horrible crimes, for his good pleasure.

This cannot be love or anything like it, unless we say that God has definitions of love, of good, of pleasure, completely opposed to our natural, intuitive senses of those words.

We cannot say that situation is distantly analogous to some complicated circumstance in which human love involves an indirect infliction of pain.

We have to say that situation is the absolute opposite of any idea or experience of love.

Any revelation through language, then, is not merely veiled by time, culture, and translation, but rather is completely darkened because what we understand as lovingkindness is not related to God’s idea of lovingkindness.

Furthermore, we open the door for people to claim they have received orders from God to harm others.

The biblical story of Abraham preparing to kill Issac (and finding the scapegoat) is easy to appreciate when it is assumed by Christians to be a symbolic foreshadowing of Jesus’ death on the Cross.

But when a mother thinks God has told her to kill her own children, we must say it is possible that God has told her to do that because God’s idea of love is (1) beyond our comprehension and (2) compatible with torture and murder.

God makes girls to be raped and murdered, and that is supposed to be loving and His good pleasure — and all that is easy to justify in the abstract, until your daughter is raped and murdered because your all-powerful God thought it would be a good thing to bring about through His direct force of will.

Therefore, someone who carries out God’s will by murdering her own children, in one respect, could not do anything else, and in another respect, could not be legitimately criticized by those who have not murdered their own children.

God is love, and everything He does is righteous, and His love and righteousness are inseparable, and according to the Spurgeon-Piper view God does all the doing; therefore the murders of children are loving actions.

Now of course you may invent an abstract apparatus to get around this problem. You might say, To make these sections of the texts true and reasonable, we must invent a perspective by which these sections of texts become cohesive.

I’m guessing one would find a fitting work-around difficult, considering the depth and breadth of the problem.

Perhaps a theological way out for some people, at least for Christians, would go like this: theologically speaking, the death of Christ ended the tyranny of necessity.

In other words, love could triumph over the cause-and-effect, closed-universe system that made (in the Old Testament sense) animal sacrifice and damnation necessary.

Maybe. I’m not sure I believe that, but it could be intellectually honest.

I’m baffled that Piper and Spurgeon think they honor God by assigning rapes and murders to His direct will and intention — and I’m especially baffled that they do so while they claim a high view of Scripture.

So, are you sure you understand what the opening Internet meme means?

 

‘When the church is where the war is’


Hope is where the door is

When the church is where the war is

Where no one can feel no one else’s pain

– U2, “Sleep Like A Baby Tonight,” Songs of Innocence

GOD: Concrete or Abstract?


Colin Foote Burch:

Here’s a good explication of C.S. Lewis’s understanding of God as Being and Personality and Reality, with reference to language in the senses of concreteness and abstraction:

Originally posted on While We're Paused!:

The "Trinity Knot": Three in One

The “Trinity Knot”: Three in One

C. S. Lewis wants to combat the modern tendency to associate transcendent being with abstraction so badly that he boldly calls God “concrete.” If God is a spirit, this word cannot be meant literally in its normal meaning of tangible. But Lewis wants us to think of God as something more solid than physical reality, as something at the opposite pole from nebulous. He conveys this idea effectively in his portrait of heaven in The Great Divorce, where the grass pierces the feet of the spirits from the gray town. So if we take “concrete” metaphorically, it is one of Lewis’s more brilliant descriptions of God as the One who is ultimately real. There is nothing nebulous about Him; He has a definite what-ness. “He is ‘absolute being’—or rather the Absolute Being—in the sense that He alone exists in His own right. But there…

View original 316 more words

Louis C.K. on Saturday Night Live: skeptical of skeptics


Last night, Louis C.K. was the guest host on Saturday Night Live. Here’s an excerpt from his very funny opening stand-up comedy:

“I’m not religious. I don’t know if there’s a God. That’s all I can say honesty is, I don’t know. Some people think that they know that there isn’t. That’s a weird thing to think you can know. ‘Yeah, there’s no God.’ Are you sure? ‘Yeah, no, there’s no God.’ How do you know? ‘Because I didn’t see him.’ There’s a vast universe. You can see for about a hundred yards when there’s not a building in the way. How could you possibly — did you look in everywhere? Did you look in the downstairs bathroom? ‘Nah, I haven’t seen him yet.’ I haven’t seen 12 Years A Slave yet. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.” (To the best of my DVR transcription skills.)

And a bit earlier in his opening act, this:

“I don’t think women are better than men, but I do think men are worse than women.”

Take a look at this New York Times article on Saturday Night Live: “The God of ‘SNL’ will see you now.”

 

Aside

In this new world of protecting everyone’s feelings, am I allowed to say, “The times when absolutely no one cared & God completely vanished were the times I grew the most?” Nope. Suggesting that sadness and loneliness could contribute to personal growth would hurt someone’s feelings. Continue reading

‘The Cultivation of Christmas Trees’ by T.S. Eliot


Drawing of T. S. Eliot by Simon Fieldhouse. De...

Drawing of T. S. Eliot by Simon Fieldhouse. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“The Cultivation of Christmas Trees” was a later addition to T.S. Eliot’s “Ariel Poems,” an addition I wish were better known. Here’s an excerpt and below is a link to the full text: 

“The child wonders at the Christmas Tree:
Let him continue in the spirit of wonder
…So that the reverence and the gaiety
May not be forgotten in later experience,
In the bored habituation, the fatigue, the tedium,
The awareness of death, the consciousness of failure,
Or in the piety of the convert
Which may be tainted with a self-conceit
Displeasing to God and disrespectful to children….”

 

See  T. S. Eliot’s “The Cultivation of Christmas Trees”: A Rare 1954 Gem, Illustrated by Enrico Arno (brainpickings.org)

 

 

 

Revitalizing liturgical worship: Stephen R. Holmes on history and location


“Because of the doctrine of creation, historical locatedness is something good. The tradition we inherit is part of our location in history, and so in doing theology it is necessary to relate to the tradition.” — Stephen R. Holmes in Listening to the Past: The Place of Tradition in Theology

Notice the assumptions in the title of the book: Theology is somewhat abstract and intellectual, while tradition is somewhat tangible and embodied.

Also, consider what Holmes is saying, and I’ll put my own interpretative spin on it: even if you don’t believe in “sacred spaces,” you can appreciate that many people have worshipped within a certain place, and you can appreciate that all the symbolism within a place points to Christ or to the Trinity, and you can appreciate that someone, whether the craftsman or just the purchaser, cared that tangible things would be symbols for God, for Christ, and for the glory of God. After all, in Christian belief, the printed word “Jesus” is not the Incarnated God, yet the word stands as a symbol for the Incarnated God. If words can refer to God, than other symbols can, too, and a place with many symbols can be considered special without being considered idolatrous. We don’t fix a flood with a drought, as Thomas Howard said in a quotation I posted the other day.

Why I argue with ministers


“The clarity and cogency that philosophy brings is accordingly something that has a potentially positive role to play in every impartial area of human endeavor, Christianity by no means excluded. No church can exist in easy comfort with its intellectuals and theologians, but no church can be a thriving concern among thinking people if it dispenses with their services.” — Nicholas Rescher, in Philosophers Who Believe

But I don’t think that requires an attempt to wear smartness on one’s sleeve. I’m thinking this through with a few questions: I’m already in my church, but would I join it today? Is my church the kind of place where I would feel comfortable inviting my colleagues? What if answering both of those questions affirmatively did not involve a conference on apologetics or brainy sermons? So what would it involve?

Revitalizing liturgical worship: Loren Mead on fads and worship


“When the new way is considered the only way, there is no continuity, fads become the new Gospel and in Paul’s words, the church is ‘blown to and fro by every wind of doctrine’.” — Loren Mead, in The Once and Future Church

The historical continuity and connections have meant the most the me, regardless of changes in the liturgy over time. The changes within various liturgies are no where near as radical as the changes in approaches to worship. As Mead suggests, emotional highs have taken the place of both the solemnity and the education within the liturgical worship services.

One should ask why emotional highs are important to God, why emotional highs are important to individual spiritual growth, and why (for many churches) worship has become inextricably tangled with emotional highs.

Why is my rock concert experience worth duplicating in church? Why is my Super Bowl experience worth duplicating in church? Our emotions ebb and flow but God remains constant.

Revitalizing liturgical worship: C.S. Lewis on ritual


Following Iain‘s announcement that he’ll invest in conversations about the 11 a.m. service at Trinity, here is some good food for thought from C.S. Lewis:

“A parallel, from a different sphere, would be turkey and plum pudding on Christmas day; no one is surprised at the menu, but every one realizes it is not ordinary fare. Another parallel would be the language of a liturgy. Regular church-goers are not surprised by the service — indeed, they know a good deal of it by rote; but it is a language apart. Epic diction, Christmas fare, and the liturgy, are all examples of ritual — that is, of something set deliberately apart from daily usage, but wholly familiar within its own sphere…. Those who dislike ritual in general — ritual in any and every department of life — may be asked most earnestly to reconsider the question. It is a pattern imposed on the mere flux of our feelings by reason and will, which renders pleasures less fugitive and griefs more endurable, which hands over to the power of wise custom the task (to which the individual and his moods are so inadequate) of being festive or sober, gay or reverent, when we choose to be, and not at the bidding of chance.” — C.S. Lewis, from A Preface to Paradise Lost

Don’t blame the rapist — the rape was God’s idea, after all


In this enlightening video clip, famous preacher and author John Piper explicitly describes the inescapable conclusion of the Reformed doctrine of sovereignty: God has predetermined every sin.

After watching the video clip, consider this: in Reformed theology, a rapist will experience conscious, eternal torment unless he repents of his sins, and yet God chose the rapist to be an agent for the rape; therefore, the rapist had to rape because God predetermined it; and furthermore, God may have chosen (back before the first human being became conscious) to damn the rapist. (Better yet, the rapist is due for the same punishment as an average American middle-class Joe who never commits a crime, but that’s another matter.)

So, rapist, repent from what God forced you to do according to his perfect will, or, repent from being an agent for God’s perfect will. Oh, and it’s still the rapist’s fault, not the fault of the almighty, all-powerful sovereign God of the universe, who made the rapist rape.

You have to be angry at sin and God’s will at the same time.

Have you ever seen a horror movie in which the evil creep forces someone to do something despicable?

Of course this view of sovereignty doesn’t make sense. The ultimate end of Reformed views of sovereignty is to ask us to believe in a God who created goodness while also having a completely different definition of goodness — a definition that has not the slightest bit of analogy to our definition.

Can we even understand Christ’s sacrifice without analogies? Many people understand a soldier sacrificing himself for others during a battle, or a mother sacrificing herself for her children. Some people have described Christ’s sacrifice as a judge issuing a sentence on me and then taking the punishment himself.

(To declare the analogy imperfect doesn’t matter — the analogy is being used to communicate what is said to be the most important message, ever.)

If not the slightest analogy exists between our understanding and God’s understanding, the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture has to go because language itself becomes moot — and mute. Without some semblance of analogy, no bridge between our minds and God’s mind can exist.

Elsewhere, Piper has made a plea for us not to let our minds build “implications” too far out from Biblical teachings, a softened version of other statements he has made.

But biblical interpretation itself is the building of implications. That’s not hard to figure out. Why did Piper say that about “implications”? Why do people listen to him? It must be an ideological thing, like, as long as you’re against taxes, you’ll have the favor of Republicans, or as long as you’re pro-choice, you’ll have the favor of Hollywood, never mind the reasoning behind your position or your other positions.

And when an interpretation or implication nauseates our moral consciences, we ought to be able to say it’s a wrong interpretation or implication.

(This remains confusing to me: the Reformed folks, and many others, demand that we systematize the Bible’s teachings, and then they pull back at convenient moments and declare “mystery.” They specialize in rationalistic interpretations of Scripture while Scripture itself has for too many textual variations and outright contradictions to stand in a strictly rationalistic manner. To say the Scripture should be seen as poetic truth would probably be misunderstood because people today have too low of a view of poetry, similar to the degradation of the word “myth,” which was enormously valuable to C.S. Lewis.)

Of course, Piper’s view isn’t the only available view. In his book The Beauty of the Infinite, Eastern Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart writes, “At a critical moment in cultural history — not that there were not various fateful moves in the history of Western theology that led to it — many Christian thinkers somehow forgot that the incarnation of the Logos, the infinite ratio of all that is, reconciles us not only to God, but to the world, by giving us back a knowledge of creation’s goodness, allowing us to see again its essential transparency — even to the point, in Christ, of identity — before God. The covenant of light was broken. God became, progressively, the world’s infinite contrary. And this state of theological decline was so precipitous and complete that it even became possible for someone as formidably intelligent as Calvin, without any apparent embarrassment, to regard the fairly lurid portrait of the omnipotent despot of book III of his Institutes – who not only ordains the destiny of souls, but in fact predestines the first sin, and so brings the whole drama of creation and redemption to pass (including the eternal perdition of the vast majority of humanity) as a display of his own dread sovereignty — as a proper depiction of the Christian God. One ancient Augustinian misreading of Paul’s ruminations upon the mystery of election had, at last, eventuated fatalism.”

In Piper’s mind and in many evangelical and Reformed minds, God is “the world’s infinite contrary,” to the point where not the slightest semblance of analogy exists between our use of “good” and God’s “good.” Rape is bad for us, but good for God.

My church, full of feeling, does not think of these things, and offers Piper’s books, and quotes Piper in its materials. Which is worse — the belief that rape is good for God, or the insanely liberal theology of a denomination’s national church? Please tell me this is a false dilemma.

‘We can’t argue with personal experience’


An excerpt from the recent Strange Days column:

“I’m sure this woman believes she is in touch with God when she speaks in tongues, and I’m sure she feels righteous in dismissing science. I’m not going to judge her faith or religious practice. I probably won’t ever have to converse with her or occupy the same space as her. Right now, somewhere else in the world, someone is rubbing a rabbit’s foot or reading a horoscope or begging a dead relative for rain — and these activities are equally meaningless to me and my obligations to my community and my family today.”

Read all of “See me, feel me.”

Behavior modification is ‘Godly character’


A lady with Proverbs 31 Ministries was doing a little infomercial on the “positive, encouraging” Christian radio station, K-Love (my daughters insist on listening).

The lady’s concern on this occasion was the motherly embarrassment of poorly behaved children. Her solution was to tell her children how to behave and state clear consequences for not behaving properly, so being polite was a better option than not. This, she said, was a way to instill “Godly character” in children.

Nonsense.

Most people should (but probably don’t) realize this woman’s solution has nothing to do with theology, doctrine, or faith. Any parent of any belief system can use behavior-modification methods. No God, “biblical” or otherwise, is required for training children (and some pets) to believe one behavioral option is better than another. The brains and central nervous systems of most mammals can respond to that method.

I won’t venture a guess about whether some behavior modification methods are good or bad for children (or classrooms or even employees). My point has nothing to do with a judgment call on behavior modification in and of itself. The problem should be (but probably isn’t) clear: Once again in the arid lands of evangelicalism, character has nothing to do with a heart-felt response to a clear picture of divine grace, mercy, and love. “Godly” simply means “well-behaved.” And “character” means “not getting on mom’s nerves.”

What about character that lasts when no one is around to punish you for getting out of line? Trust me, I’ve seen children who were never given the choice to get out of line — at least not without facing significant punishment — and when they were older and on their own, all they could do is run wild.

There’s no chance to develop self-control when there’s too much authoritarian control.

But as we’ve seen in China and the late Soviet Union, authority can control many outcomes.

In my personal, limited observations, many unbelieving parents seem to stumble upon something like moderation and balance in their lives and their children’s lives — probably because they’re not listening to K-Love’s infomercials.