Our Reasonable Faith 11

This post is by RJS
Here is the big question facing us today… What is the problem?
We do not live in the Garden of Eden (Utopia, Shangri La, Paradise — you name it). Most of us would agree that it is self evident that something is fundamentally wrong with the world we currently occupy. The 20th century, with genocide, war, greed, injustice, and selfishness, has disabused the optimistic view of the inherent goodness of humanity and the evolution of human society. So then, what is the problem — and — what is the solution? In Chapter 10 of The Reason for GodTim Keller tackles the problem.

The Christian answer of course is Sin – but this simply begs the question, unless we first come to an understanding of sin.
Keller defines sin fundamentally as seeking to establish self by making something else more central to your significance, purpose, and happiness than your relationship to God. (p. 162) Sin is failure to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.
Keller expands on this idea:
Identity apart from God is inherently unstable. Self worth and self identity can disappear in an instant if founded on freedom, success, parenthood, work, achievement, church leadership, the esteem of others…
Worse yet – identity apart from God is socially destructive. If our highest ultimate goal is centered in the good of our family we will tend to care less for other families. If our highest goal is the good of our nation we will tend to care less for other nations, and may “defend” ours at all costs. If our highest goal is our individual happiness we will put our economic and power interests ahead of others. If our highest goal is our religion we will despise and demonize those from other religious traditions. If our highest goal is the good of our church, if our identity is centered in our church or denomination, we will defend it by denigrating other churches and denominations.
And – think about it — if our identity is centered our class, our race, our gender — classism, racism, and sexism are the unavoidable consequences.

So racism, classism, and sexism are not matters of ignorance or lack of education. Foucault and others in our time have shown that it is far harder than we think to have a self-identity that doesn’t lead to exclusion. The real culture war is taking place inside our own disordered hearts, wracked by inordinate desires for things that control us, that lead us to feel superior and exclude those without them, and that fail to satisfy us even when we get them. (p. 169)

The problem is not “human evil” – power, domination, and violence – these are merely unavoidable consequences of the problem.
Ok — Keller has had his say (with a little of mine thrown in for good measure) , now lets open the general discussion:
What is The Problem? And— if the problem is sin: What is Sin?

  • http://www.graysonsinfrance.net Rob G

    I think Keller’s comments about identity and security are on the mark. Jesus made the essential commandments clear: love God and love others. I think we find it impossible to do this when our security and identity are not fully in Him. Result: even with the best of intentions, we fall short of God’s standard.
    The problem is that in order to live out these two essential commandments, we have to dethrone ourself. Painful. As a well-known speaker in the UK once said, “the problem with a living sacrifice is that it keeps trying to crawl off the altar”.

  • Scott M

    The fundamental problem? Our trust in God fails. Pride, the attempt to secure our own place, failure to love God, failure to love others, and much more all flow from our failure to trust God to be who he is.

  • http://www.JesusCreed.org Scot McKnight

    Perhaps the most potent image Jesus used for following him was self-crucifixion or taking up the cross. That, in itself, speaks of the self as the problem. Good question, RJS.

  • Duane

    SELF INTEREST IS BUT THE SURVIVAL OF THE ANIMAL IN US—HUMANITY ONLY BEGINS FOR MAN WITH SELF-SURRENDER.
    –Henri-Frederic Amiel

  • RJS

    We can focus the question a bit perhaps:
    Do the problems in human society arise from selfishness, self-centeredness (self as individual or community)?
    Or
    Do the problems in human society arise from a failure to be God centered?

  • http://wondersforoyarsa.blogspot.com Wonders for Oyarsa

    I’m feeling Eastern today, so I’m going to say that the problem is an enslavement to death – a bondage to decay. Here’s David Hart on the matter:
    The natural world overwhelms us with its splendor, its beauty, its immensities and fragilities, its incalculable diversity, its endless combinations of the colossal and the delicate, sweetness and glory, minute intricacies and immeasurable grandeurs. It is easy, and among the most spontaneous movements of the soul, to revere the God glimpsed in the iridescence of flowered meadows, the emerald light of the deep forest, the soft, immaculate blue of distant mountains, the shining volubility of the sunlit sea, the pale, cold glitter of the stars. This is a perfectly wise and even holy impulse.
    But, at the same time, all the splendid loveliness of the natural world is everywhere attended – and, indeed, preserved – by death. All life feeds on life, each creature must yield its place in time to another, and at the heart of nature is a perpetual struggle to survive and increase at the expense of other beings. It is as if the entire cosmos were somehow predatory, a single great organism nourishing itself upon the death of everything to which it gives birth, creating and devouring all things with a terrible and impassive majesty. Nature squanders us with such magnificent prodigality that it is hard not to think that something enduringly hideous and abysmal must abide in the depths of life.
    Considered “from below,” from within the system of nature, the force that drives and animates and shapes the whole of the organic world seems to achieve an almost perfectly transparent epitome of itself in those lavishly floriferous but parasitic vines that – urged always upward by a blind, thrusting, idiotic heliotropism – climb toward the light of the sun by choking the life from the trees around which they grow, constantly struggling out of the shadows in their thirst for the light, extending one tenuous tendril after another toward the sun to swell and slowly suffocate the boughs they entwine, until they burgeon forth at the last in such gorgeous and copious flowers that one might forget what had to perish to make such a triumph possible.

    So the problem is that our meeting of our own needs is intrinsically linked to choking the life out of others. Such is the very essence of sin – idolatry – trying to get life from what is not God. Our world is enslaved to death at every level – the natural world, the world of human culture, and the world of the individual heart.
    By the way Scot, I would really like to see you discuss The Doors of the Sea by the Orthodox theologian David Hart – by far the best treatment of the problem of evil I’ve ever read.

  • http://www.getting-free.blogspot.com T

    Keller states it (the real problem) very, very well. I love this (which I guess RJS’ paraphrase): “Identity apart from God is inherently unstable. Self worth and self identity can disappear in an instant if founded on freedom, success, parenthood, work, achievement, church leadership, the esteem of others.” Amen.
    Re: “sin”, I’ve been told that it was chiefly an archery term for “falling short” of an intended target. That image has helped me. “Falling short” is ontologically something I’m bound to do, even when I’m aiming at the right thing. Sometimes, of course, I intentionally choose a target different from God and his purposes all together. But other times, I just fall short of the right target–”the good I want to do”, as Paul said it. (On a side note, I actually use the phrase “fall short” instead of “sin” in virtually all contexts now, precisely because the term “sin” seems to have taken on abusive meanings for many that aren’t in the biblical usage.)
    I realize that concept of falling short then begs the question, “What’s the target?”, which I think you, Keller, and some others described well above, and could be stated several ways: the Jesus Creed, the fruit of the Spirit, thorough and complete Christlikeness, God’s will being done on earth perfectly, just like it is in heaven, etc. In a word, the target of our apprenticeship is Jesus.

  • http://www.matthewsblog.waynesborochurchofchrist.org Matthew

    Sin is certainly a cause of numerous illnesses on this world. The fallen nature of creation and man affect the planet. But with all explanations, there is still holes in the argument. It does not seem that nature calamities are an effect from sin. This is a good attempt, but there is still questions.
    http://www.matthewsblog.waynesborochurchofchrist.org

  • http://www.jesustheradicalpastor.com John W Frye

    Behind every sin is a lie. The Genesis 3 story makes this evident. The lie is that we can experience life, as it was meant to be, without God. Life apart from God, even at its best, is a counterfeit reality. “May true reality come and be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

  • http://www.graysonsinfrance.net Rob G

    Great comment, John (#8), and a great quote to go with it.

  • Mike K

    I would have been very disappointed in Keller if he did not use the word signficance in defining the problem. Humans will do anything to get it…even give up their very lives.
    I see this occur in religious circles as well where folks find a sense of signficance in a shared belief structure. This cuts across all racial, gender, ethnic, social, educational, lines. Finding significance in God is something we all talk about but very few (if any) really get it.

  • RJS

    Is significance different from identity?
    We have discussed in the past the “evils” done in the name of Christianity. Certainly Dawkins, Hitchens, and the like are quick to trumpet and catalogue these.
    Is the problem here that Christians have found significance or identity in their Christianity — and this is Sin?

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com/ ChrisB

    Briefly, my two cents on this chapter: I’ve been surprised by how little Calvinism appears in this book and especially in this chapter more than any other. It seems like Keller spent a lot of time … psychoanalyzing (for lack of a better word) sin rather than addressing sin’s eternal consequences.
    Reviews I read before I started this book called it Mere Christianity for the postmoderns, and here this is most evident. This Reformed preacher never really talks about hell. As the book progresses, he will bring in the notion of the cross and substitutionary atonement, but you’re being saved from your self-destructive lifestyle more than the eternal consequences of sin. Odd for a Calvinist. [/my two cents]
    What is the problem?
    Sin, but to me sin is still best understood as a rebellion. As Paul put it, the commandment created covetousness in him, and I find that I may never have had a desire to do something, but I want to do it as soon as it’s forbidden.
    When we sin we’re putting ourselves at the center of the universe, yes, but more than that we’re trying to wrest control away from God — control of our lives and whatever else we can get away with. And in doing that we join Satan and his angels in their rebellion (hence sharing their fate).
    There are other valid ways to think about sin, but in isolation from this view, I don’t think the cross makes sense. (Jesus had to die to make me less self-centered? Really?!)

  • http://www.jesustheradicalpastor.com John W Frye

    RJS (#11),
    I think you raise a subtle, yet crucial distinction. If we find significance or identity in the construct called “Christianity,” then I say “Yes, that is sin.” Why? Because it has become an idol. Paul uses an interesting phrase in Col. 3—”…when Christ, who is your life, appears…” Identity and significance are relationally governed, not doctrinally or system-of-truth governed.

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com/ ChrisB

    Re: #5, I think failure to be God-centered produces selfishness, etc (as Keller put it, something will fill the void — typically it’s “me”), which in turn causes all kinds of societal ills.

  • http://awaitingredemption.blogspot.com Matt Edwards

    I like N.T. Wright’s definition of sin taken from Romans 1–worship of the created rather than the Creator.
    I am noticing more and more contractual language in the Bible, especially in the OT. Loyalty is a supreme virtue. The various words translated sin in English Bibles have nuances such as “missing the mark,” “crossing a boundary,” etc. That makes me think that maybe the idea behind sin is “disloyalty” to God, or failure to live up to the reasonable expectations of the God-people relationship.
    God is Creator and deserves to be worshipped as such. Failure to do so is “sin.” That being said, sin is more than just behavior; it is a sickness and a cosmic power.
    What is the problem? Sin.
    What is sin? A cosmic force/sickness that “makes” people worship created things rather than the Creator. Sinful behaviors flow from this worship.

  • Mike K

    I am not sure that it is important (in the context of this discussion) to tease apart the difference between signficance and identity…I see them as the same thing. What is important is to recognize this as a problem in our religious circles. I hear a lot of “hooray for our side” type comments within christian contexts (i.e. anti-homosexual comments, political conservative agenda being pushed, etc.) which gives me to think that this behavior is motivated by our need for signficance outside of God…not particularly a call to be a part of the kingdom. Yeah, I would call it sin.

  • http://theupsidedownworld.wordpress.com Rebeccat

    I actually think that there is something deeper which happened in the fall than we realize. To start with, the fall was not simply the result of disobedience on the part of Adam and Eve. Rather, it was the natural consequence of eating from “the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”. They were tempted by the idea that they would “be like God, knowing good and evil.” This to me says that knowing good and evil is a fundamental characteristic of God which we are not capable of having/handling properly. After eating of the fruit, Adam and Eve immediately began seeing evil where they had previously perceived there to be none (ie shame at their nakedness). Their newfound perspective meant that they were no longer able to walk face-to-face with God. It warped their whole relationship with Him. And not just in a cosmic “you have fallen short and are in need of redemption” sort of way. They very way that man interacts with God was warped as the result of consuming the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
    All of this makes me wonder if, along with the evil of sin, there wasn’t some shift in us and our perception which accounts for the “off-ness” of the world. I wonder if it isn’t even possible that the world is not as “off” as we think it is, but if it is our perspective (or lack thereof) which makes it appear to be so.

  • Nancy

    #6 – WFO: Wow! Thank you for sharing that excerpt. Another name and title for my reading list which had only just extended itself again this morning with Scot’s invitation to read Alan Jamieson. I really enjoyed, no appreciated is probably a better word, David Hart’s prose and insights. So many books, so little time….

  • http://beyondwordsworth.com Kathy

    Rebaccat, I appreciate your thoughts on this. It’s like the Habbakuk 2:14 passage that describes New Creation as the earth being full of the knowledge of the Lord as water covers the sea. Maybe New Creation and Parousia are two elements of the same event–they are the same event. This gives me hope.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    I think this is an excellent diagnosis and an excellent definition of sin. And I agree that the fundamental “problem” is sin.
    But let me play devil’s advocate a bit, because I think skeptics won’t be satisfied at all by this diagnosis. Is the “problem” rooted in sin, or is it rooted in a supposedly loving and powerful God who allows sin?
    We say the triune God, in the eternal perichoretic dance of the trinity, needed nothing before creating the universe. We say the creation is “contingent,” meaning creation is the way it is not out of necessity, but only because of God’s creative will.
    So why did God create a universe that, in His omniscience, God knew would be shot through with rebellion and sin? Should God simply have refrained from creating and thereby avoided the “problem?” Or if God’s omniscience doesn’t extend to an unspecified future, ala open theism, is the problem that God is thus limited? Should God have understood the dangers of His limitations and refrained from acting?

  • http://wondersforoyarsa.blogspot.com Wonders for Oyarsa

    They were tempted by the idea that they would “be like God, knowing good and evil.” This to me says that knowing good and evil is a fundamental characteristic of God which we are not capable of having/handling properly.
    I actually think I disagree – I think this doesn’t appreciate the full subtlety of the temptation. For the vocation of man was to be “in God’s image, after his likeness”, and we know from Solomon’s request that the knowledge of good and evil is another word for “wisdom”. The temptation isn’t that the food isn’t pleasing to the eye, but in the subtle twisting of the expectation of the goodness of God. For God, in his wisdom, had forbidden them this good thing, for whatever reason, for that time. It was the imputation of suspicion – that God did this to safeguard his own power – that was the recognizable lie in the serpent’s temptation.
    What you see in Genesis, in my view, is the difference between faith and suspicion on the part of man. When man builds a tower to scale the heavens, he is cast down. But when man steps out on faith in God’s righteousness, he finds himself the beginning of a towering nation that will be drawn into one place and not scattered across the Earth. Even the curse of death itself becomes the vehicle of resurrection when endured in a posture of faith.

  • http://www.getting-free.blogspot.com T

    ChrisB,
    I think rebellion and self-centeredness are closer than your comment suggests (as are self-centeredness and misplaced worship). Similarly, the cross seems to be intended both as a remedy to the consequences of sin and the causes of sin itself (making the tree good), which seems to be Keller’s focus. The cross is, among other things, the ultimate embodiment of Jesus’ central teaching of agape (the opposite of self-centeredness), and, along with the resurrection, it’s the assurance that following this Way will end in life, not death, despite the real risks of agape toward neighbor and enemy alike. The cross and resurrection combine as the ultimate example and invitation to pull us from the way of life that leads to death: trying to keep our lives (instead of giving them in love for God and others, as the great commandments teach). The gospels and the epistles both say repeatedly and in various ways that living for ourselves will lead to death; the cross didn’t change that reality.
    In the cross and resurrection, Jesus “proves” his teachings work (among other things), and gives us boldness to follow him and them; he dispells the fears and belittles the desires that keep us trapped in our selfish, unfruitful and merciless way of living. And, he simultaneously makes us acceptable for intimate connection to his own Spirit to give us internal power toward that transformation, leading us into a kind of life that never dies. The cross definitely makes sense from a variety of angles, because of its multiple complementary purposes.

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    Humanity lives between a rock and a hard place. We were created for relationship with God. Because that relationship is broken, so is our relationship to others, to the nature, and even to ourselves. Without relationship to God there is no transcendent meaning or purpose. We were created for relationship with God yet we can’t re-enter God’s presence (and we’re not so sure we want to.) Yet we can’t live without transcendent meaning or purpose. The solution? Diversion.
    We are homeless in the world so we create new homes. In Genesis 4, Cain leaves God’s presence and enters Nod, meaning “wandering.” The first thing he does is start a family and build a city. He names his first son and the city Enoch, which means to “initiate.” Cain is seeking to initiate a home in the land of wandering.; he believes family and society will give him a sense of immortality and transcendence.
    Ever since, societies have been about diversion. We build constructs and relationships that give just enough illusion of meaning and transcendence to life to divert attention away from the fact that, when pressed hard, the illusion is just that. But as long as it can keep most of the folks diverted and content most of the time, then the illusion of home in the land of wandering can be sustained. God is about dis-illusionment so that he may be seen for his true character, the one who makes a way for a return back home and out of the land of wandering.
    Steve Taylor used to sing, “If immortality is what I’m buying, then I’d rather be immortal by not dying.” I think that at the base of the human condition is the futile desire for immortality apart from God.

  • RJS

    dopderbeck,
    I think that you may be right about the limitations of this diagnosis — especially in an apologetic framework.
    We have from the previous post the idea of the existence of God and an implicit recognition of God as creator – that from which everything comes.
    But – given that God knew that sin and rebellion was inevitable, and given that creation was contingent, not necessary, might we not be led then to the conclusion that a Universe shot through with sin and rebellion is not the worst possible outcome – perhaps even that it leads to a desirable outcome in the long run?

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com/ ChrisB

    Dopderbeck, that was chapter 2.
    T: I think rebellion and self-centeredness are closer than your comment suggests
    I’d probably agree. It’s kind of a chicken/egg thing.
    The cross is, among other things, the ultimate embodiment of Jesus’ central teaching of agape
    But why was it necessary? Because we’re “not right” when we’re selfish? No, because “the wages of sin is death.”
    I’m not arguing that Jesus’ goal wasn’t, in part, to “set right what once went wrong” (for the geeks out there), but simply that Keller all but ignores the notion of eternal consequences when addressing the cross. From this book, I’m not sure you’d learn that Jesus died to forgive our sins so much as to cure our selfishness. I think that’s a serious error.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    RJS said: might we not be led then to the conclusion that a Universe shot through with sin and rebellion is not the worst possible outcome – perhaps even that it leads to a desirable outcome in the long run?
    I respond: Yes — this is a classical apologetic move: a world in which there are beings who can freely choose to love is better than a world without such beings, because there is greater love in the former world; but beings who can freely choose to love also can choose not to love; therefore, the best possible world, in which there are beings who can freely chose to love, must also include the evil of beings who choose not to love.
    It’s a lovely Scholastic argument that works very well as a matter of formal consequentialist logic. I’m not sure how well it works if you’re, say, a young girl in a remote part of India who is forced into prostitution to pay a family debt, and who dies at an early age after a life of dissolution without ever hearing the gospel, and therefore presumably ends up spending eternity in hell.

  • RJS

    ChrisB,
    You are a bit unfair to dopderbeck here – while this should have been part of the topic of chapter 2, Keller really side steps the issues there. He gives standard platitudes of the sort I find rather unconvincing – and then moves to a key point: The existence of pain and suffering, sin and rebellion – however (why ever) it came about, is the reason for the story we find ourselves in. The Christian story is the story of evil conquered.

  • RJS

    Ah—and the key to that last, the really unpalatable part, is and therefore presumably ends up spending eternity in hell.
    Not only is there sin, rebellion, pain, suffering, and injustice in the short term – but eternal penalty for it on “innocents.”

  • Mark Z.

    ChrisB,
    What’s the point of forgiving our sins if our selfishness isn’t transformed?
    “Jesus had to die to make me less self-centered” makes more sense than “Jesus had to die to save me from the wrath of Jesus.”

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com/ ChrisB

    Mark Z, I’m sorry I was unclear. I’m not complaining about transforming our selfishness. I’m saying there is very little at all about forgiving sins.
    (And, yes, I would disagree completely with your second sentence.)

  • http://theupsidedownworld.wordpress.com Rebeccat

    #22 WFO: I don’t think it’s an either/or thing. I agree that the entry of suspicion and distrust into the relationship with God is central. However, I don’t think that the nature of the fruit which was eaten is at all inconsequential. It seems pretty clear from the text that eating the fruit caused an immediate, negative change in Adam and Eve. And it was a change which went well beyond suspicion against God. If anything, their perception of wrong is directed against themselves and not against God. Also, they were thrown out of the garden so that they would not remain in the state which eating the fruit caused them to be in forever by also eating of the tree of life. Again, to me this says that there was a problem with them having accessed the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil specifically rather than a more general “you’ve done wrong and no longer deserve to be here”.
    doperdbeck and rjs, the whole idea that God did not intend for us to ever fall into sin and rebellion seems kind of suspect to me as well. At the very least, the idea that God would place a tree as dangerous to our well being in the middle of the garden rather than off in some remote location would seem to be the height of irresponsibility on God’s part. It would be like me leaving my 3 year old alone playing by a busy highway with strict instructions not to go into the road and then blaming her when she got run over by a semi. Which is not to say that Adam and Eve were not fully culpable for their actions. However, God’s actions are also quite reckless in this regard. I also wonder if the outcome we find ourselves living in isn’t part of a bigger, better scheme which we don’t see right now. Or maybe not.
    However, the idea that it is so makes more sense to me in the light of the evil things which happen in this world. If there is a bigger plan in play, then perhaps there is room in that plan for enormous suffering to exist. However, if this is all some cosmic accident caused by rebellious humans and a negligent deity, then it’s hard to see what hope there is for the significant number of humans for whom life, due to sin and circumstance, is misery.

  • http://wondersforoyarsa.blogspot.com Wonders for Oyarsa

    Again, to me this says that there was a problem with them having accessed the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil specifically rather than a more general “you’ve done wrong and no longer deserve to be here”.
    Oh, indeed so. If I had to guess, I would say the text lends itself to the notion that God intended to teach them and build them up, such that in maturity they might be able to eat of such fruit. Look at his words to Cain – urging him, now that he has the knowledge of good and evil, to “do well”. Look at his deliberations about Abraham – deciding whether or not to hide the fate of Sodom from him – and eventually choosing to tell him on the grounds that Abraham will need to learn justice in his vocation before God. What I’m resisting is the idea that Satan was tempting them with something intrinsically alien to their nature or vocation. On the contrary, he was tempting them with something central, that was nevertheless forbidden to them by God at that time. At least, that’s how I read it.

  • RJS

    Interesting conjunction with the post on Wrath 10 – if Paul can say in Romans 9:

    Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. … Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one object for special use and another for ordinary use?

    is it a negligent deity that creates a number of humans for whom life, due to sin and circumstance, is misery; or simply a soveriegn deity – a “potter”.
    Or — what I actually tend to think — is this simply taking one passage and making way too much of it in the grand scheme, pushing it beyond the intended message?

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    Is part of the difficulty we’re having addressing this the western idea of “reason” or “reasonable?” One of the earlier posts notes that Keller soft-pedals Calvinism in this book. The Calvinisitic notion of God’s transcendent sovereignty is important to these discussions, I think. I wonder if at some point we have to say that our human limitations are exhausted.
    I simply can’t explain that enslaved, destitute Hindu girl. What I do know is that the cross wasn’t “plan B” — from before the creation of the world in the divine counsel of the triune God the Logos was to become man and die for the redemption of creation. Somehow that Hindu girl fits into this — whether to be redeemed through Christ in a way I don’t understand or to not participate in the new heavens and new earth for reasons I don’t understand. Like the incarnation and the cross, it isn’t unreasonable, but it’s beyond reasonable.

  • http://wondersforoyarsa.blogspot.com Wonders for Oyarsa

    What I do know is that the cross wasn’t “plan B” — from before the creation of the world in the divine counsel of the triune God the Logos was to become man and die for the redemption of creation.
    I hesitate to bring up a tired debate here, but if the cross is “plan A”, doesn’t that make the fall “plan A” as well? The cross is a thwarting of the enemy of death – doesn’t that make the enslavement of creation to death “plan A”? Doesn’t that make the glory of God dependent on evil, as if God could not reveal himself but by the existence of suffering and death? And doesn’t even the Westminster Confession of Faith itself wisely retreat to mystery on this point?

  • Brian

    RJS (#34),
    Speaking as one who sees a core of Calvinist thought genuinely coming from the Bible, I find the potter theme disturbing. What kind of potter destroys most of what he makes?

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com/ ChrisB

    doesn’t that make the fall “plan A” as well?
    You can say that God appointed the fall, or you can say that He foresaw and accepted the fall, but either way, the scriptures are clear that God was not surprised by the fall and planned on the cross before He created Man.
    We may not like the world we’ve been given, but there is clearly some kind of plan.

  • http://wondersforoyarsa.blogspot.com Wonders for Oyarsa

    the scriptures are clear that God was not surprised by the fall
    They also say that, in the face of the fall, God regretted creating man at all.
    Scripture gives us images in tension with each other on this point, and we need to take great care not to run wholly to one extreme and fall into error. It’s just as false to say that God elected to put some evil into his created plan and that evil is necessary to reveal God’s goodness as it is to say that God isn’t sovereign.

  • RJS

    ChrisB (#38),
    I think that you are right here – the fall was not an unexpected detour in God’s perfect creation – but somehow on the route to desirable outcome in the long run. The problem is Sin – and sin is fundamentally establishment of identity apart from God – making something else more central to your significance, purpose, and happiness – a consequence of “the Fall” however it came about.
    But that still leaves questions and conundrums; most significantly it leaves serious questions about hell, justice, judgment, and eternal damnation.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    Wonders for Oyarsa — good points. I think ChrisB is right, though. God’s sovereignty and foreknowledge don’t make God the author of evil, and this doesn’t mean evil is “necessary” to reveal God’s goodness. By saying creation is “contingent,” I mean to say that there is nothing that compels creation to be the way it is, or to be at all. God allowed room for creation to be out of love, not out of need — including any supposed need for glorification or worship. God deserves our worship, but He doesn’t need it.
    Yet, in His sovereignty and foreknowledge, God created a universe in which He knew and allowed that evil would exist, and He planned for the redemption of that creation from the outset, not as a plan-B band aid. Yes, this is a mystery, at least to me.
    Personally, I don’t take the scriptures about God “regretting” or “repenting” as reflecting limitations on God’s ability to know the future, as do most open theists. I don’t see open theism offering a satisfing theodicy, though I think that is what it is in many ways designed to do. IMHO, you end up with a God who is constantly scrambling around to clean up messes he didn’t foresee — which would make me wonder whether all this stuff about the fullfillment of the Kingdom of God is pregnant with another mess waiting to happen. But maybe my understanding of open theism is too limited.

  • RJS

    dopderbeck.
    I am not too happy with open theism and an image of God scrambling to clean up messes he didn’t forsee. But I wonder if there is a distinction here between a grand scheme plan on the macroscale where there are no surprises and a plan that requires micromanagment of the details. In this sense I think about – oh thermodynamics – which is on a macroscale undeniable, but strictly because of statistics of large ensembles.

  • http://wondersforoyarsa.blogspot.com Wonders for Oyarsa

    But maybe my understanding of open theism is too limited.
    I don’t claim any knowledge of open theism – the little I know about is from listening to John Polkinghorne on other topics.
    While I don’t have trouble saying that the defeat of evil on the cross is central to the eternal plan of God, I have serious problem with any theodicy that acts as if the evil of the world was planned ahead of time for some greater good – where God is the author of evil rather than its conqueror. And, though I don’t subscribe to “open theism” (indeed, I don’t know much about it), I do think that this does require at least a mysterious sense in which creation has a real freedom to rebel against the good purposes of God, and thus things can be said to be happening “against his will” even if by his sovereign goodness God will always turn evil back on itself such that he will achieve his triumph which was somehow in accordance to his eternal purposes (again, in some mysterious way).
    It’s a tightrope to walk, and any notion of divine sovereignty that obliterates creaturely freedom, or vise versa, in my view must be rejected.
    Anyway, I’m sorry for derailing this thread.

  • http://wondersforoyarsa.blogspot.com Wonders for Oyarsa

    But I wonder if there is a distinction here between a grand scheme plan on the macroscale where there are no surprises and a plan that requires micromanagment of the details.
    The intuition that seems most fruitful to me is to look at the cross of Christ for our definition of “divine sovereignty”. This is what an “all-powerful, all-good” God looks like in ruling and controlling all things – like the man on the cross. From that throne he subverts all powers and dominions of the world to his will, putting all things under his authority by taking upon himself the form of a servant. This is mysterious indeed, but it does hint at a richer and more surprising sovereignty that somehow submits itself to the will of its creatures, and insodoing reigns over all.

  • http://placesivebeen.wordpress.com Jonas Borntreger

    Two paragraphs that I wrote some time back seem to at least partially apply to the current discussion. JJB
    The attribute of God that speaks most prominently to me, in the place where I am right now, is His peace. I often find myself chaotic, with actions and attitudes that reflect that chaos. When I consider God, I realize that He never loses ‘His cool.’ He never runs around covering His bases because He was somehow blindsided or because He was sloppy in executing His affairs. He has never gotten behind time: He sent His son ‘in the fullness of time.’
    There have often been times when it appears that everything didn’t go according to the original plan of God. Those aberrations are always because of what we do or don’t do, and never because of Him. And yet in each of these situations, if we look close enough we find that in each of our failings, God has already pre-engineered a plan for taking our bumbling and turning it into a greater blessing. Joseph’s brothers meant it for evil; God meant it for good.

  • http://awaitingredemption.blogspot.com Matt Edwards

    I always bring thoughts of God’s relationship to pre-fall Eden back to God’s relationship to the eschaton–a return to Eden.
    People seem pretty certain that when God makes right everything that has gone wrong, that this “making right” will extend indefinitely. In other words, there will not be another fall. If God is able to bring to consummation a world in which there will not be another fall, why didn’t He create it that way in the first place? If the fall “caught God by surprise” or if God allowed the fall because He can’t interfere with free will, how can we be sure that God is powerful enough to redeem the effects of the fall? What if “free” creatures in the future want to sin again? Will God be able to prevent them? Is creation/fall/redemption an infinitely repeating cycle?
    To me, it is inescapable that the fall was part of God’s plan and that in the mystery of His will such a scenario was preferable than one without the fall and redemption.

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com/ ChrisB

    Jonas reminds me of a passage I’ve always found a bit remarkable. In Exodus 4, God is telling Moses that he’s going to be God’s spokesman to Pharaoh and Israel, but Moses begs off:
    “Then the LORD’s anger burned against Moses and he said, ‘What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you…’” (Ex 4:14, emphasis mine).

  • http://wondersforoyarsa.blogspot.com Wonders for Oyarsa

    “a return to Eden”?
    A city, rather than a garden.
    Clothed in white, rather than naked.
    No need for Sun or Moon, for the Lord dwells with them (rather than just walking in the cool of the day).
    There was no longer any sea.
    The first Adam knew not good and evil, the last one had overcome evil through his death on the cross.
    If anything, it is the fulfillment of what Eden was the beginning of, rather than a return to it. There is more contrast than comparison.

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    #48
    Beautifully said, Wonders.

  • http://theupsidedownworld.wordpress.com/2008/06/02/book-of-job-chapter-2-lowering-the-boom/ Rebeccat

    Older bible translations pretty much all translate Isaiah 45:7 as “Forming light, and preparing darkness, Making peace, and preparing evil, I [am] Jehovah, doing all these things.” (Youngs literal translation). That is, they include the phrase “preparing/create evil”. Newer translations usually put in the word “calamity” or “woe”, although the word used here (ra’) is almost always translated as evil in other spots.
    I think that the problem is that we conflate sin and evil. God is not the author of our or anyone else’s sin. We turn freely away from God, fall short of His commands and elevate lesser things and concerns to the spot which only God can occupy. God cannot sin – he cannot turn away from His own being, he cannot fall short of His own commands and He cannot elevate something else to the spot which He already occupies. However, I would argue that God can and does do evil. If killing men, women, children and babes in arms isn’t evil then the word has no meaning. Yet that is the command of God. If the disasters which befell the Israelites, from their captivity in Babylon to the desporia into lands where they were hated and harassed after the fall of Jerusalem aren’t evil, then again, the word has no meaning. Over and over in scriptures we read God saying that He is/will send evil to a group of people who displease Him. It seems hard to argue in the light of such scriptures that evil is not a tool which God keeps in His box to use for His ultimate purposes.
    I know that the idea of God causing, much less creating evil is disturbing to some. I would argue that it is in fact our only hope for the ultimate redemption of the suffering of mankind. Truly, if the evil which is the result of nothing more than being born in the wrong time, in the wrong place, of being struck by natural disasters and sickness is simply random, outside of God’s will for His creation, then the best that God can do is prevent this evil from continuing through eternity. Which isn’t nothing, mind you. However, I do find it much more hopeful when going through evil to think that there is some larger purpose and design meant for my benefit. Or perhaps maybe not even my benefit per se, but for the benefit of others.
    I dunno. Like I’ve said before: I could be wrong. BTW, if anyone is interested, I am actually starting a study of Job which includes a look at some of these very same issues here. The link in my name above will take you to the study of Chapter 2 which also has a link to the study of Chapter 1.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    Wonders #48 — well said I think. This hearkens back to Ireneaus’ idea of creation as made to develop and grow. Ted Peters, a major voice in faith-science dialogues, uses this to develop a “proleptic” understanding of God’s plan for creation — meaning that creation is best viewed from an eschatological purpose looking backwards rather than from the beginning looking forwards. We can’t address theodicy, in Peters’ view, without starting with the final telos of God reconciling all things to himself.
    I like this; Ted Peters is brilliant; But, Peters’ proleptic view tends to lead to and assume a sort of universalism which seems very difficult to reconcile with other aspects of Biblical theology. I wonder if there is a proleptic approach to creation and theodicy that doesn’t lead to universalism.

  • http://theupsidedownworld.wordpress.com/2008/06/02/book-of-job-chapter-2-lowering-the-boom/ Rebeccat

    dopderbeck, there is a strong, biblical argument to be made for universalism, you know. There are some real problems with translations of certain words and many, many scriptures which indicate a final reconciliation of all of creation in God. It was also the generally accepted belief of the early church fathers. Anywho, IJS.
    And I agree that WFO’s formulation is wonderful, btw. I’m going to have to remember that.

  • http://wondersforoyarsa.blogspot.com Wonders for Oyarsa

    Hi Rebeccat,
    It may be some limited comfort to think that all evil is really “good in disguise”, but think of the cost of such a comfort! Every tragedy, every evil, every bit of suffering and death is necessary and even, in a sense, justified. One must look at the Nazi concentration camps and see it as somehow good, rather than hating it with a perfect hatred. Indeed, what we have is a God who is “beyond good and evil”, whose ends somehow justify the means. There seems to me all the difference in the world in “subversively turning evil back on itself so that good triumphs” and “actively planning evil that good may abound”.
    Here is more of David Hart on the matter:
    God does not simply submit himself to the cycle of natural necessity or to the dialectic of historical necessity but shatters the power of both, and thereby overthrows the ancient principalities, the immemorial empire of death. Easter utterly confounds the rulers of this age, and in fact reverses the verdict they have pronounced upon Christ, thereby revealing that the cosmic, scared, political, and civic powers of all who condemn Christ have become tyranny, falsehood, and injustice. Easter is an act of “rebellion” against all false necessity and all illegitimate or misused authority, all cruelty and heartless chance. It liberates us from servitude to and terror before the “elements”. It emancipates us from fate. It overcomes the “world”. Easter should make rebels of us all.
    If we settle for mere optimism – trying to see evil as really “good” after all, we miss all this. We trivialize the victory Christ won on the cross. It’s a cheap comfort to reconcile oneself to the evil of the world, when our Lord has triumphed so thoroughly over it.
    As for comfort, when we seek it, I can imagine none greater than the happy knowledge that when I see the death of a child, I do not see the face of God but the face of his enemy. Such faith might never seem credible to someone like Ivan Karamozov, or still the disquiet of his conscience, or give him peace in place of rebellion, but neither is it a faith that his arguments can defeat: for it is a faith that set us free from optimism long ago and taught us hope instead. Now we are able to rejoice that we are saved not through the immanent mechanisms of history and nature, but by grace; that God will not unite all of history’s many strands in one great synthesis, but will judge much of history false and damnable; that he will not simply reveal the sublime logic of fallen nature, but will strike off the fetters in which creation languishes; and that, rather than showing us how the tears of a small girl suffering in the dark were necessary for the building of the Kingdom, he will instead raise her up and wipe all tears away from her eyes — and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor any more pain, for the former things will have passed away, and he that sits upon the throne will say, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’
    I’m sorry if I’m being pretty heavy-handed here, but I firmly believe we need not compromise our faith in the goodness of God in any way, shape, or form.

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    #51 dopderbeck
    “…meaning that creation is best viewed from an eschatological purpose looking backwards rather than from the beginning looking forwards.”
    This is what both Miroslav Volk and Darrell Cosden do in there examination work and the created order.
    “I wonder if there is a proleptic approach to creation and theodicy that doesn’t lead to universalism.”
    It is possible Peters may be leaning this direction (I too like his work) but I’m not clear why a proleptic approach would necessarily lead to universalism.

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    #50 Rebeccat
    I echo WFO’s concerns in #53. Some would argue that evil is not a positive presence, but rather the absence of something. Just like cold is not the existence of something. It is the absence of heat. Sin is our human will turned loose in the absence of a relationship to God. God redeems the consequences of evil but in the sense I’ve described it, God can not do sinful things.

  • http://awaitingredemption.blogspot.com/ Matt Edwards

    WFO #48
    Rev 22:2-3 NIV: “On each side of the river is the tree of life producing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month of the year. Its leaves are for the healing of the nations. And there will no longer be any curse, and the throne of God and the Lamb will be in the city.”
    This language clearly alludes to Eden. The fact that there is “no longer” any curse implies a return to what once was. Certainly there is more to the eschaton than just a trip back in time to what should have been, but I think restoration of what was lost is at least part of the picture.

  • http://wondersforoyarsa.blogspot.com Wonders for Oyarsa

    Hi Matt #56,
    Even in what you cite there is contrast. Obviously Eden is the point of comparison/contrast, but in your short quote I see several things:
    No tree of knowledge of good and evil
    The tree of life is being used for the healing of the nations
    The throne of God and of the Lamb is now with man, which is now a city rather than a garden
    My point is that you do not need every evil as God’s active doing in order to have hope for its ultimate overthrow. If it was a simple “return to Eden” in every respect – a return to the initial state – then, yes, you might have the risk of it always happening the same way again. But, in this case, we have man not in his infant naivety, but as “he who has overcome” evil and death. If Eden is the beginning with potential for good and evil, then the new Jerusalem is the realization of the good.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    Matt (#56) — yes, clearly that is an allusion to Eden. I’m not sure that a proleptic understanding of creation has to eliminate any sense of “restoration” — or I guess I should say, I don’t think it ought to eliminate any sense of restoration. Maybe its helpful to think of “restoration” as a restoration of potential rather than a static return to a perfect paradise.
    The image of humanity’s role in Eden isn’t static — there are plants to be tended, animals to be husbanded, an earth to be filled, goals to be accomplished. In more modern terms, imagine what could be accomplished through fields like bio- and nanotechnology if human beings were in unbroken, loving fellowship with God and each other. I think some of the things science is learning now about how to cure disease, prolong life, etc. represent the slow recovery of potential lost at the Fall. This is just speculation, but could the “Tree of Life” in some way represent redemptive restoration (it also alludes to the cross) that, in removing the barrier of sinful self-worship, allows humanity to achieve its social and technological potential as a process extending into and throughout the eschaton?

  • Dianne P

    Michael,
    “Sin is our human will turned loose in the absence of a relationship to God.”
    Maybe I’m taking this in a direction it’s not meant to go, but does this mean that for those not in a relationship with God, their acts are sinful?

  • http://awaitingredemption.blogspot.com Matt Edwards

    WfO and dopderbeck,
    Thanks for pointing out that the eschaton is not completely a return to Eden. Even though I don’t think we agree in the overall metanarrative of history, I can see even within my own view that the eschaton will be qualitatively different and better than Eden so that an infinite loop of creation/fall/redemption is not demanded.
    WfO #57
    The Eden/eschaton comparison is not a 1:1 analogy. But the Jewish hope was that the curse brought on by the fall would be reversed in the eschaton. You even see this in extra-biblical writings (2 Baruch 73–74, for instance). But I see what you are saying; that there is something “gained” in history so that the eschaton is not completely like Eden. What I don’t yet understand is how evil is a necessary component of God’s work in history.
    dopderbeck #58
    Systematic theology is not my strong suit, so I have never studied a “proleptic” understanding of creation. From your other posts, I see what you are getting at. If I am not mistaken, you are promoting an eschatology that looks forward instead of backward. While I would agree that in some ways the human role in Eden wasn’t “static,” in other ways it was. Something was lost, and I think there is evidence that in some ways the ancients were looking for a return to when the earth was tov tov, “very good.” But maybe we can call the eschaton tov tov tov.
    Any recommended reading to better understand your view?

  • http://wondersforoyarsa.blogspot.com Wonders for Oyarsa

    What I don’t yet understand is how evil is a necessary component of God’s work in history.
    And it is this that I resist – the idea that God initiates evil as a necessary building block of a greater good that could not be otherwise achieved. I think there is something really insidious about such a belief – an erosion of confidence in the goodness of God in order to affirm his sheer power. If anything, I must assert the goodness of God above all else, and if God is not good I must not worship him, but seek out a better God than he (though he threaten to torment me with tyrannical might). But there is none good but God, and so I cling to him.
    Does this make sense? If there is evil in the world, it is here against God’s will, and is not a necessary component of his purposes. Evil is the enemy, and not the servant of God. Yes, we find that the sovereign and subtle redemptive plan of God works in all things his redemption, and exploits evil for good, but we must NEVER attribute evil to God. If we did find a god who intentionally brought evil to a world hitherto untroubled by it, we would have a hint that this is not a god we should be serving.

  • Scott M

    The Christian God is most definitely a god who brings good out of evil, even to the point of transformation so dramatic it can only be described in the language of new creation. But he is also not the source or author of evil. Evil has no part in him. There are plenty of other gods who are the source of both good and evil. That’s not an unusual story. It’s just not the Christian story.

  • http://awaitingredemption.blogspot.com Matt Edwards

    Hmmm . . .
    If you don’t believe that God could have prevented evil and yet, in the mystery of His will, chose not to, I don’t see how you can have any confidence that He is able to stop evil in the future. Maybe I’m just obtuse, but I don’t see it.

  • Scott M

    It’s not a question of power. Nor is it tied up in an essentially Western idea of ‘will’. Rather, it is a declaration that the mighty creator God has chosen to speak into being a creation ultimately manifested in eikons of God who have the capacity to participate in the life of God or turn from him. And it is that capacity, whenever it is used to stand against God, which contributes to the evil and death of creation. Yes, we have inherited death, but we add to that death every time we choose death instead of life.
    Much of this revolves around misunderstandings of the will of God. God’s purpose is to sum up all things in Jesus. It is contrary to his will that any should perish. But the will of God is not expressed in some static, frozen tableau which only appears dynamic to those embedded in it. He did not, in some distant time past, decide to create Scott and mapped out every detail and nuance of my life. Rather, he spoke me into existence: Let Scott be. And in that moment I was. Everything since has been a complex dance in which I stepped — often trying to dance to the tune of other gods — and yet kept finding the tune and the dance of this God.
    The true mystery is how he experienced (and experiences and will experience) his every interaction with me in a way that transcends my understanding of time and in such a way that he can also say he “foreknew” the whole of it. But that’s where I experience no tension in saying that he can do that because he’s God.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    Matt (#60) — re: good reading — hmmm, well, I want to be careful about saying this “proleptic” idea is “my view.” I actually think most of the contemporary proponents of it that I’ve read go too far with it. So, with the caveat that my own theology I think is more “conservative” than these sources, you might check out George Murphy, “The Cosmos in Light of the Cross” or some of Ted Peters’ work. Maybe even better, check out “Man and the Incarnation: A Study in the Biblical Theology of Irenaeus,” by Gustaf Wingren, which discusses Ireneaus’ ideas about creation and the eschaton.

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    #59 Dianne
    “…does this mean that for those not in a relationship with God, their acts are sinful?”
    We’re all in a relationship with God. The question is whether or not we are in a relationship of delusion and rebellion or one of embrace and love. Sin is what emerges from the delusion that there is no God to be in relationship with or that there is some god other than God to be in relationship with. We absent God from our dealings and to a measure God obliges. This side of the new creation, there is sin present in the acts each of us performs because God remains to some degree absent from us in a way he will not in the new creation.
    I can’t remember which C. S. Lewis book it is but somewhere he writes that there are no new values; only the same old ones endlessly rearranged in different ranks of priority. God is the integration point that orders our minds, our wills, our feelings, our relationship and our actions. We’re created in the image of God but we’re not autonomous individuals and we’re autonomous communities. Paul certainly suggests we have inklings about what is right and wrong. But cut off from God, we seek some other integration point with futility. All other points are contingent on God. Thus, we engage in an endless reshuffling of priorities (either as individuals or societies) trying to get something that works. As I wrote in #24, we are ever trying to settle in the land of wandering.
    I’d suggest that when we are in delusion and rebellion that we do right acts. But remember that God considered the sacrifices of Israel (right acts) a stench in his nose because they had not done justice. Remember Christ’s words to the church in Ephesus who were doing all the right actions (Rev. 2:2-3) but were about to have their lamp stand removed because they had fallen from their first love.
    Conversely, also remember the people of Nineveh who were outside the covenant, likely engaged in acts contrary to Jewish and Christian ethics but repented based on what they knew. They will stand in judgment. (Luke 11:32) Remember that murderer and adulterer David who is exalted and described as man after God’s own heart.
    Relationship is central to both how actions emerge and how they are ultimately reckoned by God.

  • Dianne P

    I’m definitely with you on all that Michael; however your examples of Ephesus and Israel are about those who care, at least at some level, what God thinks of their actions. So for me, and presumably for you and most others here, all of what you say would apply. However, looking at those who are not believers – and here I posit atheists and agnostics – not people of other faith traditions, do we say that their actions are sin because they are turned away from God? I suppose you are correct in saying we are all in some type of relationship w/ God, but to me, those people have refused a participatory relationship.
    I guess I’m just getting to the age-old question – can “good” deeds be done by non-believers? Are Bill Gates’ donations of millions of dollars around the world truly “filthy rags”? Are filthy rags = sin? Can people who have rejected rejected God, do good? If we accept what they have done as “good” rather than “sin”, then are we logically obliged to say that they are in a relationship with God, though they would vehemently deny that?

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    Dianne P writes: guess I’m just getting to the age-old question – can “good” deeds be done by non-believers? Are Bill Gates’ donations of millions of dollars around the world truly “filthy rags”?
    I respond: Yes, non-believers can do good deeds, because of common grace. The “filthy rags” metaphor is a comparison to God’s perfect love and righteousness. Even our best good deeds are complicated by sin — even the most ardent philanthropist has layers of self-aggrandizement, pride, etc. within that good that he does. Clearly, scripture as a whole celebrates right action, justice, wisdom, and the like — read Proverbes and Ecclesiastes for example. I think Paul’s point isn’t that people can’t do anything “good,” it’s that none of our “goodness” can earn redemption because it is never consistently and purely good goodness. And, even “good” people do terribly evil things sometimes — for all his philanthropy, Bill Gates has been a cutthroat businessman who has stolen others’ ideas, mericlessly run competitors out of business, etc. (Not to pick on Gates — we’ve all done similar things, but maybe on a smaller scale).

  • Brad Cooper

    WOW! Fantastic discussion! I’m not even sure where to jump in here….
    ……….
    Dianne P (#67),
    I would say that the good that people do comes from the fact that they are created by a good God and in God’s image.
    The problem is that–as dopderbeck notes–those good things are filthy rags (bandages over badly infected wounds)….They may look nice and clean on the outside, but they are simply covering a major problem underneath and are, in fact, tainted by that problem.
    In the midst of all the good that we do, there is that sinful impulse to doubt God’s will and to assert our own in its place–to usurp God from his throne. That’s what happened in Eden.
    The Kingdom is all about restoring that trust and bringing God’s will to earth as it is in heaven….and that’s not just a matter of deeds, but of the heart.

  • Dianne P

    Many thanks for some thoughtful comments. This is reminiscent of the “all truth is God’s truth” discussion way back on the God’s Rivals book by McDermott. To his point that there is truth in other religions, in that all truth is God’s truth.
    I guess there’s a macro view (the economist here can finesse this one – Michael) – that is looking at the world w/ a big picture vision, all things good are only because of God and ultimately from God. And as God’s good creation, we are all in a relationship w/ God.
    Then I think of the more micro discussion about MY (or your, or his/her) good deeds, and there I see more of the “filthy rags” view point. Yes, they’re good, but… There’s so much more when we focus it in on the personal level.
    Kind of looking at God’s relationship with the whole of His creation vs looking at God’s relationship with me. The former calls forth an awe and gratefulness for all the goodness in the world, acknowledging that all His world is by definition in relationship with Him. The latter calls forth a personal response from me to examine my acts – good and bad – and continually anchor them in a relationship with God and within God’s vision – knowing that lacking that, good as they may be, they’re still just filthy rags.

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    #70 Dianne P
    Wonderfully said.
    Whether we’re talking about human societies or human individuals, we are all trying to build a home for ourselves in the world (the land of wandering) through the narratives we create. Because we are in a marred relationship with God, even when we have repented of sin, there is always (until new creation) going to be an element of illusion and delusion present
    In “Annie Hall,” Woody Allen’s character says he went to the psychiatrist because he had a friend who thought he was a chicken. The psychiatrist asks Allen if has told his friend he isn’t a chicken. Allen responds that he hasn’t because he needs the eggs.
    The illusion of societal narratives and the delusion of our personal narratives mutually reinforce each other. As long as society can keep laying eggs, we’re willing not to challenge society’s claim of being a chicken. As long as we keep acknowledging society as a chicken, society can proceed merrily along with it’s chicken illusion. It creates a powerful codependency.
    We have to simultaneously wrestle with chickens (societal illusions) and eggs (personal delusion.) God is the grand disillusionist, breaking apart these fantasies and delusions through faithful communities who are on the path toward disillusionment and toward embracing him for who he truly is all the while cognizant that this is an incomplete endeavor until new creation.
    Action flows from being and action shapes being. I’d suggest that as important as it is, that behavior is a penultimate concern. Being is the ultimate issue. Who are we? Better yet, Whose are we? The behaviors we chose to perform form us. Therefore, “behaving rightly” forms us toward being the eikons God created us to be. But God did not create us to exhibit actions per se, but rather relationship and character. You can’t talk about relationship and character apart from actions but I think we dare not reduce the issues solely to actions. The issue is escaping illusion and delusion into right “being.” Right behavior is insufficient. We must be born again into new being.

  • Brad Cooper

    Dianne (#70),
    Beautifully put. :)
    And Michael (#71),
    I think BINGO would be an understatement…..IMO, WOW!!!! :)


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