Cosmic Consequences? (RJS)

In the post last Thursday I focused on Ch. 10, The Problem of Sin, in Tim Keller’s book The Reason for God.  I found this chapter to contain many important insights and felt that it was worth serious consideration, free from distraction.

There is one passage in the chapter, however, that I found somewhat less useful. This also is worth some discussion.  This is a section, p. 169-170, entitled The Cosmic Consequences of Sin. I will quote the passage here in its entirety.

The Bible speaks even more comprehensively (and more mysteriously) about the effects of sin than we have indicated so far. The first and second chapters of Genesis show God speaking the world into being and, almost literally, getting his hands dirty. ‘And God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Genesis 2:7). The contrasts with all other ancient creation accounts could not be greater.

In most ancient creation accounts, creation is the by-product of some kind of warfare or other act of violence. Virtually never is the creation deliberate and planned. Secular scientific accounts of the origin of things are, interestingly, almost identical to the older pagan ones. The physical shape of the world as well as biological life is the product of violent forces.

Unique among the creation accounts, the Bible depicts a world that is brimming with dynamic, abundant forms of life that are perfectly interwoven, interdependent, and mutually enhancing and enriching. The Creator’s response to this is delight. He keeps repeating that it is all good. When he creates human beings he instructs them to continue to cultivate and draw out the vast resources of creation like a gardener does in a garden. “Go keep this going,” the Creator seems to be saying in Genesis 1:28, “Have a ball!”15

The Hebrew word for this perfect, harmonious interdependence among all parts of creation is called shalom. We translate this as “peace,” but the English word is basically negative, referring to the absence of trouble or hostility. The Hebrew word means much more than that. It means absolute wholeness – full, harmonious, joyful, flourishing life.

So far, so good. I don’t think the secular scientific account of origins, especially the origin and diversification of life, is quite as violent as Keller suggests.  This is a minor quibble though, and wouldn’t be worth a post. The rest of the passage quoted above makes some very important points. And it is worth pointing out that, violence aside, the secular scientific account is intrinsically purposeless. The Genesis account of creation is deliberate and planned. The world has a purpose and it is good. This is a most important distinction between the secular account of origins and the biblical account of creation.

The next, last, paragraph of the section is the part worth some serious discussion:

The devastating loss of shalom through sin is described in Genesis 3. We are told that as soon as we determined to serve ourselves instead of God – as soon as we abandoned living for and enjoying God as our highest good – the entire created world became broken. Human beings are so integral to the fabric of things that when human beings turned from God the entire warp and woof of the world unraveled. Disease, genetic disorders, famine, natural disasters, aging, and death itself are as much the result of sin as are oppression, war, crime, and violence. We have lost God’s shalom – physically, spiritually, socially, psychologically, culturally. Things now fall apart. In Romans 8, Paul says that the entire world is now “in bondage to decay” and “subject to futility” and will not be put right until we are put right.

There are several points that I would like to make here:

First, This is an extrapolation.  In the absence of other information this is, or at least might be, a reasonable extrapolation from scripture. I think it is, however, an extrapolation. And there are some significant problems with it that are internal to the text of scripture. I don’t think that it is clearly taught in the pages of scripture that all chaos and natural disaster is the result of human sin.  Oppression, war, crime, and violence are the result of human sin. If disease, genetic disorders, famine, natural disorders, aging, and death are the result of human sin it is only because God turned us out of the garden and kept us from the tree of life, not because the warp and woof of the world has unraveled. The serpent was in the garden from the beginning – evil did not originate with humans. Immortality is and was always a divine gift, not an intrinsic feature of human existence.

Second, I don’t think that the primary reference of Romans 8 is Genesis 3. I think the primary reference Paul had in mind in Romans 8 is to the imagery of the prophets. I wrote on this awhile ago (Creation Groans; But Why?) reflecting on Jeremiah, especially Jeremiah 4.

“The whole land will be ruined, though I will not destroy it completely. Therefore the earth will mourn and the heavens above grow dark, because I have spoken and will not relent,  I have decided and will not turn back.”

I hear a cry as of a woman in labor,  a groan as of one bearing her first child—the cry of Daughter Zion gasping for breath,  stretching out her hands and saying, “Alas! I am fainting;  my life is given over to murderers.” (Jeremiah 4:27-31)

I think that Jeremiah is describing a decreation of the original creation of Genesis 1, but this decreation is a result of the covenant unfaithfulness of Israel. There is nothing of the curse of Genesis 3 here from Jeremiah. The comparison to birth pains is also worth noting and common (see  Jeremiah 6:24, 13:21, 22:23, 30:6, 48:41, 49:22,24, 50:43)

Both a commenter and an e-mail I received concerning this post referred me also to Isaiah, especially Isaiah 24.

Behold, the Lord lays the earth waste, devastates it, distorts its surface and scatters its inhabitants. … The earth will be completely laid waste and completely despoiled, for the Lord has spoken this word. The earth mourns and withers, the world fades and withers, the exalted of the people of the earth fade away. The earth is also polluted by its inhabitants, for they transgressed laws, violated statutes, broke the everlasting covenant. Therefore, a curse devours the earth, and those who live in it are held guilty. Therefore, the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men are left. (Isaiah 24:1-6)

Meredith Kline comments on this in this piece available on the internet (scroll down to The Veil Removed).

Third, We do have additional information. Although it is not wise to let science dictate theology, it is wise to use our understanding of the world, the nature of God’s creation, as we decide between alternative interpretations of and extrapolations from scripture. The earth is old and biological death, animal disease, genetic mutations, earthquakes and meteor strikes preceded the existence of humans. I think Keller agrees with this, and I am not sure how it fits in with the imagery he uses in the paragraph I’ve quoted above.

In conclusion. I agree with most of what Keller has to say about The Problem of Sin in Chapter 10. In fact this chapter helped to shape and refine my current understanding. We need to get away from the idea of sin attached to specific acts and buy into the idea that sin is, at its very core, a faulty orientation of one’s total life.  But nothing about this idea of sin requires a physical, cosmic, consequence affecting the warp and woof of the universe. I think it is a deeply relational consequence. Sin may have consequences for the land, but not through a change in the laws of physics and chemistry.

What do you think are the consequences of sin?

How are these consequences cosmic in scope?

Do you think that the primary reference of Romans 8 is Genesis 3?

If you would like to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net.

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  • Rick

    RJS-

    Good post.

    I appreciate your take on the garden. “If disease, genetic disorders, famine, natural disorders, aging, and death are the result of human sin it is only because God turned us out of the garden and kept us from the tree of life, not because the warp and woof of the world has unraveled.”

    In regards to “biological death, animal disease, genetic mutations, earthquakes and meteor strikes” that you mentioned, are you saying they are a result of the evil that existed before the sin of man, or are you saying it should be considered “good” since part of creation, or are you saying something else?

  • RJS

    Rick,

    Good question worth some discussion. I think some of them are good in the sense that all of creation is good. For example, earthquakes and meteors are part of nature of the creation. Earthquakes are part and parcel of plate tectonics, and the motion of the plates are part of a dynamic earth. They are “evil” only as they devastate human life, not intrinsically of themselves.

    But I also think it worth noting that evil did not originate with human sin or appear on earth as a result of human sin. Even in the Genesis story the snake was in the garden at the very beginning, whether one reads the snake as Satan or as a creature most cunning of all.

  • T.S.Gay

    I think the consequences of sin are pride, sloth, greed, gluttony, envy, lust, and wrath. I think these are cosmic in scope by destroying community, downgrading ethics, despoiling environment, setting up a lack of moderation between self-interest and public interest, creating lack of empathy, corrupting health, and resorting to violence. I agree Romans 8 primary reference is not Genesis 3. I personally like Dr. Terence Fretheim’s takes on disease, famine, natural disorders, aging, and death( See “Creation Untamed: The Bible, God, and Natural Disasters” and also very much “God and World in the Old Testament”).

  • http://www.internetmonk.com chaplain mike

    We Christians seem to need to have an answer for “where it all came from” so we can systematize our thinking about life and its issues. I’m not even sure, in the final analysis, how that helps. Bruce Waltke identifies the presence of “surd evil” in Genesis 1:2′s chaos. If so, natural evil predates the story of the Bible and we have no explanation for its origin. As you note, the presence of the serpent in the garden, the creation of humanity in mortality apart from the Tree of Life, and the suggestion that life outside the Garden was already the sad world we know today further confirm this. What matters is that Christ defeated the powers of sin, evil, and death, undoing not only what Adam wrought (condemnation for breaking the covenant) but also renewing the entire creation.

  • Phil Miller

    This is why I think Greg Boyd’s “cosmic warfare” view is much more helpful in providing a framework of how Christians should approach the issue of evil. Yes, human sin is part of the explanation of the fallen nature of creation, but that can’t account for things like disease and other calamities. Much like Chaplain Mike mentioned in #4, I think natural evil does predate the creation story (after all as the OP mentions, the serpent was in the garden prior to Eve’s decision to listen to him).

    As far as the consequences of human sin, I would say that even though that like RJS I have some quibble with how Keller got there, I think he’s right to take a bigger view of sin. It can be quite humbling and disturbing to realize that sin can have such a disruptive effect to not only our own life but others around us.

  • Rick

    T.S. Gay #3-

    Please give a summary of Fretheim’s take on the topic.

    Chaplain Mike #4-

    “We Christians seem to need to have an answer for “where it all came from” so we can systematize our thinking about life and its issues.”

    I think part of Keller’s motivation in dealing with this, and the questions that come from it, are because that is a key question non-believers are asking today.

    I can’t remember the last time you touched on the topic at IMonk, but I am sure it is something you hear regularly.

  • Robin

    It seems that if you forgot what moderns knew about the age of the earth, etc., and asked Christians….”do you think that death, pestilence, famine, earthquakes, and tornadoes are part of the natural state of the world and were occurring before Adam and Eve fell in the garden?” the answer would generally be no.

    Furthermore, if you are like me and believe in a PHYSICAL new heavens and new earth, and if someone were to ask me if all of these things will continue to be present after the return of Christ when the new heavens and new earth are inaugurated, I would say no.

    Does anyone know if N.T. Wright teaches that such things will continue in the new heavens and new earth? Are they “good enough” to be a part of God’s eternal paradise?

    If they are excluded from being a part of the new heavens and new earth, I have difficulty in understanding, theologically, how they could have been part of a “good creation.” So it seems to me that prior to the fall the creation wasn’t really good, or they weren’t part of it, theologically speaking of course. Reconciling this to the geological accounts is a different matter.

  • Michael J.

    T.S. Gay #3, I too like Fretheim’s work on these matters. I wonder if instead of Keller’s use of “violence” the real issue is “power, dominion, authority,” however we would define it, individually or corporately. Early on in Genesis we see such “power, dominion, authority” really go amuck. I imagine that what exists, exists in a very delicate balance, which brings in RJS’ discussion around shalom and peace, that harmony if you will. It is interesting that God offers and continues to allow this “power, authority, dominion” to be given to humanity, that like the cosmos human beings have within them these same kinds of forces with all their potential of good and harm. I am intrigued with the vision in Daniel of not only the “ancient One’s” willingness but also “the Son of Man’s” willingness to “give away authority” even after the wreckless and abusive demonstration of such power and authority among Kings of the earth. Of course it is the “alignment” of said power and force that wreaks either goodness or awfulness. I am continually astonished how these “forces” rear their capacities in my own life. Jesus answer on how to pray would mean to “align” such personal “force/power” with the will and purposes of God. Science continues to probe the depth of these “powers” that reside at that creative/creation moment and I am amazed at how that “explosiveness” resides in every human being. How it reaches down into the depth of our biology, impacting the “cell” (ie. cancer, unrestrained growth). I guess the Psalmist had it right, “we are fearfully and wonderfully made.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/Knapsack Jeff Gill
  • http://meaninginhistory.blogspot.com/ mark

    This may seem a small point, but Genesis doesn’t actually contain a “creation” account–not in the creatio ex nihilo that Christians are familiar with. That didn’t really show up until the time of the Maccabees. Thus, what’s striking about the various “origin” accounts, from my perspective, is not their differences–lack or presence of violence–but their basic similarity: a god “formed” “the world” out of preexisting matter of some sort, rather than “creating” it out of nothing.

    Which goes to show the dangers involved in interpreting “scripture” by comparing one book to the other but ignoring the fact that within “scripture” there were significant conceptual developments, developments especially in the very understanding of God and his identity. The difficulties of anachronistic interpretation–the type that is so common–is magnified many times when it is applied to NT and OT.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    If we take just one example of the calamities, and more specifically, the human-caused ones, and look at warfare. We know of one other species that regularly indulges in warfare, have patrols, invade enemy territory with the object on enlarging their own etc.: Chimpanzees. It is ha been observed that chimps would attack when they outnumber the enemy 3:1 – effectively, it boils down to 2 to hold the enemy down, and 1 to beat him to death. Chimps and Bonobos are our closest primate relatives.

    Are the chimps sinning? Or is it our fault, somehow. If you say yes, well, then how do you explain other natural calamities – it seems as if this view would necessitate the belief in a perfect universe prior to the Fall. If not, well, then sin is innate. And if sin is innate, who is the author of it?

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

    RJS,
    Thank you for interacting with Keller’s teaching in a respectful, affirming way, yet still reserving the theological freedom to ask honest questions. As so plainly indicated, evil’s existence in material reality (darkness, *tohu vebohu,*[empty and formless] and “the deep”) and the deceiving snake in the Eden paradise preceded “the Fall.” Paradise does not appear to be unbounded for the angel guards against the human return to Eden.

    My observation is that in many discussions relating to faith and science, biblical theologians offer up different takes on received doctrines (like our understanding of Genesis 1-3) and these scholars are often rebuffed by a flurry of systematic theology propositions that seemed to be cobbled together from this text and that text. If doing theology is a truly human enterprise (and it is), then no one should be threatened by honest, skillful (hermeneutically sound) expositions of key texts. I don’t get why some evangelicals feel so threatened by the Bible (!) when it comes to how they see things theologically. An old earth, evolutionary-creationist Jesus-follower isn’t threatened by new understandings of Genesis, so why should a YEC be threatened? I think it’s because the YECs have put too many theological eggs into one basket.

  • Bev Mitchell

    This was written before reading the numerous good comments. There are several places where references could be made but this will largely be obvious.

    Keller maintains “In most ancient creation accounts, creation is the by-product of some kind of warfare or other act of violence. Virtually never is the creation deliberate and planned.” There appear to be mixed categories here. A spiritual warfare model that is planned would be quite consistent with much of Scripture. Does Keller mean that the Genesis account is very different because there is no hint of spiritual opposition to the Creator or that the difference lies in the fact that a plan is apparent? These are not mutually exclusive.

    Much of the debate about the beginnings of material creation – “….when God began to create heaven and earth” as the Jewish Study Bible puts it – could at least be clarified if folks would say if they believe God’s creating work was spiritually opposed, from the beginning, or not. The direction we take in reading all other parts of the Bible dealing with creation is strongly influenced by our view on this matter. In fact, virtually everything that Scripture tells us God is doing is opposed spiritually – according Scripture. Even the primary goal of Jesus’ ministry was opposed by Satan in the wilderness. Much confusion seems to come when we are less than explicit about this.

    I’m not saying which view one should take, though I try to be explicit about the view I take. I am suggesting that it would be helpful if authors made their underlying view on the matter explicit.

    As far as the first long quote from Keller is concerned, with the above exception, I agree with RJS – “So far, so good”. And I agree with flagging the last paragraph “The devastating loss of shalom….” as seriously problematic. The heart of the problem, scripturally, is the conflict I mentioned above. If we ignore the opposition God faces in bringing about his good will, we get perfect gardens messed up by human sin. What if the ‘garden’ was just ‘good’ – just the very good beginning of what God would ultimately do, in spite of serious spiritual opposition?

    Of course, the perfect garden ruined by humanity also flies in the face of modern biology. Creation (nature) as the work of God against serious spiritual opposition can make room for modern biology. And it can be defended scripturally.

    Good references that deal scripturally with this spiritual opposition model are:

    Levenson, Jon D. (1988) “Creation and the Persistence of Evil”
    Boyd, Gregory A. (2003) “Is God to Blame?”

  • Luke Tegeler

    Any thoughts on Luke 13:1-5? I see Jesus here placing moral and natural evil as a warning of judgment against human sin. Not that I think sin began in Genesis 3 (I agree about the snakes presence), but I think there must be a connection based on humanity’s intended dominion status mentioned in Genesis 1. We were meant to be God’s image bearers over all creation and when we rebelled, I think this had farther reaching consequences than moral evil. Eve listened to the snake and so submitted to a crawling thing and now we are gaining knowledge of good and evil.

  • Rick

    I am wondering if Sailhammer’s approach to Genesis 1-3 as any impact here, in regards to it being about a specific land, rather than the whole world/creation.

  • http://www.internetmonk.com chaplain mike

    Though Gen. 1 seems serene, the thou wabohu and the presence of sea monsters and the emphasis on darkness and light, etc. certainly are echoes of more militant creation myths. Furthermore, Gen. 1 is only one of many creation accounts in the Bible, and a number of the others specifically evoke cosmic warfare.

    Keller and others seem to put all their creation eggs in the Genesis basket.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Chaplain Mike – this reminds me of the review of the book “Return of the Chaos Monsters” you did some while ago: http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/the-backstories-of-the-first-testament

    That interpretation works in both a theistic as well as a non-theistic examination of the text as well as the scientific evidence, especially when applied/confined to the Genesis narrative. It is an underlying theme of other mythologies as well, I think.

  • http://www.compathos.tv John L

    RJS said: “We need to get away from the idea of sin attached to specific acts and buy into the idea that sin is, at its very core, a faulty orientation of one’s total life.”

    Take this a couple steps farther and we start understanding sin as universal-empathic (even scientific) narrative and less as a religious-moral-piety story. Garden-grace and fall-from-garden-grace become a metaphor for unity and duality, with (I suggest) “garden-unity” being equivalent to NT “love” – and “duality” being equivalent to Gen 3:5 “knowledge of good and evil.” I propose to Klasie that sin and duality are one in the same, that “good over evil” is not our struggle; that our struggle is finding our way back to the garden, where we no longer wrestle with good and evil, but re-inhabit the eternal and unchanging unity of love. I think the “second Adam” imagery points to this as well: the first Adam took us out of the garden, the 2nd Adam takes us back into the garden. Garden, love, unity, 2nd Adam – different metaphor describing the same reality, perhaps.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    RJS, you asked me the other day, what is sin then? In this context, and referring to the discussion here, what about sin = chaos (or the seeds of chaos)? And I’m not talking about mathematical chaos as in dynamical systems. I’m talking about chaos that is both anthropogenic as well as anthropocentric. As in create chaos that threatens well-being, even survival – ranging from theft to genocide (for instance).

  • TJJ

    Excellent post RJS. Excellent responses and comments. Very interesting and insighful and respectful by all. This kind of post and comment thread is Jesus Creed at it’ s best!

  • Phil Miller

    Luke #14, It seems to me that Jesus’ statement in Luke 13 is actually rebutting the notion that we can draw such a straight cause and effect relationship between seemingly sinful actions and disasters. Actually, I don’t think Jesus’ point had to do much with theodicy at all. I think He was pointing out the hypocrisy of the people who asked the question. Their question was framed in such a way that they assumed that the tower in Siloam fell because the Galileans in question were worse sinners than them. All were sinful, and all needed to repent. Also, the falling tower reference can be seen as some bit of foreshadowing for the coming destruction of Jerusalem.

  • AHH

    I find appealing and somewhat convincing the interpretation that the real “cosmic” consequences of sin lie not in any fundamental shift in the way nature works (as RJS points out, all evidence indicates there has never been such a shift), but rather in the resulting broken-ness of the relationship of us sinful humans to the rest of creation.

  • Marshall

    I thought lumping in “the secular scientific account of origins” with other ancient creation accounts pretty funny, and very worthwhile. Maybe better than “violent” would be “opposed”.

    A teacher said it’s important to stay on the path — once you step off, it isn’t so simple as just to step back on. I think the consequence of original sin is that we have been knocked off balance from before our birth and must struggle to regain it. In the evolutionary account, we are struggling to attain balance. The consequence is as Paul said, the stuff I know I should be doing, I can’t seem to ever get around to, instead I waste my time on stupid stuff.

  • Norman

    Although I really like a lot of what Keller writes and his kindness in helping people work through so many issues regarding religion, I still see him falling back into the literalist trap of reading Genesis. It’s almost as if he is making a token commitment to fundamentalism as so many scholars often do. However I do agree that Genesis 3 is in sight in Romans 8 but just not in the literal manner that most try to read both sections.

    The “Sin” as I have attempted to point out here many times appears to be understood theologically by Paul as specific to the juxtaposition of Legalism in human self-righteousness. The Hebrew’s were simply framing the story line in Genesis in common mythological terminology to allow them to paint broad and illustrative pictures. It’s a form of apocalyptic language that spanned hundreds of years of Hebrew literature both OT and 2nd Temple and culminated in the NT Revelation rendition. If you master Hebrew apocalyptic you don’t get sidetracked like Keller and so many sometimes allow themselves to do. They end up taking everyone on sidebar trips into fantasy land when they forget to do their homework on the literature.

    By the way Isaiah 24 has many complimentary sections throughout the OT that illustrate cosmic destruction however cosmic destruction is not physical but covenantal in nature. God orders and creates the Cosmos which is the order of how His people associate with Him. Through Christ the old Cosmic order was destroyed and the new Covenant order was put in place. Out with the Old and in with the New. That language has nothing to do with physical cosmology as we like to imagine. That’s why there is no problem with Paul associating Romans 8 with Genesis 3 but I’m also not saying that Gen 1 and 2 are not included by Paul either.

  • LarryRR

    If we don’t take the creation account literally, at what point did we become ‘sinners’? Are the chimps knowingly sinning when they kill their rivals for resources? Did the Neanderthals also consistently ‘miss the mark’ or was it only the bigger brained and more resourceful Homo sapiens that invented, or exemplified, this concept?

    If we do take Genesis literally, are we to believe that God created the snake and the allowed Satan to possess it to test Adam and Eve’s faithfulness? Apparently, the other animals could talk as well since Eve doesn’t seem the least bit surprised or suspicious when this serpent strikes up a conversation. Or perhaps Satan in the garden all along, just biding his time.

    I, however, am quite suspicious. How can the earth, and everything in it, be declared good when that everything also includes Satan? And if the serpent’s promise was a test, then it was the second test because Adam and Eve had passed the first with flying colors – up till this point, they had shown zero interest in the forbidden Tree of Knowledge or, for that matter, in the perfectly legal Tree of Life. My guess is that even if Eve had rebuffed the serpent this time, either she (or Adam) was destined to eat from the tree eventually, otherwise no sin, no consequences, and no story.

    There are other things in Genesis 3 that strike me as a very odd description of humanity’s separation from God but it does seem that we weren’t truly in God’s image until we fell, and in the process gained God-like knowledge (Genesis 3:22). Nor were we, or was life in general, particularly interesting.

  • http://www.spiritofthescripture.com Joshua Tilghman

    I appreciated your comment, “Immortality is and was always a divine gift, not an intrinsic feature of human existence.” Without it there could be no moral development. Developing our morals is part of the human experience and whereby we get closer to God. Sin simply means to miss the mark of what we’re here for, learning to love. A life in paradise all the time means we would be basically puppets. Thank goodness for sin, for without it we wouldn’t ever have the chance to experience God.

  • Jon G

    LarryRR @ #25 – “If we don’t take the creation account literally, at what point did we become ‘sinners’?”

    I think this is a question that stems from a view of sin as an action…a decisive “point” in which an action occurs. I think what RJS was alluding to is that Sin is less of a definite occurence and more of a journey away or repositioning of relationship.

    Again, I would recommend Peter Rollins’ book, The Idolatry of God, in which he reframes “Sin” in light of it’s literal meaning of “separation”.

    This also dovetails in nicely with the EO understanding of the Genesis story as Wisdom literature as opposed to the modern Protestant notion of Historial literature. Do we, like children, need to be brought up to be wise or did an event happen that forever fractured us with our Father? Are we going to choose the “path” of Wisdom that leads to life or the “path” of Folly that leads to death? Continuing down the path (a trajectory), rather than deciding which path (a one time event) is the problem that separates us from God (sin, or separation).

    Is sin a crime to be punished or a disease to be cured…or both…or neither?

    The way you view Sin makes all the difference.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Redefining sin as “missing the mark” or as repositioning a relationship merely moves the goalposts. Both imply an imperfection, or a “fault” of sorts. Either that imperfection / fault was “built in”, or occurred at some point. We still cannot ignore the multiple injunctions against sin in the entirety of Scripture and Holy Tradition.

    If there is an injunction against it, then it either implies a Creator willfully creating an “imperfect”, or rather, “not good” being, and the subsequent judgement against it being not good seems a bit unfair (or indistinguishable from the nature and actions of all the other ever-so-often malevolent deities through time).

    Or, it implies that the creature “went wrong”. Now we have already seen that some of the “went wrong” is shared by at least two species. Why the go wrong? It still implies something unsettling about the Creator.

    Then the other option is that the problem is created when the creature reaches self-awareness (ie Adam in the garden) and becomes aware of the “going wrong”. But how is this different?

    We can arm-wave all we want, but we do have a serious issue: The concepts of sin, culpability for sin, and everything that derives from that, including the necessity for Sacrifice. That is the “internal logic” we would have to struggle with. And Keller’s attempt does fall rather flat, as numerous posts here indicate…

  • Phil Miller

    Klasie,
    You seem to be ruling out the possibility that the Creator was capable of creating creatures with genuine free will. If you introduce that into the picture along with the possibility of a genuinely open future (a future in which is not predetermined) than a lot of the issues you bring up regarding internal logic seem to go away.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Phil, does that free will extend to chimps?

    Also, we dealt with genuine free will vs determinism in another thread – http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2013/02/28/evolution-isnt-the-problem-rjs/

    Essentially, knowing what we know, we can dismiss absolute free will. It is a theoretical idea for which we have no evidence, injected into the debate to make the Theistic side work.

    BUT: Let’s suppose we have some sort of free will. This doesn’t really change anything. To put it another way: If you have a lottery, and the process is genuinely stochastic, the lottery owner is still responsible for the outcome as he created the lottery in the first place. No lottery, no winner / loser.

  • Jon G

    Klasie @ 28 –

    “Redefining sin as “missing the mark” or as repositioning a relationship merely moves the goalposts. Both imply an imperfection, or a “fault” of sorts. Either that imperfection / fault was “built in”, or occurred at some point.”

    Not so if you view humans, not as people who have “fallen” (the fault that you mention), but as people who have not yet “matured”. One of the brilliant insights I have gleaned from Peter Enns (and I think he gets this from the EO) is that the ancients viewed Adam and Eve as immature, like children – hence the phrase “naked and unashamed”, something we associate with small children. And they’re stress on Wisdom literature was an effort to “mature” people into living a God-directed life.

    So, you could say that there is an imperfection in people, but it is not something that has been broken, rather it is something that is not yet realized (maturity and the ability to make “good” decisions). And just as you wouldn’t blame a 2-year old for touching a hot stove they were warned about, or hold them accountable for hitting they’re sibling on the head with a hammer, we can’t really say that the fault leading to sin has to be “built it” or “occurred” at some point. It just hasn’t been “learned” yet.

    I see God as our “Father” raising His kids to listen to him so that they can grow up to be like Him. And when they don’t, because He only leads them towards what is best (for them, for others, for the World), they separate themselves and bring trouble into the World and upon themselves. Romans talks about God giving them up to this sin so that they can be won back…this is like a father letting his kids make mistakes knowing that they will learn their lesson, albeit, the hard way.

    So I think you are setting up a false dichotomy because you see Sin as an decicive occurence of fully mature beings rather than a direction that immature beings learn to follow.

  • Jon G

    correction in 2nd paragraph “their” not “they’re. I hate it when I do that!

  • Phil Miller

    Phil, does that free will extend to chimps?

    Sure, why not?

    Essentially, knowing what we know, we can dismiss absolute free will. It is a theoretical idea for which we have no evidence, injected into the debate to make the Theistic side work.

    Of everything I’ve read, I have not been convinced that science it at a place where we can dismiss absolute free will (I’m not sure what you mean by “absolute” here, though). The neuroscience trying to explain consciousness is still rather speculative in a lot of ways.

    Regarding responsibility, I think you’re defining responsibility in the broadest possible terms. Is the person that set up the lottery responsible if the winner takes his winnings and uses them for some immoral way? Not in any sense in which we normally use the word “responsible”.

    If the cosmos is the way it is simply because of hard determinism, than it seems that talk of sin and redemption becomes rather meaningless. Everything that happens is predetermined, so there’s not much point in holding someone responsible for something they were predetermined to do.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Jon,

    You said: “And when they don’t, because He only leads them towards what is best (for them, for others, for the World), they separate themselves and bring trouble into the World and upon themselves.”

    And another name for that trouble is..?

    Make no mistake, I understand quite well what you (and Peter, and RJS, and others) are trying to do with the “sin” concept. What you don’t seem to gain from my argument is that even these admirable efforts are still not resolving the issue, just framing differently. Put another way, are we responsible for our immaturity, and the mistakes we make in it? I’d be very hard pressed to try and find a way out of saying yes, given the entire narrative of
    Scripture and Holy tradition. Especially in the light of the ecclesiastical events of this week. Even when taking an EO approach. The sin of unfulfilled theosis? On the OCA website, I found the following:

    These categories do not exist in the Orthodox Church. Sin is sin.
    The Greek word for sin, amartia, means “to miss the mark.” As Christians, the “mark” or “target” for which we “aim” is a Christ-like life, one lived to the best of our ability in line with the teachings, precepts, and commandments of God. When we miss this mark, when we fail to hit this target, we sin. Murder is a sin. Pride and envy are sins. Stealing a car is a sin. Stealing a candy bar is a sin. Refusing to attend the Liturgy is a sin—but so is attending the Liturgy with hatred for others.

    It is just a re-framing, within the context of no original sin as in the Augustinian west. Call them “symptoms of immaturity” if you will. They still require a sacrifice, don’t they? Or was the Death and Resurrection just a sideshow?

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Phil: You misunderstand my lottery analogy. I’m using it as an example of a stochastic process, with true random outcomes, as analogous to the free will you presume.

    As for hard determinism etc., I don’t have any wish to re-hash that argument. I refer you to the previous discussion, otherwise we would just be going round in circles.

  • Phil Miller

    Phil: You misunderstand my lottery analogy. I’m using it as an example of a stochastic process, with true random outcomes, as analogous to the free will you presume.

    I’m not sure how I misunderstood. I understand completely what you’re saying, or at least I think I do.

    You seem be saying if that even if free agents are given choices that result in different outcomes, it is still the responsibility of the creator of the lottery for having those outcomes be a possibility in the first place. Is that correct?

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Phil: Yes – but I’m not talking about what people do with the money (ie, this is not a moral argument as such). I’m just considering that the outcomes of a random process are still caused by the creator of the random process. No Process, no outcome.

  • norman

    Klasie,

    I like the way you approach things logically but essentially you are just extending the questions into modern understandings that the story of Job also dealt with and could not answer. IMHO you are not going to be able to rationally answer the questions you raise by trying to dot every I and cross every t. That is essentially because you and the rest of us are not all knowing (whatever that entails). Your questions often boil down to the premise that our self-realization allows us to extrapolate these answers. The answer that the Job story reflects and still holds true IMO is that we don’t have the wherewithal to do so no matter how advanced we progress. We are simply seeing things through a dim glass at best. (Metaphysically that is) Job was the Hebrew method of dealing with that issue.

    Now to those who are trying to deal with the “sin” issue. Paul says that “sin” was in the world before Adam transgressed the commandment. Then he comes back later and says that he was alive before the commandment came. The implication of Paul’s thinking is huge in this discussion and just gets ignored and not dealt with here. It means that at one time in Paul’s mind there was a relationship with humanity and God called “Garden Life” that allowed for man to have a sinful nature but to be in harmony with God. It’s the same precept that we understand today that Christ doesn’t remove our sinful human nature away but allows us in spite of our nature which is imperfect to enjoy fellowship with God. That realization provides impetus to a higher standard of spiritual existence than when Adam and humans in General attempt to bring about our own self-righteousness.

    The Biblical story is built upon the premise that humans have within their nature to walk in tandem with the way that God desires for us. And what is that? It’s called the biblical Wisdom truths of everyday living. Christ tries to tell us the 2 important aspects of it which is commandant 1 loving God (not trying to be God) and the Commandment 2 in which we love our neighbor as our self.

    The wisdom literature of the OT reflects much of these principles such as proverbs. It is really an awareness of fair play that transcends all cultures when you examine them closely enough. The Hebrews were locked in on these concepts early on in their heritage but they “fell” away and developed legalism and relegated Wisdom as secondary. The struggle within the OT, 2nd T and NT periods was a tension between those two forces. Eventually through the providence of God the forces of Wisdom won out in the reflection of Jesus Christ. That reinstates the “Garden” concept that was lost.

  • Jon G

    Klasie @ 34

    “What you don’t seem to gain from my argument is that even these admirable efforts are still not resolving the issue, just framing differently. Put another way, are we responsible for our immaturity, and the mistakes we make in it?”

    You’re right, I didn’t get that from your earlier posts. Thanks for clarifying.

    I’ll admit openly, the question of “responsibility” is one that I struggle through and I think this is ground that needs more study – by the Church, by Society at large, and certainly by myself. If you’ll permit me, I’ll, perhaps, answer with more than you are asking but it might shed some light on my view.

    Recently (about 6 months ago) I found out that I have Adult Attention Deficit Disorder. I was blown away looking back on my life to see how much it affected my life, my thinking, my performance, my marriage, my parenting, etc. There’s no doubt that my inability to inhibit certain situations and follow through with others had a profound effect on who I am today.

    As with most neurological disorders, it is a multi-layered problem which is created by more than one cause. My brain chemitry produces the wrong amount of neurotransmitters (chemicals like dopamine and noroepinephrine), my frontal lobe which controls Executive Functioning (the ability to decide which action to do – “laundry, dishes, or watch tv?—TV!!!”) doesn’t work right, my working memory is weak preventing me from thinking ahead to consequences for my actions, the neural pathways useful in decision-making didn’t form well in my early brain development years, and numerous other factors. But you get the point. Due to factors outside of my own will, my brain has limited me in the decisions that I make. It’s not that I can’t make a good decision, just that it is harder for me than someone with a “normal” brain because I have extra hurdles to jump.

    As a result, I have often been thought of, by myself and others, as lazy and an underachiever. I have felt tremendous deficits in self-worth and pleaded with God many times to “just change me”. After awhile, I just gave up hope and began to accept my crappy lot in life. But after discovering my condition, I have enthusiastically been taking steps (medication, counseling, neurofeedback, diet changes, etc.) to change that outlook. So far it is a tough road to hoe, but I am moving in a positive direction. What’s more, I have hope again.

    Now, most people brush that diagnosis aside and say things like “you just have to try harder”. This response, I believe, comes mainly out of ignorance – and I totally get it myself. Before really studying ADD, it seemed like a miniscule hurdle to jump and more of a nuisance than life-shaping abnormality. But the more I study the neuroscience, the more I see that telling someone with ADD to “try harder” is like telling a near-sighted person to “look harder”. “Try harder” assumes a moral framework for the problem and that just isn’t always applicable.

    So is it a morally “bad” (sloth/laziness) decision for me to plop down on the couch to watch TV instead of doing the dishes that have piled up for 3 days or is it a “natural” one (just doing what my brain is wired to do)?

    The problem lies in whether we see our actions as (1) “merely” moral, (2) “merely” physical, or (3) some combination of the two. If it is (1), then clearly judgement is justified because we are solely responsible for our actions. If it is (2) then clearly judgement is unjustified because we are IN NO WAY responsible for our actions (I never understood how materialists could make a moral stance while at the same time denying free will – if we can’t act on our own accord, then how are we responsible for those actions?). It is common to place our actions into either the “Moral Model” or the “Natural Model”. So children who repeatedly act up in class are classified as “bad” children despite the fact that there are serious medical issues underlying their behavior. Or there are devastatingly bad moral events taking place in society and dismissed under the shield of “if it feels good, do it”.

    But if it is (3) – a combination of the two (limited Free Will), then I must conclude that a justified response to our moral actions is to hold a person responsible for the portion of the action that was derived from their Free Will while not holding that person accountable for the portion derived from external (Nature/Nurture) factors.

    Q. But how do we draw that line? A. Generally, very carefully and with humility. In the grand scheme of things, we don’t. Only God knows where one begins and the other ends.

    In fact, this is one area that I’ve spent days thinking about and still not arrived at a solid position. The closest I can come is the parenting analogy that I mentioned earlier…what do I hold my own children accountable for? And that is a troubling analogy as well because they, too, have neurological disorders (ADD, Anxiety, etc). Many times I’ve blamed them, scolded them, yelled at them for not “listening” when the whole time their brains had trouble processing what I was saying. And other times I have allowed them to get away with things that they “knew better” not to do. I have so much regret for misplacing their “natural” actions into a “moral” framework and vice versa. Alas, all I can do is try to love them and humbly admit when I screw up.

    So, I think the view that “Sin is Sin” is a naive one.

  • Jon G

    Sorry for the long response, Klassie.

    Now, to follow up, when you said:
    “If there is an injunction against it, then it either implies a Creator willfully creating an “imperfect”, or rather, “not good” being, and the subsequent judgement against it being not good seems a bit unfair …Or, it implies that the creature “went wrong”. … Why the go wrong? It still implies something unsettling about the Creator.”

    So, if I understand you correctly, either God created us bad and held us accountable (unfair!) or we went “bad” and God didn’t prevent it when He could have and then held us accountable (also unfair!).

    If this is what you are saying, I’ll again say that this is a false dichotomy. You have 3 premises…1) God creates something “not good”, 2) God “judges”, or/and 3) God is responsible for the “went wrong” that His creatures go through.

    Firstly, as I have already stated, if you view the Sin situation from a childlike immaturity standpoint instead of a right/wrong standpoint, it does not fit to say that God created us “imperfectly” or “not good”. You wouldn’t say that about a baby or toddler, would you? Instead you would say that He created us with THE ABILITY TO CHOOSE good or bad, or, I prefer, to act wisely or foolishly. No, it was certainly good for God to create us just like it is good to have a baby. There is an inherent beauty and goodness in bringing forth life. But that life always has the potential to move in good or bad directions. But being born in a state of immaturity also provides two things that are important to God – the ability to grow and the free will to choose to grow with Him. Journey and Relationship.

    Secondly, I believe that you are setting up accountability in terms of punishment, failing the test, not getting in. God measures our actions and hands out the punishment or reward. Consequences are permenant and retributional. While I can see that pov from the text, I think there is a much stronger case to be made for accountability, distributed by God towards us, in terms of reshaping discipline. God allows consequences to occur to us in an effort to help us learn from our mistakes. I don’t read the text as ever saying that God stops trying to grow us in His ways. I know there’s more that needs to be said there, especially in light of OT genocide, but that will have to wait for another time. Regardless, if you abandon judgement as law-court language and take up judgement as disciplinary (in the positive sense) then, I think the “unfairness” goes away.

    Thirdly, God as responsible for the “went wrong”…I guess I can see this. But that’s because I think there are things that God is responsible for and things that we are responsible for. He keeps calling us out of Sin and we keep ignoring His calls. If He takes us out of our Sin despite our wishes, then He violates our Free Will and his goal for Free Will creatures who love Him is undermined. If He doesn’t, then He created us to suffer. Both are a problem. But I would only hold God responsible if He quit trying. And then I would hold Him totally responsible because He knows what we are capable of and never should have created us if there was no chance that we couldn’t be set straight.

    Until that happens, then there isn’t a problem. He’s still loving us by calling and, at the same time, He’s still giving us the ability to choose. The question is whether you believe He stops trying. I don’t.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Norman, that’s a good way to frame, or to express the reality of the situation. The question we have before us, and which lies behind a lot of these big questions that RJS have been posting about, is that these analogies / mythologies / theologies are reflective of reality, but do not constitute a proof of “A Reality” a such, or even contribute to a “weight of evidence” argument. One does not need a theistic framework to say what you said, although you said it quite well within that framework.

    My point is that close examination of the internal logic of the theistic argument makes it no better than any others, and in some places there is a big fail – witness my comments (and those of Jon above) on responsibility, randomness, free will, sin etc etc. It would appear, regrettably I might add, that the Theistic viewpoint is just a reflection of our evolution, sociologically and anthropologically speaking.

  • John L

    @norman: “…the premise that our self-realization allows us to extrapolate these answers.”

    Yes. Assumptions of free-will or determinism are limited by self-reference (Kant’s “knowledge of the thing vs. the thing itself”). In context of this conversation: duality vs. non-duality, or sin (separation and differentiation) vs. garden (unity and wholeness). Just finished “How To Build a Mind” — Kurzweil offers some challenging thoughts on determinism with respect to recent findings on neocortical mechanics. The rabbit hole goes as deep as you can imagine.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Jon G – if all that was true, then you should be able to point to less sin / greater maturity among those who are God – believers. That is imply not true. Also, you have to assume Free Will. Which gets us back into another argument…. many times it is stated in Scripture that “God hardened their hearts….” -not much free will there? Of course, that tells us as much about the ancient author, as about God. But we could say that for Paul too, can’t we? In then end, were do we stand?

    As to the maturity argument – sure, but do you torture your kid when he does something wrong? Maybe drown his dog? Surely not. The response is yes, but what we say is a pre-modern way of thinking. Fine – but one could make the same argument with respect to many other pre-modern writings. It leaves theism as a anthropological phenomenon, a way that man has dealt with himself and his environment. It does not prove or equate to any kind of evidence, philosophically or other wise, for a deity. One could almost say that the present argument is a realignment of previously held beliefs in the light of greater understanding, both historically (s in the culture and language of the authors of the ancient texts), as well as of the universe in general, and ourselves specifically. How would you counter that, other than to appeal to the right to individual belief, which I do support btw. I’m not an anti-theist.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    John L @ 42 – I’m not sure that Rabbit hole has a bottom at all!

  • LarryRR

    Jon G. @ #27 – “The way you view Sin makes all the difference.” Exactly. And you can substitute “view” with “define” or “acknowledge” and that sentiment is just as meaningful in my opinion. My larger question though is, on the continuum from the Big Bang to 2nd Coming, where did humanity go off the rails? Was there a fracturing ‘event’, (a defiant bite) or a gradual self-awareness and the dawning that there must be a God and we owe Him? If the latter, when did that two-way data stream open? There had to be some kind of event, a connection made somewhere along the line, right? I can live with the Creation account being ‘wisdom literature’ instead of historical, but that places it along side of many other creation accounts designed to explain our existence. It the larger Truth that Genesis account is getting at that feels so nebulous.

    Nor do I understand the insistence by many that the choice/path is binary – that it’s a four-lane road and you’re either moving toward God and eternal life or away from God and eternal damnation. If I use my free will to decide NOT to have a relationship with the OT and/or NT God, but still try to live a life that, on balance, benefits my circle of influence, am I simply in the slow lane to Hell, having been passed by Hitler and, potentially, Obama? Or, a la Rob Bell, does every human get to heaven eventually?

    It should be noted that not everyone wishes to live eternally, even if that eternity takes place in Paradise. Some of us just want to do our best and call it good. The only thing standing in the way of that is, alas, our inherently ‘sinful nature’ and God’s unyielding righteousness. It was that trapped either/or feeling that depressed the hell out of me for many years. Now that I’ve climbed out of that particular pit, I’m wondering if there are other rational and reasonable interpretations of God I may not have considered.

  • Jon G

    Klasie -
    ” if all that was true, then you should be able to point to less sin / greater maturity among those who are God – believers. That is imply not true.”

    No, not among God believers, but yes, among God followers. It is not in believing a path is right that we become wise and sin less…it is in following the path. Belief is a head knowledge. Trust is putting that knowledge into action. And the practice is what shapes us. Many who believe go no further. But those who do follow God’s ways, especially those prescribed by Jesus DO sin less. Look at Mother Thereasa and tell me your statement still holds true.

    “Also, you have to assume Free Will. Which gets us back into another argument….”

    Yes, I assume it. If I don’t have it, then I also can’t “assume”. We dealt with this on Jeff Cook’s post a couple months back.

    “As to the maturity argument – sure, but do you torture your kid when he does something wrong? Maybe drown his dog? Surely not.”

    Again, you are qualifying the type of judgement as retributional as opposed to restorational. I don’t see God behaving in the manner that you typify with a parent drowning their kid’s dog. And where the text does seem to portray God that way, like in the OT, I think is adequately covered by anthropological writing as you already mentioned.

    ” Fine – but one could make the same argument with respect to many other pre-modern writings. It leaves theism as a anthropological phenomenon, a way that man has dealt with himself and his environment.”

    No, it leaves the writings as anthropological. It doesn’t say much at all about theism.

    “It does not prove or equate to any kind of evidence, philosophically or other wise, for a deity. ”

    Agreed. The proof is not in the writing but in the writing’s proper application. Try it out and see if it “works”. For me, when I do, it does.

    I’m sorry. I don’t follow your last question.

  • Jon G

    LarryRR,

    “My larger question though is, on the continuum from the Big Bang to 2nd Coming, where did humanity go off the rails? Was there a fracturing ‘event’, (a defiant bite) or a gradual self-awareness and the dawning that there must be a God and we owe Him?”

    This was kind of the point I was making with Klasie…if we approach the relationship of God and Humanity not as perfect Deity and fallen Humanity but rather as loving father and immature children, then we have no need to consider (1) a single event that broke the whole thing or (2) a debt that we must pay. With maturity along God’s lines we grow closer to the image of Christ and with a Father there is never debt to be paid. Instead think of it in terms of growing wiser and self-giving vs foolish and self-centered and obedience out of love vs obedience out of duty. Our sins show our lack of maturity in Christ, not our compilation of debt.

    ” I can live with the Creation account being ‘wisdom literature’ instead of historical, but that places it along side of many other creation accounts designed to explain our existence. It the larger Truth that Genesis account is getting at that feels so nebulous.”

    The larger Truth about Genesis is not designed to explain our existence but God’s goodness. This is what sets it apart from other creation narratives. It is all about Him.

    “Nor do I understand the insistence by many that the choice/path is binary – that it’s a four-lane road and you’re either moving toward God and eternal life or away from God and eternal damnation. If I use my free will to decide NOT to have a relationship with the OT and/or NT God, but still try to live a life that, on balance, benefits my circle of influence, am I simply in the slow lane to Hell, having been passed by Hitler and, potentially, Obama? Or, a la Rob Bell, does every human get to heaven eventually?”

    I’m in the Bell camp as far as I believe that Heaven/Hell are not “places” you go when you die so much as the experience of life lived with or without God. I don’t think Bell ever claims that all go to Heaven, but rather that God never stops wooing us towards Him and we never stop having the opportunity to come home to Him. That might play out in universalism but that isn’t the claim. Theoretically, you could continue refusing God forever.

    “It should be noted that not everyone wishes to live eternally, even if that eternity takes place in Paradise. Some of us just want to do our best and call it good.”

    I’m sure you’re right but I can’t imagine those people are considering truly incredible never-ending joy.

    ” It was that trapped either/or feeling that depressed the hell out of me for many years.”

    This is natural under the Perfect God-Fallen Sinner scenario but impossible under the Loving Father-Growing Child scenario. Run all this through the Prodigal Son story in Luke 15 and tell me if that is the god you were imagining when you felt so depressed.

  • Jon G

    I know I’ve mentioned this at nauseum here but I can’t recommend Peter Rollins’ book, The Idolatry of God, enough. This notion of sin and fracture and debt and falleness…these all come from a misperception that there is a gap between us and God. It is our invention of that gap and desire to keep filling that gap that prevents us from feeling close to God. But with a loving Father, there is never a gap or debt to be closed. Again, look at the Prodigal Son story…

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Jon @ 46 – I put together a detailed response – and then lost it! And today I cannot seem to get my thoughts around this together – so my apologies. Have a blessed Easter!

  • Jon G

    Too bad! I hate it when that happens!

    You have a great Easter, too, Klasie! ;-)

  • LarryRR

    Jon G. @ 47 – Thank you for your thoughtful replies. Now that I am a dad, I can understand that analogy much better. And perhaps that’s the way it really is. I love my children unreservedly (so far, they’re not quite teenagers yet) and want them to be 1) genuinely nice to others, and 2) happy; any other successes will be icing on the cake. And since I love them, under no circumstance would I allow them to suffer if I could prevent it. And if we somehow became estranged, that would make me very sad but I would not punish them for that estrangement. And that’s where I had to leave my Pentecostal/So. Baptist mentality behind because a loving Father could never be so vengeful or spiteful. Nor, as a parent, do I ever expect to be repaid because there is no debt to repay – every parent incurs that cost completely and willingly (hopefully!), as will our children someday.

    Perhaps some of us are just harder to convince of God’s existence, much less His love, and that will have to happen in the next life. However, many on this channel will say that once you are face to face with God, it’s too late and your fate is sealed, so you better believe now while you can (which, if nothing else, really cheapens the free will part of belief). You and Bell come at this from a very similar place – that even after death, we’re not going away, but neither is God, and the door is always open. Not entirely sure I believe that but I would like to. And if it is true, and God and I are face to face, it’s going to be A LOT harder to say there’s no evidence He exists.

    The prodigal son may be the single best parable in the Bible and if that were the only image of God in the Bible, there would probably be no other religions and no unbelievers. It’s a wonderful story and exactly how you would want your dad to respond after you had completely blown it. But how do you reconcile that father with the Father a few chapters earlier in Luke 12:4-5 (“Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell.”)? Or Hebrews 10:26-31 (“It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”)? As you alluded to before, how we define ‘sin’ and its consequences, and how we define God, makes all the difference. We seem to be a long way from consensus and that’s just within Christianity.

    Thanks too for the book reference. I will look for both ‘The Idolatry of God’ and for the apparently indispensable ‘The Reason for God’ (which is mentioned often on other Patheos blogs, particularly Frank Viola’s).

  • Jon G

    LarryRR- (sorry, this is going to be long!)

    I ,too, am a dad (3 young kids) and it was becoming a dad that made me see God in this light. I’m glad you can see that depiction of God, even if it does get obscured by other notions of God in the text. Hold on to that image…it will greatly strengthen your faith.

    As to what I do with other texts that seem to counter that Father-like depiction, I’ll be honest with you and say that it is not a bumpless road. One thing that I do now, through the work of people like Peter Enns and John Walton and others on this blog, is to see the Bible not as “The Word of God”, but as “a word about God” from people who have interacted with Him and been inspired by Him. I believe that God inspired it, but that we wrote it (Peter Enns’ fantastic book “Inspiration and Incarnation” really hits this home.). So everything I read in the text must be filtered realizing that every depiction of God is going to be incomplete and possibly skewed by the author. I do give preference to the events and words of Jesus, especially those confirmed by more than one author, but in the end, I hold the Bible with esteem and yet caution.

    Secondly, the Bible consistently uses a few select frameworks for describing God throughout. These are typically (but maybe not limited to) Father (which implies Creator but also tender relationship like “ABBA Father”), King (which includes Judge but also caretaker and leader), Lover (which entails looking towards the happiness of another before oneself), and Friend (which works only with time together, shared interests, and commitment). Obviously God is much too great to be limited to these analogies, and they are simply ways that Biblical writers try to capture the goodness they see in God but they are also fitting descriptions of the minimum standard of what God is like. What I find striking are the number of times Jesus fits ALL of these categories that the OT used to describe God. But my main point isn’t that these frameworks tell us everything about God, but they do tell us some things that God isn’t. For instance, a God who sends people to Hell for their sins might be a righteous Judge, but He wouldn’t be a loving Father or a Lover or a Friend. A God who would continually forgive destructive behavior without restorative measures might be a good Lover but not a great Friend or Father. You get the point. He is more than these frameworks, but not less…at least not if the Bible is consistent and inspired by God.

    So, if I come to a passage in the Bible that seems to breaks against those minimum characteristics of God, then I ask myself whether I have read it rightly or whether it might be anthropological writing, or even maybe if there is a broader meaning behind specific troubling accounts (for instance, since the ane cultures were more collective-focused as opposed to individually-focused, we can view many individual atrocities as comments about a collective group – a generic description of events).

    Personally, I DO side too often with the Father-like relationship of God and don’t consider the other frameworks enough. I think that it’s natural to gravitate to one analogy over another, and as long as I remember that I do that, I think I won’t let that notion skew other passages that aren’t talking about God as Father. But it is something I need to watch. That said, using these lenses, and especially these lenses through the life of Jesus, I just don’t see God acting the way others are claiming He is acting. I really think those are misreadings of the text.

    2 other things briefly (or not).

    (1) I want you to know that you are not alone in your wrestling with this. Although I might sound confident in my posts here, I live in much tension because I know that as much as I think the God of the Bible exists and is loving…that doesn’t MAKE it true. I could very much be delusional. That’s a hard fact that I’ve had to face. I’ve deconstructed my original faith all the way down to it’s foundation and spent many sleepless nights wondering if I could be sure of anything at all. But that’s when I realized two things. 1) If Materialism was right, and there was nothing but the physical and all these “God” ideas were just my brain playing tricks on me…then it didn’t matter if I believed in God. The “truth” of the situation didn’t even exist because nothing but the physical existed and Truth is metaphysical. So what did knowledge of that reality really get me except nihilism? And 2) if God DID exist, why would I think that I could find evidence of Him by studying, contemplating, and theologizing Him? Don’t get me wrong, I love to do those things and I think they have their place, but I had made God an object to be studied instead of a person to be loved and who loves me in relationship…it’s no wonder that I felt as if He wasn’t there. What if your kids did the same to you?

    Which brings us back to the 4 depictions of God I mentioned above. Like Lover. If I treated my wife the way I treated God in all my wrestling (does she exist?, what evidence do I have for her love?, what is she like?, how can I trust that the photos of her as a child were not Photoshopped to make her look happy or cute?, etc.) I would have never been able to grow in relationship with her because all those things point to trivial characteristics ABOUT her but not to the woman I know in relationship WITH her. I would not have EXPERIENCED her in relationship but rather LEARNED about her through analysis and contemplation and that kind of study removes one from love and warmth. It objectifies and weakens relationship. But living with her, taking part of what she enjoys and cares about, walking through the trials of parenting with the only other person who loves my kids the way I do, fighting with her when everything I care about is on the line…these are things that can’t be studied and these are also things that are lost when knowledge gleaned through relationship gives way to that obtained by evidence.

    Remember above that I mentioned that I constantly live in some tension between whether or not I believe in God? Of course…ALL relationships have that tension…at least ones where there is something on the line. We never fully know whether we or the other is 100% committed to the relationship. We have doubts…some more than others. But those doubts are confirmed or denied only through experience. Thinking through them usually ends up in mistrust or separation. Relationship tensions need relationship experiences to work through, not philosophy.

    I’m not saying evidence isn’t important. I know my wife cares about me because she is willing to make up after a fight or because she does a million little things to look after me and our family. But I can see those things because I have already been in relationship with her…I’ve FIRST made the committment (really, based on very little good evidence before marriage – some quite mistaken!) and THEN seen it to be true (or false). It seems to me that many, including myself, want to find out before believing, before committing, before opening themselves up to being wrong when the actual fact is that the committing to that relationship is what brings forth the evidence. You’ll never “know” until you try (kind of like how Adam “knew” Eve!).

    How do I know that my wife loves me? Because I live with her and nobody knows her like I do…sometimes not even herself! How do we know if God loves us? Because we walk with Him, talk with Him, take interest in what He is interested in, love those He loves and die for those He dies for. IF the Bible is right, then doing what Jesus says SHOULD prove itself to be true ONLY by experience, and intellectually contemplating that SHOULD prove an empty pursuit because God is not promising empirical evidence…He’s promising relationship just like a good dad doesn’t argue to his kids all the evidences that he loves them…rather he gives them a hug.

    But I get it…sometimes you have to say, “Yeah, but I don’t SEE God giving me a hug!. I CAN see my wife or kids.” That’s fair. But how often do we as dads go give our kids, who tell us they want nothing to do with us or they don’t believe in us, hugs? Sometimes the best a dad can do (like the Prodigal Son story) is let their kids go in the hopes that they will see the error of their ways. I think the prodigal son didn’t SEE his father similarly to the way that we don’t SEE God. And when they do make that committment to come back and be in relationship, he’ll run out to meet them and hug the stuffin’ out of them.

    So in essence, I’m, now, trying to follow God to see if that approach brings me closer to a knowledge of His existence and love and goodness (so far it has). If it doesn’t, then oh, well. The path of nihilism is a waste of time anyways. But if it does…OH MAN!!! Can you imagine what it would be like if your kids loved you the way you love them??? Or you and your wife had the kind of connection where no amount of dishes or laundry got in the way of always enjoying each other’s company? I can’t imagine anything better than being in a truly love-oriented relationship. It makes my heart skip a beat just thinking about it!

    (there was a second point, right? – I’m sorry but I forgot what it was…)

  • Jon G

    One more thing, LarryRR (and Klasie too!),

    YOU are evidence to me that God exists and is loving. I read your words, feel your struggle and can see that you, like me, have kids that you can’t help but want to squeeze tightly (even if they drive you nuts!). The very fact that we’ve been able to relate on this blog and that I have felt uplifted by our dialogue makes me feel that God wants me to delight in His creation.

    YOU are like God giving me a hug.

    Have a blessed Easter!

    Jon


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