The Devil in God’s Bedroom, Part 2: The Wager

(This is the second half of The Devil in God’s Bedroom. It begins with the final line from yesterday’s half.)

GOD: [Adam and Eve] would never dream of disobey­ing me, because they will love me, and honor me, and do every­thing that they possibly can to please me.

DEVIL: Of course they will. It’s beyond questioning. They are your creations, after all. And trust me: you entirely misunderstand my interest in them. I would not for a single moment think of compromising your relationship with them. As if I were even capable of such a thing! Besides, I find it heartwarming, the under­standing that you describe having with them. It’s so . . . I don’t know . . . quaint.

GOD: (suspiciously) What do you mean, `quaint’?

DEVIL: I mean there you are, with so much power, creating these beings who are so complex. So intense. So . . . life like. And yet . . .

GOD: What do you mean, “so” life-like? What’s that sup­posed to mean? They do have life!

DEVIL: Oh, I’m sorry. My mistake. I thought you said that you designed them without free will.

GOD: What are you talking about? I didn’t say that. Trust me: they have free will. I made them with free will, okay?

DEVIL: Of course! What do I know? I meant nothing more than to reiterate what I thought you had said. I thought you had said that with regards to their sexuality, Adam and Eve were going to be without free will, insofar as you were going to put it permanently into their heads that they should absolutely and under no circumstances make wild, passionate love for days at a time, or become involved with … oh, I don’t know … multiple partners, or whatever lurid sorts of behaviors they might find irresistible. Whips and so on. I have no idea. And clearly it doesn’t matter. Forgive me. I was confused. I thought you said they wouldn’t be able to choose what they did.

GOD: Well, that’s not what I said. What I said was that I was going to ask them to refrain. Request them to remain pure. They’ll still be able to disobey me, if they want to. But they won’t, see? Because I, their one and only God, will have asked them for this. And it would not occur to them to ever give me any reason for displeasure. What!? What are you smiling at!

DEVIL: Oh, it’s just … . It’s nothing. Really. It’s just that I find the whole thing so . . . I don’t know . . . charming, really. This is all very charming.

GOD: What are you talking about?

DEVIL: That you feel that one command from you will be enough, that your simply telling them not to give into, say, their sensual desires, will be enough to ensure they don’t.

GOD: And you don’t. You don’t think that will be enough for them.

DEVIL: They’ll have free will, right? Absolute free will?

GOD: Yes.

DEVIL: Well, listen, let’s not kid ourselves, shall we? We both have our specialties. Mine happens to be the ways of the flesh. As it should be! It’s absurd to think of you sullying yourself with the sorts of things with which I spend so very much of my time. But surely you agree that after all these eons gone by, I do know a bit more than you about the temptation and allures of sensual indulgence. I’m not proud of that knowledge, of course. I’m just saying it’s something I know something about.

GOD: What are you talking about? Of course I know about sensual indulgence. I know about sex! I’m God, you idiot! And I am telling you: my order to Adam and Eve that they ignore their base, animalistic instincts will be enough to insure that they do!

DEVIL: Of course it will be. I’m sorry. Of course. Your command is all it will take. Especially if you use that truly fearsome lower range you have, that booming voice you can do. I know I shudder whenever I hear it. We all do down there. That is certainly all it will take.

GOD: All right, that’s it. I can’t stand it. We’re betting. You and I, right now, a bet. Do you want to bet over this?

DEVIL: A bet? Gosh, I hardly know if I should.

GOD: Oh, how I hate you! Okay, here’s the deal. I’m not even going to bring sex into this. I don’t even need something as big as sex to prove to you how devoted to me Adam and Eve will be. Okay? Forget that. Here’s what we’ll do. Down in the garden where Adam lives now is an apple tree. It’s sur­rounded by all kinds of other fruit trees: cherry, pear, orange, mango, you name it. All right? Now, here’s the deal. I’m going to order Adam and his mate, Eve, to never, ever eat an apple off that one tree. That’s it. That’s all they have to do. Never one apple, from one stupid tree. And I promise you those apples will look delicious.

DEVIL: I’ve seen them. They are irresistible.

GOD: Oh, shut up. Now. You and I will make a deal, that if either of those two does eat off that tree, then you can go down there and join them in a threesome if you want to. But we won’t put it to them like that. I won’t mention anything to them at all except, “Do not eat an apple off this specific tree.” If they obey me, they get to live in the garden and lay around like two fat cats in the sun for the rest of their lives, and you can never go anywhere near them, ever. If they obey me, they are permanently off limits to you. Do you understand?

DEVIL: Absolutely.

GOD: And if they disobey me, and eat from the tree, then you can go down there, and you can bring your oils and lava lamps and whatev­er else you think might help you turn them into rutting obsessives, and you can stay there until you have her dressing in crotchless fig leaf peek-a-boo outfits, and him wearing them when she goes to sleep at night! So whattaya’ say, perv boy? Strike you as an interesting bet?

DEVIL: You know, this is why I come to visit you. You’re just fun to know. I love your passion.

GOD: I hate yours.

DEVIL: “Interesting” isn’t the word for this bet. It’s fascinating. Do you know that if we do this, I’m not sure I’d be able to pay attention to any­thing else? It would be hard not to watch them all the time.

GOD: I don’t care if you turn into a boil and attach yourself to one of their foreheads. You can watch them all you want. If you want to go live in the garden, so you can have a front row seat to watch them obey and love and worship me, that’s fine with me. You can’t tell them who you are, of course, or what you’re really doing there. But if you want to go down there as, say, a squirrel or some­thing, just to watch, that’d be fine. I’d have no objection. I want you to see me win this. In fact, I have an idea. Why don’t you become a snake? Low, slimy, a good view up everybody’s loin cloth. That seems about your style.

DEVIL: That actually does sound intriguing. I might just take you up on that!

GOD: So we have a deal.

DEVIL: We do. Shake on it?

GOD: Let’s not and say we did.

DEVIL: You wound me.

GOD: Gee. How sad.

DEVIL: But our bet is official. It’s on. I have your word on that.

GOD: You do.

DEVIL: All right, then. I suppose there’s nothing to do now but wait, and watch it all unfold.

GOD: You’re going to go down there tomorrow, aren’t you?

DEVIL: When are you going to forbid them from eating the pears?

GOD: The apples.

DEVIL: The apples.

GOD: Right away. Quite soon.

DEVIL: Then quite soon is when I suppose I’ll start observing them. Very exciting! I must say, I hope I win. They sound like they would be fun to play with.

GOD: Believe me: you’ll never know.

DEVIL: Well, and, let’s face it. Even if I do win this bet, and you do let me become involved with them, in whatever ways I might, they will still have you on their side. If there’s one thing I know about you, it’s that you never abandon your creations. There is a lot that be said about you, but that you’re not loyal isn’t one of them. If they lose, you’ll figure out a way for them to win yet.

GOD: We’ll see. But I’m not worried about it.

DEVIL: Until next time, then?

GOD: Yes. Great. Good-bye. Don’t let the door hit you on the tail on your way out.

About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. Don't forget to sign up for his mucho-awesome newsletter.

  • Elizabeth

    @ Rainne: I am just the kind of idiot who would debate on this subject even though John is correct — you clearly want a melodramatic fight, not a discussion. The thing is, predestination is a sore spot with me, and there are plenty of Christians who, consciously or not, still subscribe to it — people who think their material possessions or success indicate their innate goodness. If you need an example, go back to some of the comments on tithing. There are several well-meaning Christians who just can't understand why the poor can't behave themselves, stop suffering and voila! Enjoy God's bounty which is sure to come with "right living".

    Frankly, though, I can't make heads or tails of what you wrote. I see a couple of nouns — fallacy, free will, predestination — and even they are pretty vague, and then a lot of… typing.
    If you want to give it another shot, let me know.

  • DonP

    In other words: God made everything. He knew that the crap would hit the fan before He uttered His very first "Let there Be" anything………….He knew how hurt we would be, he knew the murder and mayhem and disease and suffering and stealing and hurting and damn it, the hurting ……………………………..but He did it anyway.

    I think I said it before, on another post here. I got some questions God. In my world. The world you made God, the world I live in every day. Not some pie in the sky promised heavenly world of tomorrow: If a man does a thing knowing in advance that his actions will cause suffering then he is to blame. Not only that God, he is responsible for all the consequences that ensue.

    • Diana

      And my response to this is: if God really did know all the crap that would go down as a result of his saying "Let there be light" at the time he said it, including his own suffering both on and off the cross– and decided to go ahead with the endeavor anyway, then whatever it is that he's expecting (?) as a result must be pretty marvelous, to make all the suffering (his and ours) worth it.

      • amelia

        Right on, Diana! :)

  • Argybargy

    Excellent. Love it. Here’s a question, though: if He’s God, if he’s omniscient–you know, all that exists-outside-of-time business, He surely should have known how it would turn out. Then, it was somehow some sort of trap for Old Scratch to fall into as opposed to A&E? Never mind that those poor first kids wouldn’t have a chance.

    Does knowing that what A&E were going to do–and do nothing to stop it–make God bad somehow? Or is that just the price of free will?

    Keep it coming, John!

    • Argybargy

      Maybe a way for Satan to only see them in turns of their urges–distract him from the potential created by their free will?

    • Rainne

      Kind of points out the logical fallacy in that whole business of "Oh, you have free will but you can be punished for using it and God already knows what you are going to do even though you haven't done it yet and might not do it because he knows everything but really you have got free will he just already knows how you are going to use it but no that's not predestination at all", eh?

      • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

        People: this is a perfect example of the kind of comment that makes my "Probably going to have to block soon" alarm go off. Toooooo angry and snarky. She (or he?) is clearly just looking for a fight. Not helpful.

        • Dennis Dawson

          What, now you're not going to allow angry and snarky posts? But this was the last site on the Internet from which I've not been banned outright….

          • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

            Well, see, now, you're in luck, because I have a very soft spot in my heart for people who actually write well. You can say just about ANYTHING on this blog, if you say it with enough panache. And you do. So you're in. Pagan.

      • http://apilgrimsthoughtsonfaithandlife.blogspot.com/ Jim

        Wow…I'm really not sure why you'd post something like that on a blog that obviously deals with the practical implications of those who seek to apply our faith in our culture.

        What you wrote sounded so similar to the questions some first year seminary students would ask (really they were statements, not questions). By the end of the first year, they were either embarrassed they opened their mouth or they dropped out of seminary because they came for answers to questions that were not really questions…they really were needed to figure out why they were so angry or why everyone didn't see things just exactly like they did. The quick response to your statement is that there are very good and logical philosophical explanations to quite a bit of what you stated. But actually, you are mixing categories and confusing the issues. You need to ask yourself some different questions like do you really want someone to help you sort this out? Are you open to different ways of looking at reality that require some work to study and understand? I am sorry that you seem so angry and derisive. Like I did, I hope you find a good and kind Christian teacher/mentor that will help you as you discover the truth in these issues.

        • Argybargy

          Gee, thanks for reducing my quite legitimate questions and decent enough expressions of them to kindergarten musings. I hope you can be my Christian teacher/mentor. I have a lot to learn and you have the gentleness and grace to show it to me. I’m sure I won’t feel condescended to.

      • Matthew Tweedell

        Okay… I know this will probably upset some people, but I’m gonna have to take Rainne’s side here.

        Jim, there aren’t really any logical philosophical explanations here, just as there’s no logical explanation of why, when all is said and done, the universe even exists. One can come up with clever arguments for reconciling apparent inconsistancy, but that’s simply because neither inconsistancy nor reasoning contrived to counter it has a basis in what is objectively real—rather it is any excersise in the semantics of the man-made word.

        Elizabeth, you are absolutely right that material possessions are not a measure of goodness—in fact, a more Biblical view might be that portion of total material possessions acquired that have since been given away is a better measure of one’s goodness. But this doesn’t change what Paul wrote in Romans 9 (which is fully consistant with the rest of the Bible as well—as I once put it: “…the only freedom of our will that is mentioned in the Bible is the freedom to choose what is right, not some God-given right to be wrong! (free will – ‘And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.’) And God’s foreknowledge of all that transpires is repeatedly asserted. Perhaps you are doing just what you were conditioned, raised, bred, and fed to do, and at any moment an atom of lead you unwittingly ingested might mess with one of your neurons, altering your behaviors, your choices. How free do you think they are really?”)

        Rainne, I completely understand your point. Logical fallacy isn’t the right word to describe it, but it’s certainly counter-intuitive. Of course, the sky is blue! And that doesn’t seem at all intuitive to me.

        The truth is, it doesn’t really matter. We can call the sky “red” if we want. It doesn’t change the reality behind it. We could call it predestined or freely chosen—it doesn’t change whatever actually happened. Now I could get into a lot more complex arguments involving determinate vs. indeterminate Universal Touring Machines and so forth, but basically it’s just gonna come down to this: There is only one course of events that we experience as our world; yet we get to choose what many of them are; yet we cannot say to what degree our choices are compelled by circumstance; yet it doesn’t matter because this assumes the possibility of other choices, and possibility is an artifact of the human mind for the reality is really just one or the other—and it will be what it will be; so the distinction is all in our heads, like that between particle and wave; sometimes one model is preferable to the other.

        As I commented on John Shore’s FB status from May 22:

        “…the reason religion and politics don’t mix well is that a pragmatic secular institution is necessarily governed by a different philosphy from a spiritually-oriented institution. (For example, in secular philosphy it is very wise to maintain that all are created equal, but in answerng the inquiry of the soul, ‘Does not the potter have a right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?’)”

        I’m liking quoting myself today, so as I’ve commented elsewhere on this blog:

        “Truly the Spirit of God is all around us communicating His message for us through us. When we are yet slaves to sin, hiding in darkness lest our evil deeds be exposed to the light, we aren’t really free in what we do, though the lie would have us believe otherwise. And when we are one in/with the eternal Spirit, the Truth sets us free: we have free will; yet in this Spirit, the will is united; God’s will, in us, is fulfilled, and we even have the privilege to be called sons of God and together in Christ write the script acted out on this cosmic stage!”

  • Eleanor

    What a thought, that original sin came about not because Satan was sowing the seeds for the downfall of humankind, but because he was cheating to win a bet. So much for capital-E Evil – petty greed and general obnoxiousness would do the trick. And I love the characterization with the Odd Couple vibe.

    The discussion of free will and predestination has really gotten me thinking. (Thanks a lot, people.) Part of the quandary seems semantic. Does a defined outcome preclude individual choice? For example, when my kids are horsing around and I tell them to cut it out because someone will get hurt, and they keep horsing around and someone gets hurt, did the inevitable head bonk mean they couldn't choose to quit? Or did I make it happen by knowing it would happen? Neither, of course. (Although if I'd kept quiet they might have stopped on their own, but that's a tangent.) So just because all outcomes and endpoints are known by God, they aren't known by me, so stipulating predestination doesn't help at all when making personal choices. In fact, as has been said, what I do matters only the slightest bit, since I can never do enough to actually deserve Heaven, but it's moot thanks to Christ. I say it matters a bit, because we've been given pretty clear guidelines for behavior that brings us closer to God – love thy neighbor, etc.

    Here's some fuzzy logic – the "will" part of "free will" – the ability to choose – must exist, because different people do make different choices. I can not know whether or not my will is truly "free" – it sure feels as if my choices (and their consequences) are mine, influenced by circumstances, conincidence and consideration, all of which could represent the subtle direction of God (or aliens, if your faith goes that direction). But it doesn't matter! I'm still responsible for making the best possible choices and for the impact of those choices.

  • Elizabeth

    @ JohnB: I don't have the answer to predestination, free will, and why God lets bad things happen. I already gave a swing at that with DonP. My feelings aren't hurt if we agree that was a bunt, at best. (And there we have my first and probably last sports metaphor. Ever.)

    But there are many explanations for how you can be a "bad" atheist your whole life, and still get into heaven. My current favorite is from Madeleine L'Engle. She wasn't a theologian, but she was a respected author, as well as the librarian and artist-in-residence of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York. That's not a puff position; The Cathedral is the home of the Episcopalian diocese and the seat of the bishop. That makes her opinion more valid than, say, mine. She believed in Christian universalism and she puts it like this:

    "All will be redeemed in God's fullness of time, all, not just the small portion of the population who have been given the grace to know and accept Christ. All the strayed and stolen sheep. All the little lost ones."

    I don't think that will make everything better, and yeah, it's a little cloying, a little fey. You asked for other opinions, though, and that's a valid one. She wasn't alone. I bet you can find dozens of versions of the same sentiment.

    The point is, you don't have to choose between logic and a belief in God. Plenty of others have found a way to have both; Track them down, or invent your own.

    Personally, I don't have a problem with believing that there are things outside of my understanding. Imaginary numbers, for instance, and they're a lot simpler than God. (Madeleine L'Engle had an avid interest in mathematics and science. She would not agree with that example.) I have some brains, but I'm just not bowled over by their usefulness in every situation.

    If I did, though? If I thought intelligence alone could explain everything? I'd think it was a MAJOR flaw that this was the only problem that tripped it up. I might question my iron-clad ability to think as well as the existence of God.

    • JohnB

      Cool response :)

      After a bunch of years thinking, here's where I finally landed. Haven't moved since then…

      When I was in my early 20s, I had been thinking about this topic for a while. I had considered, rejected, considered, rejected, considered, and ultimately rejected the idea of seminary school. Philosophy was kind of what I wanted to do though… Still believing in God fanatically, I came to the conclusion that people had gotten things wrong.

      It is impossible for an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-compassionate being to have created a system that is described in the bible. Think about it. Starting with the sin from Adam? Even if I live a perfect life, I still have failed – that's not compassion. The free will-predestination conflict? That's chaos. I look around and all I see is order. I see no contradictions in any of the things I have observed – contradictions are usually caused by misunderstanding, which is something that humans do very well. That logic walk leads to only one conclusion.

      The bible must not the infallible word of God. Humans messed it up. I know – heresy!

      In the late 80s I found a paper on the biblical doctrine of hell, and that pretty much cinched it for me. It was the perfect example (for me) of how humans had corrupted scripture for their own ends. I'm not saying "why" here, just "that" it looks like it happened.

      I understand the work from Thomas B. Thayer to be the original work in this area (but didn't look for anything earlier than his work – if you know of any, tell me). The man was a noteworthy theologian of his day, and his work deserves the respect of anyone who considers them self to be a Christian today.

      The paper basically said this. If hell existed, Jesus would have spent more time talking about it. He only mentioned "Gehenna" on one occasion over his 3 year ministry (while giving the sermon on the mount.) One sermon for something so important? Those 4-5 references to a place we really don't want to go may have been referring to the valley of Hinnom, that was literally right down the road. It was probably topical, because the audience knew the place very well. All other references to "hell" in the new testament use Hades (a place of rest, assumed to be equivalent to the Hebrew sheol) or are in parable – not a literal teaching. None of the apostles ever mention it. Paul never mentions it. It just didn't seem that important to the early Christians.

      In the 155 years since this was published, we have learned a LOT about history. This just piles on HUGELY to support the notion that the hell myth was added to the Christian story about 175 AD because of traditions incorporated from the Roman people.

      Based on my reading of the bible, I don't believe in hell. Based on my understanding of God, hell (Tartarus) is a place that God decided to imprison Lucifer and his minions, and no human soul will ever go there.

      Well, there's a bit of my history…

      When I die, and if I end up waking up, I hope God reminds me of my mom, and that She has a plate of fresh baked cinnamon rolls with a hot cup of coffee to welcome me to eternity. (aka my version of "The Shack")

      • Diana

        "The bible must not the infallible word of God. Humans messed it up. I know – heresy!" Well, if it is heresy, it's one which you and I share. Probably a lot of other people as well (whether they admit it or not.)

        "When I die, and if I end up waking up, I hope God reminds me of my mom, and that She has a plate of fresh baked cinnamon rolls with a hot cup of coffee to welcome me to eternity. (aka my version of “The Shack”)"–This is sweet!

  • Elizabeth

    @ JohnB: Thank you for your compliment and for your gracious, detailed description of how you came to your understanding. I would like to follow up on this tomorrow, when I'm a bit fresher, but I want to give you a couple of first impressions.

    When I look around, I don't see order. I see chaos and discord. I don't know what to do with that observation but there it is.

    Many people don't believe in either the literal or historical accuracy of the Bible. (Yes, those are two different things.) That distinction has never bothered me. I find profound resonance in the Annunciation scene, for example. I see primal truths in it that are independent of whether Mary was actually a virgin. It has truth in it, even if it is not a faithful recording of facts.

    It sounds as if you question the infallibility of the Bible, not God. Surely there are people who will find this heretical, but I think that's an OK distinction to make. Anyone rational has to make some sort of peace with translation issues and human error. Anyone who is dead certain about everything in the Bible is lying or delusional.

    On that ever-popular note, I have to go to bed. And John, I think that is a great way to describe heaven. I don't think you're so far off. Can it really be heaven without cinnamon rolls?

  • Don Whitt

    Re. predestination: My wife, a voracious reader, always gets peeved at me for skipping to the ends of books and magazine articles instead of patiently reading the whole text. So I've stopped doing that and only read until I'm pretty sure I've figured out the plot or point and then I put the book/article down and never look at it again. It's now an exception when I complete a book or lengthy article. Perhaps God is like that, too. He knows exactly how it ends, but doesn't bore himself with all the details in-between – so we're free to get to that end however we want.

    • amelia

      It's funny you should mention that. I ALWAYS look at the last page of book before I start to read it. :)

    • Diana

      Wow. That's seriously cool! I think you might be right, Don.

  • Elizabeth

    @ DonP: I have some questions for God, too. I’ve gone through periods where I ignored Him. Right now, we’re kind of at a cool but polite safe distance. We’ve agreed to disagree. I know how that feels.

    I still believe there is a path for my life, and a power of goodness guiding it — and I wish He’d hurry the eff up. That doesn’t make me less of a Christian. That makes me the complicated, moody, fallible person God made and loves — even when I’m yelling at Him. Maybe especially then.

    I can’t remember where I got this. Maybe it’s completely blasphemous. Somewhere around ten years ago, I read that when you are at your most pissed off is when God looks down and smiles at you and says, “Go for it! You’re about to make a breakthrough!” It has not yet proven true (that I know — He is crafty) but I still find that image comforting. Never stop questioning and yelling. God can take it.

    • Diana

      Amen, sister!

  • JohnB

    I came up with this logic as a teen ager – long before I had read any philosophy. Later I found the discussion to be quite old, and pondering it (and other things) has shaped the person l am today.

    I do not want a fight on the subject – I went through that phase of my life already. I want to understand a different point of view. I’m perfectly OK with an answer of “I don’t know”, but I’m fairly well read, and just cannot find anything that defeats this seeming logical contradiction between predestination, free will, and what looks like anti-compassion of God.

    Setting, humor about a duck aside, let’s talk about big picture. As a “personal God”, I would expect Him to understand quite a bit about my person and my future. If God knows the arch of my life, (perhaps not the minor details of my future, but surely the key stuff) He knows at this point in time I do not believe in Him, and that it is pretty unlikey this will ever change. If I got hit by a bus (albeit unlikely since I am on the second floor of an office building) I would go to my grave not believing. God must have known this before I was born.

    History is full of people who went to the grave as atheists exactly because they are part of the (what I assume to be) 5-10% that cannot believe in things without physical evidence. That’s me. I can no more easily believe in him that Zeus.

    It’s a question I have thought about for more than half my life, and I would value and appreciate any input.

    I hope that was suitably un-snarky :)

    • DonP

      God accepted His responsibility by offering His son as payment for sin. Yeah, I know this whole story, the Christian one, seems lame to a logically thinking person. But, perhaps it is the best way for us to understand who God is. Not that we can mind you. But maybe it’s the best we can do.

    • Matthew Tweedell

      Ok… it seems to me (at this point)—though I want to be entirely clear that I do not know and am entirely too fallible to pass any sort of judgment on this really—that you *do* know God and *will* have a place in eternal Life, whether you admit it or not. Those who don’t–yes–they go to Hell. “What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’” (Romans 9:15) Sure, it might seem unjust to you that God should destine any man for a torturous demise, “But who are you, O man, to talk back to God?” That is—where do you get the idea that you can decide what actually is just? “He hardens whom he wants to harden.” So the one with a hard heart does not what is right, and truly has deserved the punishment ordained.

      You see, their fate might seem unjust to you, but you don’t really understand what “they” are.

      Would it be unjust to burn a dead tree? Is it unfair to squash an annoying bug? To throw out an old computer? To terminate a robot? Is a slave to sin any better?

      Now the fact that some matter was made into a robot and some other matter into a man does not mean the pile of scrap that makes up a robot was treated unfairly in comparison with that which was possessed of a human spirit. (Actually… a remote-control robot is also possessed by a human spirit, but that’s beside the point.)

      In the same way, if that spirit was not of the sort that would endure, so be it.

      I am no better. In what way am I, or anyone, deserving of Life? Not only eternal life but any life at all? Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. But there’s more here than just the body you see (or, well, actually, you don’t, but it’s here–trust me). I have the Spirit (and I pray to God I’m right about the capitalization here); the Truth sets me free; I have free will; yet it’s more like I’m a part of the body of That having the free will, though this will is equally, fully mine, and this Spirit endures from everlasting to everlasting, whilst all that goes against it is overcome.

      For those to whom there is nothing more than the physical self–yeah–they get covered over, sealed up, in hell (that’s what “hell” originally means you see). Yet how were they actually so different from a robot, in the end?

      • JohnB

        I don't know…

        If as a child, I dedicated my life to Christ, and after that, came to the realization that he's no more likely to exist than my imaginary friend, would God kick me out of his club?

        Seems that you would, but I expect God to be compassionate.

        My understanding of scripture is that a sin is a sin is a sin. The sin of disbelief (if that is in fact a sin) is no worse than any of the other things that I already accepted forgiveness for.

        If I accepted forgiveness as a child, and God still sends me to hell, he is unfair and unjust.

        • amelia

          John, you might be interested in this:
          http://www.bible.ca/ef/expository-matthew-12-31.h

          • JohnB

            Not that interested…

            Frankly, it really did scare me a bunch of years ago, but blasphemy may be generally defined as “defiant irreverence.”

            I'm not the kind of person who would curse God.

            To me, that's what is necessary.

          • amelia

            That's the same definition used in the link in addition to Thayer's. The only reason I included it was because Jesus said that people would be forgiven for not believing in "the son of man," but not the Holy Spirit of God. And you were mentioning that God wouldn't be compassionate if He didn't forgive you. So, I am still wondering, do you believe in God (and His forgiveness), but just not in Jesus?

          • JohnB

            I was familiar with the verse, and didn't read the link until just now. Interesting that we both came up with the same basic definition for blasphemy.

            I sounded much more pissy than I intended. This week has been difficult, and I should have probably gotten a ticket last night for BWI (blogging while intoxicated).

            At the age of 15, I knew that one day I would be "pastor John". For the first half of my life I was passionately dedicated to understanding the bible, because I KNEW that it was the most important thing that I could possibly read. I was that goofy kid in high school that had a jacket covered with Christian buttons and pockets full of tracts I bought for a quarter each at the Christian Book Store. I actually carried a bible wherever I went, and as you might expect, I had no social life.

            I grew out of it.

            I respect everyone's beliefs, but I happen to subscribe to a belief system that requires physical evidence. I call myself a pearlist now (Physical Evidence And Reasoned Logic). I very much like the idea of an after life, but there is simply no evidence to support it.

            Still, I like it.

          • amelia

            Whatever you are going through, I am praying for your comfort and peace, John. You approached this whole discussion with respect, forthrightness and humor when getting pretty slammed by the Christian sensitivities involved. Thank you so much for answering my questions. My 21 year old daughter is an Athiest and it used to scare/hurt/frustrate the hell out of me because I thought I would never see her again after leaving this life. See, most Indians I know can tell you, this is just one part of the walk. Infact, we never really started or stopped walking, we just shift paths depending on where our spirit decides. The whole concept of an afterlife is mute in terms of eternity becuase everyone is looking for the starting point and the endpoint on an ever expanding sphere. There just isn't one, meaning that the "afterlife" everyone is so excited about is happening right now. Totally my opinion, but thankfully I can share that here. If the thought exists as some form of "evidence" then perhaps you'll see what I mean, not just right now as you're reading these words, but in our so-called futures as well. And I really hope that I'll see you on that path, along with my daughter…because if you're right, and there's nothing after our bodies rot into the earth, I guess we're wasting so much time just sitting here, aren't we? If we only have a possible 67 years on this earth and that's it, why blow it on meaningless jobs, relationships, etc. when we can just explore, appreciate and love every moment? In your heart (an He is there) it will be o.k. You are very much loved…

            Peace,

            Amie

          • JohnB

            My oldest daughter is 20, and in her I see the same struggles I was going through at that age. Other than encouraging her to explore as many possibilities as she can, I like to think that I've been a neutral influence on her decision making process. I'm fully confident that whatever she decides, it will be a good decision for her.

            She was a very active member of the church the family attends, went on several outreach trips to help the needy. A couple years back I made sure she was able to go to Israel with others from the church as somewhat of a pilgrimage. I'm glad she has had these opportunities.

            Now, she's writing book reviews on her FB about books she has read by various atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, and I cannot help but have both a feeling of pride, and a sense that I have caused her to stumble.

            I understand your point about your feelings for your daughter and her beliefs.

            I like your opinion on the afterlife. I have heard people say things like the soul is eternal, and occasionally it will inhabit a shell for a while in order to experience something new.

            I don't agree with the idea that we are just wasting time if all that is going to happen after we die is that we rot. Perhaps I am missing your point (something I have become quite good at lately).

            I work so that I can have a house, so that my kids can have a chance at a better life, so they can do the same things for their kids. I work so that I can better have the ability to form loving relationships with the people in my life. I really can't think of much that I can do which holds more meaning.

            At this point in my life it is time to go to Costco…

            Thanks for the chat :)

        • Matthew Tweedell

          If that's your understanding of Scripture, go right ahead and believe in it!

          (As for me, however, I would humbly disagree.)

          • JohnB

            Humble disagreement generally means "I don't understand, but I disagree". And, that's how I interpret your comment.

            I'm not going to let you dismiss my understanding in that way. I spent a 15 years of my life studying, and you have not demonstrated yourself as my equal.

            Throw out some evidence or stop responding.

          • Matthew Tweedell

            What do you mean? I understand perfectly well (both your understanding and the reasoning behind my own).

            However, if you’ve already decided that that’s how you’re going to interpret Scripture, there’s really no point in arguing with you here. I would feel the same if you said, “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammed is His prophet.”

            Until you start saying things that have some sort of practical consequence for what you’re going to *do*, why should I challenge what you *believe*?

            Now I can explain to you what *I* believe—which I’ve done. And that’s that: belief—not fact. The only solid evidence I could cite would be Scriptural, and you’ve already indicated that you’ll disagree with the interpretation of that evidence.

            Yet it’s nothing worth fighting over to me. I thought perhaps we could just respect one another’s beliefs, admit differences of interpretation but agree on the essential consequence of those beliefs for how we relate in the world.

            If you’ve got a problem with that, then it would be *you* who needs provide more evidence, to pursuade me your position is correct. (It doesn’t take 15 years to read through the Bible, and it seems quite clear there that some sins were dealt with more harshly than others and that “disbelief” is not a sin in the usual sense, among other things.)

          • JohnB

            Matthew, I humbly apologize for my comments. I consider "take the high road" to be a statement that all who know me can say is one if my ideals. Clearly I didn't do it last night.

            This week has literally been one of the worst weeks of my life, and when I read a comment that you made to me a couple days ago (while I was crying my eyes out due to a personal loss) that accused me of being incapable of the ability to experience love, I made up my mind about the kind of person you are.

            Can we start over?

          • Matthew Tweedell

            Yes.

            I am sorry also.

            You see, at times, I run short of patience for what seems to me like boxed-in thinking, and I've found that the simplest way to get people to think outside their box (or maybe just the simplest way to win an argument sometimes to boost my own ego) is to aggressively rip out the side of the box. It's a rhetorical device that I can get carried away with when I myself am not exactly feeling the peace of the Lord. I mean, I don't mean to assert that it's true necessarily, but only that it is–for me–a logical result of the worldview that someone else (you in this case) claims to hold, which hopefully would illustrate in stark terms the inconsistency I see in that viewpoint. You remained remarkably well-composed in your interaction with me, however. I could see—and see even more clearly in light of the realization that this has been an extraordinarily difficult week for you—your effort to take the high road. Perhaps at first it even seemed so stoic as to contribute to my impression that you were almost animalistically unspiritual, but as it became clear that that this wasn't the case, I was led to believe, as I said above, that you *do* know God—perhaps you don't recognize Him by that name—but I see what appears to me to be the Holy Spirit in you!

            You are a good man, John. If it means anything to you, I’ll be praying for you. Not for your soul, mind you—I’m not worried about your salvation status—but for your heart, for whatever it is that you’ve been through this past week, and whatever you face in the days to come. God bless — or, if there is no god, just *be* blessed.

          • JohnB

            Last night, right after I pressed submit, I sat there and shook my head, knowing that I should not have.

            Thank you for your response. I greatly appreciate it.

            I have so many thoughts in my head right now, but absolutely no desire to type. That will have to wait for another time.

            I appreciate the blessing(s) and wish the same for you.

  • http://allegro63.blogspot.com/ Sylvie Galloway

    I am sitting here, having just read a very amusing interchange in a completely fictional setting by two well known characters, knowing very well that an actual conversation like the one John portrays most likely never occurred. That or it was even more bizarre then our paltry little imaginations can fathom. I find the story a great example of satire. I have enjoyed it immensely, but then I like stuff like that. And yet, here we go with people not getting the joke.

    Oh wait… it is a joke, right?

  • DonP

    I am so grateful for your writing John. The responses that you inspire. For the innards that are spilled, the floor that is soiled and the diapers that are filled with our clumsy attempts to explore and explain our own glimpses into eternity……..Thank you.


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