Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Spirituality of Deconstruction

The questions raised in the comments of my last post are worth another post. I have used the word deconstruction. What is that? You could look it up in the dictionary or read books about it (which I recommend). I will give you my understanding. In a simple sentence, deconstruction is the task of exposing the subjectivity of narratives previously considered objective.

Deconstruction demonstrates that what has been presented as absolute truth is a human construct. An example in politics was the movement from the Divine Right of Kings toward democracy. This is beautifully illustrated in Monty Python's In Search of the Holy Grail. Check out this scene. My favorite line is from the snarky peasant to King Arthur: "You cannot claim absolute power because some watery tart throws a sword at you!"

In literature, particularly sacred literature, deconstruction shows how the narratives reveal the author's subjectivity, context, and prejudices. Think of the critiques of the Qur'an. The Qur'an is viewed by most Muslims as the revealed word of God through Muhammed. Deconstruction demonstrates that these narratives are re-tellings of other narratives or they reflect the political or philosophical situation of Muhammed or his time period.

We use deconstruction in evaluating another person's assertions. My father often says, "consider the source." Rather than take something that someone says as objective truth at face value, we deconstruct what they have said based on their background, prejudices, and so forth. Even as we deconstruct or evaluate others, we, too, have a background and prejudices that we often do not see.

Deconstruction is a continual process. We cannot live without deconstruction. We do it all of the time. It is the foundation of learning. Of course, we are often more skilled at deconstructing the truths of others rather than our own truths. Because others see things about us or our truths that we do not, we have blind spots. No one is immune from this. No one has an all-seeing eye. The best we can do is to put ourselves in conversation.

It is disconcerting to be deconstructed! We resist having our own prejudices exposed. We resist having our beliefs relativized. When this happens, usually, after a period of denial, we come to accept that what we once thought was Truth is not as absolute as we once thought it was. It is difficult to live without truths, so we construct another truth (or think that we have discovered another truth).

Because deconstruction is painful, there is a temptation to construct something quickly just to calm this anxiety. I think of college students or seminary students (including myself, of course) who go through the painful process of learning that what they thought was absolute is relative. Some despair and quit altogether. Some try to shore up the old constructs. Some let go, experience the anxiety, and see what happens.

Pain is not the final word for deconstruction. Liberation is the last word. I titled this post the spirituality of deconstruction because deconstruction is a spiritual path. It is also called the via negativa or the way of letting go. It is the letting go of our constructs. Another way of putting it is that we let go of God in order to find God. Once we name God, that name becomes a construct subject to deconstruction.

One image of spirituality is a ladder that we climb or a building we ascend. The spiritual image for deconstruction might be a free-fall. The constructs on which we stand crumble and we fall only to land on another construct. We stay there for a while, experiencing this truth and then free-fall again. As the climb up the ladder leads ultimately to God, so the free-fall ultimately leads to God. Rather than climb to God, we fall to God.

One of the constructs of Christianity that has been crumbling is the claim that its sacred texts and creeds are objectively real or true. They were considered true because they could be verified historically or objectively. The texts or the creeds described how the world is or so we thought. Copernicus (cosmology), Darwin (origin of species), and D. F. Strauss (biblical criticism) are some of the pioneers in deconstructing the Christian narrative, even though they didn't necessarily set out to do that.

The stories of the birth of Jesus, for instance, were considered to be true because they happened. They were thought to be historical or real in the objective sense of the word. This is the construct that is crumbling. Of course many are in denial and attempt to shore up this construct. Ultimately, we are in free fall. The reason we know this is that we are debating it. Not only is the debate in the circles of higher learning, it is on the lips and in the ears of the populace. The days of the historical objectivity of the Christian narrative are numbered.

Once the historicity or the objectivity of the narratives (say the infancy narratives) crumbles with what are we left? Where do we land? Some feel it is the duty of the scholar or the clergyperson to build a construct for us. I have often heard my colleagues say something to this effect: "Don't take something away without giving them something." Don't, in other words, deconstruct the text (or a belief) without providing a construct for the text (or another belief).

I think that is too tall an order. No clergyperson or scholar can build a construct for us. We are on our own. That is the liberation of deconstruction. I, as a clergyperson, cannot tell you what a text means, what belief you should have, or how to construct your faith. I can only tell you where I have been and what I see. I can also point to others who have gone through a similar process. I can say that wherever I land, this landing will also eventually crumble. And that is a good thing. We are continually in the process of deconstructing our idols.

Landing on a construct is not in itself a bad thing any more than climbing to a higher rung on the ladder is a bad thing. Both are true for the moment. The key is that our experience of the new construct feels like discovery not invention. It is invention, but we think it is discovery. The new construct upon which we have landed is experienced as something that is true and not a construct. It is only after we have been there for a while, that we recognize that it is a construct. Then we are ready to deconstruct it and free-fall toward God again.

If you are finding yourself in a free-fall, you don't have to despair. If the foundations upon which your beliefs have been built are crumbling and you are falling, consider that spiritual awareness. You will land on something that will be even better and more liberating. Others on the path of spiritual deconstruction can be your guides. They may provide temporary places to land. Enjoy the landings too.

Specifics. Given what I have already said that everything I will say is a construct even though I do not yet recognize it, where am I at this point with the infancy stories?

1) Because they draw from other myths, legends, and archetypes, that is their strength. They touch on larger themes of what it means to be human. The child, the virgin, the son of god, the angel heralds, the magi, following the star, are deep symbols for journey towards authentic humanity.

2) I think at this time for Americans in our flirtation with Empire, they speak powerfully and prophetically to that temptation for absolute power and control (ie. Herod and Caesar). God rescues and guides the hero in the nick of time. The poor, the despised, and the powerless are the anointed in God's kingdom.

3) The incarnation is that the Divine is born within us. God dwells with us, or in that wonderful phrase, "pitches a tent" with us. In the song by Joan Osborne, the Sacred becomes "...just a slob like one of us, a stranger on the bus." That which we have considered to be the slob, the stranger, the filthy is Divine. The filthy manger is God's throne. When we think we are too filthy for God, God becomes that filth so we can see that we are in God's image. As it says in another sacred text: Christ is not ashamed to be our brother.

These narratives are filled with powerful images and prophetic messages. Take your pick. Plunge into them. Allow their life to embrace you.

That is where I am at this point, until I become deconstructed once again and fall further into the depths of God.

76 comments:

Grace said...

Shall we deconstruct the deconstructionists? What if I don't accept that absolute truth is merely a human construct, and feel this paradigm, in itself, reflects a certain bias??

Rachel Baker said...

Rev. Shuck,

That was beautifully written, and I believe every word of it is true.

But please, please tell me that you know that society and materialism is also a construct.

John Shuck said...

Grace--by all means. Deconstruct the deconstructionists! Just a note: in my understanding absolute truth is not a human construct, but all attempts at absolute truth are.

Rachel--yes. Society and materialism are constructs as well, at least as I see it.

Bobby said...

Can we get parachutes for our deconstructive freefall? And if so, what if the wind blows us over and we miss landing on our new construct?

John Shuck said...

Bobby! LOL. What I didn't mention explicitly is that faith in this "Spirituality of deconstruction" comes with no parachutes and has no control over the wind. You jump off with no guarantees. You simply trust that you will be caught.

Rachel Baker said...

Hey John,

Here is a thought:

What if there is Absolute Truth; and that truth is whatever your construct is when you die.

I beleieve that right before we die we all will get to see God's glory and truth from the beginning of time to the end, and we can either accept it or reject it. I believe the ones who will accept it will be the truly religious believers. Note my definition of true religion on earlier comments.

Rachel Baker said...

To continue that thought....

If we accept God's truth, we get to move forward on on spiritual path;

If we reject it we move backwards.

Do you have any thoughts on life after death?

Jodie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jodie said...

Wow John,

Now I know why you intrigue me.

(reminded me of the fall of Gandalf)

You said it’s too tall an order for you to reconstruct, but that is where I think you sell yourself far too short. The entire ministry of Jesus can be viewed as a deconstruction. We have in the Gospel a veritable manual for deconstruction. Drawing us in with the familiar and then going all wrong. All of the teachings and parables of Jesus had that feature. The crucifixion and death of Jesus is the ultimate deconstruction - of an entire faith system. The house that was built on sand. “My God my God, why have you forsaken me”.

Maybe you are right. Most pastors move too fast to the construction part. So much so that really they are just building more bad constructs on top of old bad constructs. Maybe we need to stay in that moment for a while. It needs to register. The loss needs to sink in; all the way. Maybe you really can make a ministry out of being a catalyst for deconstructionism, I don’t know. (But you might end up being crucified.)

Then when we are ready we start from scratch: “Who are you, Lord?”

Grace said...

Well, I'm about to head out the door, but I definitely feel that we "see through a glass darkly," and that we can't understand or know fully. But, I don't think this means that we can't know true truth in any measure.

If God actually loves us, and wants a relationship, then I think it makes sense that He doesn't just let us alone groping blindly in the dark, trying to figure things out on our own in free fall, but that He truly reveals Himself.

Hey, Scripture teaches:

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways,
in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He apppointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. Heb. 1: 1-2

More later. Off to see "National Treasure."

Also, out of pure curiousity , who is the person who always has "comments deleted?" Do you have someone trolling?

John Shuck said...

Enjoy the movie.

Some people make comments and they accidentally get posted twice and they remove one of them, or they post them and have second thoughts. When you read that, the authors themselves have deleted their own comments.

Jodie said...

That last one was me.

It needed editing

Mystical Seeker said...

The entire ministry of Jesus can be viewed as a deconstruction. We have in the Gospel a veritable manual for deconstruction. Drawing us in with the familiar and then going all wrong. All of the teachings and parables of Jesus had that feature

Wow, that's an excellent point. I had not thought of that before, but you are right.

Mystical Seeker said...

If God actually loves us, and wants a relationship, then I think it makes sense that He doesn't just let us alone groping blindly in the dark, trying to figure things out on our own in free fall, but that He truly reveals Himself.

There are a lot of assumptions built into that statement. First, it assumes that if God doesn't hand all the answers to us on a silver platter, then we must be stumbling in the dark and that therefore God is not revealing herself to us. That is not a fair dichotomy. Second, it assumes that God does want to hand all the answers to us on a silver platter. Imagine a chemistry teacher who never gave their students lab experiments, but instead just told them what the result of all those experiments were. Would that be the best way to learn? Perhaps our relationship with God is forged in the crucible of experience and struggle, and our liberation best achieved by figuring some things out for ourselves. (I am reminded of the book "Siddhartha" by Herman Hesse).

And who is to say that we have no relationship with God simply because we are busy trying to figure things out? Maybe God is with us every step of the way as we try to discover what is going on.

This really gets to what the nature of revelation really is. The facts of plural religions in world history show that divine revelation has been anything but unambiguous and clear. The multiplicity of world faiths, many of which emerged long before there was mass communication, and the fact that for thousands of years lots of people never even heard of Christianity in large parts of the world, illustrates this. Why didn't God ensure that all these people in China or remote Africa or North American didn't get the Christian Divine revelation back in 33 AD, so they wouldn't be "stumbling in the dark," as you say? The fact that it didn't happen this way suggests that something different is taking place here.

Since this question dovetails with the subject of pluralism, I add a quote here. John Hick put it very well in his book, "God Has Many Names". I cannot do justice to his entire argument here, but here is one part of what he says there :

"But should we not expect there to have been one single revelation for all mankind, rather than several different revelations? The answer, I suggest, is not if we take seriously the actual facts of human life in history. For in that distant period, some two and a half thousand years ago, the civilizations of China, of India, and of the Near East, could almost have been located on different planets, so tenuous and slow were the lines of communication between them. A divine revelation intended for all mankind but occurring in China, or in India, or in Israel would have taken many centuries to spread to the other countries. But we are assuming that source of revelation was always seeking to communicate to mankind, and in new ways to as much of mankind as was then living within higher civilizations that had then developed. From this point of view it seems natural that revelation has been plural, occurring separately in the different centers of human culture."

Hick then goes on to say (and I think this is very important, so I am bolding one part of this text), "Because the universe has its own autonomy it is religiously ambiguous--capable of being experienced both religiously and nonreligiously. What we call faith is the interpretive element in the religious way of experiencing the world and our lives within it. And faith is an act of cognitive freedom and responsibility. It reflects the extent that we are willing, and ready, to exist consciously within the presence of the infinite reality in which being and value are one. In other words, the thing known--namely the Eternal One--is known according to the mode of the knower; and the mode of the knower is largely under the knower's control. He is able to shut out what he does not, or is not ready, to let in....

Why should religious faith take a number of such different forms? Because, I would suggest, religious faith is not an isolated aspect of our lives but is closely bound up with human culture and human history, which are in turn bound up with basic geographical, climatic, and economic circumstances."

Jodie said...

"In other words, the thing known--namely the Eternal One--is known according to the mode of the knower"

In other, other words, we choose the language, and God chooses the message.

Twain said...

Sunday, December 23, 2007
HAPPY WINTER SOLSTICE 2007

This is a RE-POST from 5 minutes ago.......

On: topix.net

By: Li'l Ol' Me....in SPNC

*****

Twain

[I VOTED!]

“DON'T POSTPONE JOY !”
Joined: Feb 14, 2007
Comments: 119
SPNC & Hampton,TN
ISP Location: Charlotte, NC
1 min ago
HAPPY WINTER SOLSTICE & MERRY CHRISTMAS 2007!

I am 55....and have survived 54 winters....and all the 'usual vaccines' of the 1950's.....and two consecutive influenza inoculations in 2006 & 2007 **** The denial of GOD's work in the intelligent use of and reliance upon: LPNs, RNs, NP's, Midwives, DDS-es & MDs....AFFIRMS MY FAITH.

My LIBERTARIAN CONSTITUTIONAL HEART supports THE RIGHT TO CHOOSE MY OWN wellness plan.....and

MY PROGRESSIVE PRESBYTERIAN (USA) CHURCH.....{First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton, TN ...225+ years young....and VERY MUCH ALIVE in our 'Bible-Belted' Region}.....CONCURS:

Science & 'Modern Miracles' are every bit as HOLY ...as any 'Right Wing' or 'Anti-Feminist' or 'Anti-Children's Wellness' mind set which might be espoused by otherwise pious but un-enlightened 'TRUE BELIEVERS'.

Know First Aid & Practice Safe Living...immunize your self & your children...with an open and informed mind and heart.

THINK, LOVE, & BELIEVE IN YOURSELF....which (and whom) is...a TRUE REFLECTION OF GOD's ONE LOVE.....and THE LIFE & TEACHINGS OF JESUS CHRIST.

THINK DIFFERENT....and Our Southern Appalachian Mountains will survive the 'dual darknesses' of IGNORANCE & GREED.('Less McMansions...More Education' would be a sane place to put your tithing and prayer energies in 2008 ....& 2028.)

Believe in GOD & your SELF.

Protect OUR Family & OUR mountains & rivers & OUR grand children's legacy.

Serve No GOD ....before our ONE GOD.

Be Happy
Be Healthy
Be ...at ONE with your Heart, Mind & Soul.

Amen **** NOW.....back to...

http://www.weather.com .....70-80% RAIN TONIGHT...on this 3rd Sunday of our 'Christian Calendar'...however...please join me in '10 day forecast' land......hmmmmmmmm......perha ps a BIG SNOW by New Years Eve of 2008?(snowboarder's toes crossed...up here at 3000'.)

Merry Christmas & Happy Kwanza....and Happy Chaunukah ...and I pray you and I will see a more peaceful & placid .....Ramadan ...in 2008 ...and ...for all who revere 'The First Season'...which began yesterday:

'Days Get Shorter
Nights Get Longer
Snow Gets Deeper
Life Gets Better!'

-anon.

Now the days are getting longer.....but...until Mid February......WINTER WILL RULE THE NORTHERN HEMISPHERE....until our 'Easter Lilies Bloom in April'.

-Twain .....of SPNC & Hampton/Elizabethton, TN
'OFF & ON TOPIC'

and very very very ready for RUDOLF & HIS ILK.(not ELK.......ILK.):-)

PEACE ON EARTH.....NOW!
(or .....by January 20, 2009 ****

Posted by Twain at 3:55 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Grace said...

Hope you get that snow, Twain. We already have plenty to work with in the northern mountains. (laughing) I'll be heading home there soon. The school where I work is in intercession.

I totally love living "out there." in the middle of nowhere.

Mystical, I know that you feel so very strongly about this. We've had conversation before together. But, even while I feel there is certainly truth in other religious traditions, and that we can find some common ground.

To be honest, I'm this raging evangelical who wants every person in the whole world to know Jesus Christ, and to be found in Him. I don't feel that every faith path out there is equally true, and valid. Hey, I'm telling the truth, here. :)

If you want, we can talk some more about this, Mystical, or I'll talk with anyone who's interested to share. But, it' occured to me, Mystical, that we're not working within the same paradigm, or with the same worldview. And, that's a huge part of the problem. I don't want to cause needless offense, or just be here spinning our wheels together.

I know before I came to a realization of the absolute truth of the gospel, and to faith in Christ, I"m sure that I would have agreed with you, so I'm able to understand.

OneSmallStep said...

**"In other words, the thing known--namely the Eternal One--is known according to the mode of the knower"

In other, other words, we choose the language, and God chooses the message.**

And given how unique we all are, this really isn't a surprise. I also don't see how it could work any other way -- even if there is an absolute truth out there, any such truth is filtered through our subjective viewpoint. It just seems that the only way we have to determine if someone is "with God" is by his/her actions.

The interesting thing about certainity is that it can lead to being complacent. In looking back in my life, the only times I've felt challenged to go deeper or deconstruct is really when there's some sort of conflict, or something I don't know. As soon as I do "know," I settle in. Perhaps the goal should be that as soon as you feel comfortable with your faith, deconstruct it?

Mystical Seeker said...

I also don't see how it could work any other way -- even if there is an absolute truth out there, any such truth is filtered through our subjective viewpoint.

Yes, yes, yes! Exactly!

The interesting thing about certainity is that it can lead to being complacent. In looking back in my life, the only times I've felt challenged to go deeper or deconstruct is really when there's some sort of conflict, or something I don't know.

The sad thing is that I think a lot of people would rather be comfortable than engage themselves in a process of discovery. Conservative religion offers easy answers, handed a silver platter. You don't have to do much thinking. The problem is that this certainty also comes with a heavy dose of intolerance, and it expects those who are more spiritually mature to somehow narrow their horizons.

Grace said...

But, you see guys, there are actually people out here who have come to orthodox Christianity through a process of discovery, and critical thinking. They didn't start out blindly accepting the historic witness of the church. They aren't afraid to hear other viewpoints.

On the other hand, there are folks who can be extremely narrow, and unwilling to think outside the box of relativism or rationalism, or some other paradigm.

I think it depends on the person, why they believe in a certain way, how they have come to their conclusions.

I have studied with people who were progressive, and I can tell you right now, there are progressive Christians who have nothing but scorn, and even contempt for orthodoxy. They mock and ridicule what they feel are the naive beliefs of those who are more conservative in the churches.

To even say that the historic faith of the church is narrow, or that anyone who accepts the bodily resurrection of Jesus, for instance, is reflecting the intellect and beliefs of a child shows this judgement in an indirect way.

I will go so far as to share that some of these folks literally hate those who they would consider "fundamentalists." Of course, this is not every person who is progressive, by any means.

It's wrong to stereotype, I think, and to paint everyone from either side with the same tar brush.

Plus, even these terms can be subject to interpretation. Some who are actually very orthodox, and evangelical in the faith may consider themselves progressives.

It's confusing, but true!

OneSmallStep said...

Grace,

There are narrow-minded progressives. There are those that scorn other branches of Christianity, and those who have also gone to certain branches of Christianity through critical thinking and such. I don't think anyone is saying otherwise.

**To even say that the historic faith of the church is narrow,**

But it is narrow, a lot more narrow than progressive Christianity. It's narrow in the sense that you can only truly encounter God if you do based on the historic church's interpretation. In terms of progressive, there are equally valid encounters in other religions, or other Christian branches. And there is a judgement call based on that, yes. There's no possible way not to judge this, or any situation. But this is more like saying that someone who is tolerant is not truly tolerant, if that person crticisms racism.

**that anyone who accepts the bodily resurrection of Jesus, for instance, is reflecting the intellect and beliefs of a child shows this judgement in an indirect way.**

But can you understand where this is coming from? If I tell you a story about Bob, and Bob was killed and then rose from the dead, that story will be classified as a "myth" by the elements within the story itself -- people don't come back from the dead. Yet when the same elements are applied to the Bible, a lot gets accepted simply because it's in the Bible, rather than basing it on the core elements of the story. That is where the jugement comes in: there's no objective means of determining this. I can't take the elements of the story. Rather, the truth of the situation becomes relative.

**They didn't start out blindly accepting the historic witness of the church. They aren't afraid to hear other viewpoints.**

But how much listening will actually occur if Person A feels that his/her truth is the only Truth, and in order to connect to that Truth, person B must think like Person A? It's not a matter of being afraid of other viewpoints, it's a matter of those convinced that their Truth is the only Truth, I think, will have a harder time listening to "the other." I say this based on experience, in watching those with the absolute Truth interact with others, or even interact with me. I've seen this with friends who have interacted with me, who are evangelical Christians.

And this is exactly why I don't hold to doctrinal absolute Truth. I believe in an absolute truth that God is love, and will tell people about that truth. Or that God is just. But those elements I can see in all sorts of religions, and all sorts of walks with God.

Do we all make judgement calls? Yes. Even progressives do that, by determining that there is no one "right" doctrinal way. But for me, if I were listening to someone's experience with God, and they told me that Allah helped them through this, I will take that at face value, rather than telling the person that this is my God's way of drawing them to the real Truth, which just happens to correspond with my beliefs. I would be using that person's experience against them, rather than sharing in their joy.

I think the distinction here is that many progressives would say that there is only one "right" way to God. But it's not a way in a sense of a set of beliefs. It's more of a way in that the only way to God is through love. Or justice. Or mercy. There is one branch alone that can connect to God. It's much more abstract, and defining God in the sense of Spirit, or Light, or Truth. If a Muslim is living a way of Light, then the Muslim is on that branch.

Mystical Seeker said...

One doesn't engage in critical thinking and then turn around and embrace a theology that is defined by the absence of critical thinking.

I am perfectly tolerant of orthodoxy, which can be charmingly quaint, even if it is foolishly naive, as long as it is not arrogant and tries to proclaim itself as the absolute truth. Unfortunately, the latter usually seems to accompany the former in so many cases. The problem is that most of the orthodoxy is not only steeped in naive and uncritical thinking, but it is steeped in arrogance. Its close mindedness over the spiritual value that people of non-Christian faiths, for example, is not just arrogant, it is deliberately choosing to close one's mind to other people's experiences, to choose ignorance and bigotry as a virtue. At that point, I stop being so tolerant, and yes, I become scornful. Play in your little kindergarten if you want, but don't try to tell the adults what to think.

I think that six-year olds who believe in Santa Claus are also charming and quaint. But imagine a six-year old being frustrated over the fact that their eight-year old sibling doesn't believe anymore, and who just doesn't get it that anyone could not believe, who insists that Santa Claus is the absolute truth. When confronted with spiritual childishness, which orthodoxy surely is, it becomes clear what the problem is. These are people who don't get it, and there is a strong incentive for them not to get it--the absolutist thinking that infects their religion is too comforting for them to look outside the box.

Those of us who came from a fundamentalist background know how damaging and evil fundamentalism really is. It is a hurtful, harmful theology.

Frankly, Grace, you missed my point when I talked about the process of discovery. You claimed that people came to the orthodoxy dogma via a process of discovery. But I wasn't talking about going through a process of discovery in order to find a religion that is a perfect, absolutist, dogmatic theology. I am talking about religion itself as a process of discovery. Two different things. Orthodoxy eschews this process, because it claims to have found the absolute truth, and thus there is no need for further discovery.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again--choose to believe in your fairy tales if you wish. Choose to believe in something that no intelligent adult with a half-functioning brain would ever believe in a million years in any other context but that of your dogma. I don't care what in the hell you choose to believe. But to expect those who have outgrown this mode of thought to turn backwards and suddenly dumb themselves down is just not gonna happen. We've been there, and we know the story.

Grace said...

Ok, Mystical, I'm getting the point, friend. We'll agree to disagree, and, I'll back off.

Pax.

Everyone here, have a wonderful, and awesome holiday if I don't post again between now and Christmas.

John, I also want to share that I thought your picture of the incarnation was beautiful. It really touched and blessed me alot. ;) And, thanks for providing a forum for everyone to share, here, too.

This must be a very busy time of year for you, so you're in my prayers.

All of God's blessing!

Jodie said...

You too Grace.

I hope you didn't take Mystical's response too personally. I for one think you've been worthy of your name. Mystical was responding to other voices of Orthodoxy that have not been nearly as graceful as you. Makes it hard not to get emotional after you been called heretic and apostate and worse by people who claim to be students of Jesus.

Makes you want to renounce being a Christian if that is what being a Christian is all about.

But it's Christmas! We can at least hope there is a Kingdom where the Prince of Peace really is Lord. Maybe there is. I pray that there is.

Sometimes I can almost taste it.

Rob said...

"I'm this raging evangelical who wants every person in the whole world to know Jesus Christ, and to be found in Him. I don't feel that every faith path out there is equally true.... I know before I came to a realization of the absolute truth of the gospel, and to faith in Christ, I"m sure that I would have agreed with you."

Grace,

I am an enthusiast for the gospel of Jesus, which I believe is distinct from the gospel about Jesus that is often used as an exclusivist sledge hammer against the vital, living, and fruit-bearing religious experience of other's religious experience both within the plurality of denominations within Christianity, and especially in denying valid savific value in the religious experience of other faith traditions. The gospel of Jesus is nothing more nor less than simply knowing God personally as one's spiritual Father, friend, and co-creative partner in learning to do God's will and love one's fellows as God so loves them. The essence of this relationship is expressed in many other faith traditions (Shin Buddhism, Bhakti Hinduism, Sufi Islam, and the prophetic stream of Judaism). The more you know the actual history of other religious traditions, the more you realize that God's revelations of his nature are plural, not singular, and that to claim ony one specfic revelation is "absolute truth" is simply erroneous. The gospel about Jesus has been used throughout history to justify many cruel abuses of one's fellows, and to deny their own personal religious experience as being savific or worthy of their devotion; yet, this claim is made despite the living fruits manifest in the lives of these others who do not uphold the same intellectual beliefs that many so-called "orthodox" Christians claim must be accepted.



There is freedom in the ability to follow living truth wherever it will lead, and to rejoice in finding in a new and increasingly beautiful unity the same living truths, beauties, and goodness of the Father's loving nature in different faith traditions through the experiences of their respective saints and holy men and women.

Grace said...

I see that you're a student, Rob. Are you studying philosopy or religion? My undergraduate major was anthropology focused in comparative religion. I'm totally interested to explore other cultures, and ways of thinking.

I definitely feel that there is truth, and things to be learned from other faith traditions, and that we should be culturally sensitive, and respectful.

But, I don't think that all religious traditions are equally true. To me, the "good news" is that God loves us unconditionally, and that God was in Christ reconciling a broken world to Himself. Jesus died for our sins, and rose again for our justification, to use Biblical terms. :)

Islam teaches, for instance, that it is blasphemous to speak of the unique divinity of Jesus, or to suppose that God would allow Jesus to die on the cross at all. Some faiths don't even have a concept of a personal, loving God who is involved in human life at all.

Friend, is God the author of confusion? Does He contradict Himself?

It's true that most faith traditions teach some version of the "golden rule," and in that we can find common ground.

But, the witness of the Christian church is that no one can love God, or His neighbor perfectly. And, that in Christ, we're radically changed to become like Him. "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us," to bring us to God.

I fully agree that there are those who have misused and twisted the truths of the Christian faith. There's been plenty of abuse done in the name of God. But, I feel this is in spite of the teaching of Christ, and not out of any true relationship with Him. (Why ditch the baby with the bath water??)

OneSmallStep said...

**Friend, is God the author of confusion? Does He contradict Himself?**

I think the problem here is coming from points of view. Those on a more pluralistic side see God in a "large" sense: God is love. God is truth. If one loves one's neighbor regardless of the neighbor's behavior, one has found the truth. Jesus summed up everything in those two points: love God, love neighbor as self. That's what we find in many religions. There's no confusion in that. In this case, those who don't have to have the same faith I do in order to have the faith of Jesus.

What complicates matters is the doctrine, and that is where the disagreements start. And doctrine, in many ways, tells us very little. How does the Trinity affect one's behavior? How does the virgin birth? How does the divine status of Jesus affect one's behavior? Or believing in a literal resurrection? You can passionatly believe all those things, and be the nastiest person known to mankind.

The Samaratan (sp?) was praised by Jesus, even though he was the heretic. The doctrine did nothing in this case. If Jesus were speaking today, he'd probably use an atheist in that parable, and the atheist would be the most "anointed-one like" of all.

So when I say that other paths are true, I'm not speaking in a doctrinal sort of way. I'm speaking in an "overview" sort of way. The core/values of the religion.

Simply because someone does not explain God as I understand God does not mean that person has no relationship with God.

**the witness of the Christian church is that no one can love God, or His neighbor perfectly. **

But if God demands perfection from imperfect creatures, is that just? We then end up with a God who tells people, "You're supposed to do this perfectly, but you can't." Justice should indicate that the standards provided are ones people are actually capable of following.

Rob said...

Grace,

I think the atonement doctrine is an insult to God, an affront to his very nature, and the fact that he loves each and every individual person as a spiritual child of God. The atonement doctrine is a savage, primitive belief system based upon the ancient and primitive belief that God can only forgive sins with the shedding of blood. Of course this was a Jewish belief, and Paul attempted to make Jesus the final celestial sacrifice to win over the Jewish people, which failed, but has since burdened Christianity with this twisted and sick doctrine for almost 2,000 years.

This entire idea of the ransom of the atonement places salvation upon a plane of unreality; such a concept is purely philosophic. Human salvation is real; it is based on two realities which may be grasped by the creature's faith and thereby become incorporated into individual human experience: the fact of the fatherhood of God and its correlated truth, the brotherhood of man. It is true, after all, that you are to be "forgiven your debts, even as you forgive your debtors."

All this concept of atonement and sacrificial salvation is rooted and grounded in selfishness. Jesus taught that service to one's fellows is the highest concept of the brotherhood of spirit believers. Salvation should be taken for granted by those who believe in the fatherhood of God. The believer's chief concern should not be the selfish desire for personal salvation but rather the unselfish urge to love and, therefore, serve one's fellows even as Jesus loved and served mortal men.

Neither do genuine believers trouble themselves so much about the future punishment of sin. The real believer is only concerned about present separation from God. True, wise fathers may chasten their sons, but they do all this in love and for corrective purposes. They do not punish in anger, neither do they chastise in retribution. Even if God were the stern and legal monarch of a universe in which justice ruled supreme, he certainly would not be satisfied with the childish scheme of substituting an innocent sufferer for a guilty offender.

But it is time to speak the truth openly and plainly. This entire atonement doctrine is incompatible with the teachings of Jesus, as is exemplified in the parable of prodigal son, or when parable of when he separates the goat from the sheep. It is like me requiring my older daughter have the crap slapped out of her, or worse, sacrificed on an alter of fire, for the wrongdoing of her much younger and far more immature sister. Only someone who has surrendered their mind to the religion of authority, who stops thinking critically, can believe such hogwash.

So, you most certainly don't speak for me or my understanding of Jesus life and death, and the meaning therein, and like Mystical, it is time for honest souls to speak out, and to do so openly and consistently to counter and undo 2,000 years of erroneous teachings that portray our heavenly Father as some kind of brut and Jesus as some kind of blood sacrifice. What a disservice in light of what we know today to continue to hold or teach such insulting and puerile dogma about our heavenly Father and Jesus and his life and teachings.

The barbarous idea of appeasing an angry God, of propitiating an offended Lord, of winning the favor of Deity through sacrifices and penance and even by the shedding of blood, represents a religion wholly puerile and primitive, a philosophy unworthy of an enlightened age of science and truth. Such beliefs are utterly repulsive. It is an affront to God to believe, hold, or teach that innocent blood must be shed in order to win his favor or to divert the fictitious divine wrath.

What a travesty upon the infinite character of God! this teaching that his fatherly heart in all its austere coldness and hardness was so untouched by the misfortunes and sorrows of his creatures that his tender mercies were not forthcoming until he saw his blameless Son bleeding and dying upon the cross of Calvary!

When once you grasp the idea of God as a true and loving Father, the only concept which Jesus ever taught, you must forthwith, in all consistency, utterly abandon all those primitive notions about God as an offended monarch, a stern and all-powerful ruler whose chief delight is to detect his subjects in wrongdoing and to see that they are adequately punished, unless some being almost equal to himself should volunteer to suffer for them, to die as a substitute and in their stead. The whole idea of ransom and atonement is incompatible with the concept of God as it was taught and exemplified by Jesus of Nazareth. The infinite love of God is not secondary to anything in the divine nature.

The great thing about the death of Jesus, as it is related to the enrichment of human experience and the enlargement of the way of salvation, is not the fact of his death but rather the superb manner and the matchless spirit in which he met death.

Rob said...

Grace states:

“Islam teaches, for instance, that it is blasphemous to speak of the unique divinity of Jesus, or to suppose that God would allow Jesus to die on the cross at all. Some faiths don't even have a concept of a personal, loving God who is involved in human life at all.”

Contrary to the erroneous and misguided teachings of conservative evangelical Christianity (a dogma Grace parrots above), Jesus did not require those who heard and accepted his teachings to believe in his divinity or something about him; his teachings were theocentric (the actual teachings of Jesus centered on God and our relationship to God) and not christocentric (subsequent teachings about him). This fact is shown in several examples of Jesus' teachings where he makes plain the requirements of eternal life.

First, nowhere does he say, "Did you believe I was divine?" in the parable below. And so neither is one required to accept the divinity of Jesus to accept his teachings. One can preach and speak of beliefs about Jesus divinity, but perforce one can only live the teachings of Jesus:

"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'

"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'
"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.' (Matthew 25:31-45)

Or, consider the case where in the course of the evening a certain lawyer, seeking to entangle Jesus in a compromising disputation, said: "Teacher, I would like to ask you just what I should do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus answered, "What is written in the law and the prophets; how do you read the Scriptures?" The lawyer, knowing the teachings of both Jesus and the Pharisees, answered: "To love the Lord God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself." Then said Jesus: "You have answered right; this, if you really do, will lead to life everlasting." (Luke 10:25-28)

But the lawyer was not wholly sincere in asking this question, and desiring to justify himself while also hoping to embarrass Jesus, he ventured to ask still another question. I well imagine him drawing a little closer to the Master, he said, "But, Teacher, I should like you to tell me just who is my neighbor?" Of course, the lawyer asked this question hoping to entrap Jesus into making some statement that would contravene the Jewish law which defined one's neighbor as "the children of one's people." The Jews looked upon all others as "gentile dogs." This lawyer was somewhat familiar with Jesus' teachings and therefore well knew that the Master thought differently; thus he hoped to lead him into saying something which could be construed as an attack upon the sacred law.

But undoubtedly, Jesus discerned the lawyer's motive, and instead of falling into the trap, proceeded to tell his hearers a story, a story which would be fully appreciated by any Jericho audience. Said Jesus: "A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell into the hands of cruel brigands, who robbed him, stripped him and beat him, and departing, left him half dead. Very soon, by chance, a certain priest was going down that way, and when he came upon the wounded man, seeing his sorry plight, he passed by on the other side of the road. And in like manner a Levite also, when he came along and saw the man, passed by on the other side. Now, about this time, a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed down to Jericho, came across this wounded man; and when he saw how he had been robbed and beaten, he was moved with compassion, and going over to him, he bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine, and setting the man upon his own beast, brought him here to the inn and took care of him. And on the morrow he took out some money and, giving it to the host, said: `Take good care of my friend, and if the expense is more, when I come back again, I will repay you.' Now let me ask you: Which of these three turned out to be the neighbor of him who fell among the robbers?" And when the lawyer perceived that he had fallen into his own snare, he answered, "He who showed mercy on him." And Jesus said, "Go and do likewise."

The lawyer answered, "He who showed mercy," that he might refrain from even speaking that odious word, Samaritan. The lawyer was forced to give the very answer to the question, "Who is my neighbor?" which Jesus wished given, and which, if Jesus had so stated, would have directly involved him in the charge of heresy. Jesus not only confounded the dishonest lawyer, but he told his hearers a story which was at the same time a beautiful admonition to all his followers and a stunning rebuke to all Jews regarding their attitude toward the Samaritans. And this story has continued to promote brotherly love among all who have subsequently believed the gospel of Jesus. (Luke 10:26-37)

And neither are those who understand the inclusive nature of Jesus' teachings confused by conservative evangelical dogma's attempt to paint Muslims as outside of the kingdom because they don't believe Jesus was divine.

Mystical Seeker said...

God does not contradict herself, but people contradict each other all the time.

A philosophy of religious pluralism, such as that worked out by John Hick, starts by pointing out out that humans have interpreted their experience of what he calls the Eternal One through their own interpretive matrices. Religion is the human interpretive response to a Higher, Sacred, Transcendent reality. The question is therefore how these different religions could not come up with different doctrines, but rather how they could not. Of course there are going to be different religious doctrines. I would go further and assert that it is absurd to presume that human beings, flawed and finite creatures that we are, could possibly come up with an accurate and complete conception of the infinite Divine.

As John Hick puts it in "God Has Many Names":

The basic religious conviction normally takes the form of the claim that some one particular religion is a valid response to the divine, a response embodying true beliefs concerning the nature of reality. And the problem of religious pluralism arises from the fact that there are many such claims. In view of this variety of gospels it would seem on the face of it that they cannot all be true; and in that case may they not very well all be false? This is the problem that is generated by the fact of religious pluralism in conjunction with the basic religious conviction.

However, in adopting the basic religious conviction we are not obliged to assume that all religious experience is straightforwardly veridical or that all religious belief is straightforwardly true. On the contrary, our human nature and circumstances may well make their own contribution to our religious awareness, a contribution in which the range of individual and social mentalities and of cultural forms produces a corresponding variety of perceptions--or, it may be, of partial distortions--in our human consciousness of the divine. But we are nevertheless assuming that, basically, religion is a range of responses to reality--even if variously inadequate responses--rather than being pure projection or illusion.

Clearly, this assumption must, unless good reasons to the contrary are produced, be applied to the entire realm of religions and not only to one favored religion. I cannot then, as a Christian, solve the problem of religious pluralism by holding that my own religion is a response to the divine reality but that the others are merely human projections...Such sublime bigotry could only be possible for one who had no real interest in or awareness of the wider religious life of mankind. For it is evident, when one witnesses worship within the great world faiths, including Christianity, that the same sort of thing is going on in each, namely the directing of the worshipers' attention upon a (putative) higher and transcendent reality, in relation to which lies the human being's ultimate good. There may be clear and convincing criteria by which some forms of religion can be seen to be "better" or "higher" than others. But if we restrict our attention to the great world traditions, the only criterion by which any of these could be judged to be the one and only true religion, with all the others dismissed as false, would be its own dogmatic assertion, in its more chauvinistic moments, to this effect.

Grace said...

John, God bless you! You have assembled a real crew here, let me tell you. And, I'm want of em.

Rob, have I set you off, or what??

Lord have mercy!! I don't accept this crude view of the atonement , either. Neither does any thinking, sane Christian. It' pure blasphemy, IMO. I think the difficulty lies in our limited human understanding. These crude analogies are different from the reality of the thing itself.

More later. I'll try to respond to everyone to the best of my ability which is admittedly limited.

Right now, I have to work off my Border Collie pup's excess energy before we head out to my son's house for Christmas dinner. Pray for the turkey. It's my young son's first attempt at having everyone over . I love my daughter in law dearly, but she can't cook a stitch. (laughing) My son is doing all the cooking. And, he's never cooked a big bird, either. (It's going to be deep fried.)

Recites, "Will not interfere." Hope for the best. Money put aside for Chinese restaurant just in case. :)

Talk to you all later. Merry Christmas.

John Shuck said...

Great discussion everyone! Thank you and Merry Christmas!

Rob said...

Merry Christmass Everyone!

Mystical, I love Hick, even have “God Has Many Names,” he is my favorite philosopher of religion. (Could you give page numbers ;-)

Grace, I think being explicit and utilizing critical thinking with regards to religious belief claims is important in today’s world. I am curious how you come to the conclusion that “God was in Christ reconciling a broken world to Himself. Jesus died for our sins, and rose again for our justification” when the story of Adam and Eve is a myth, and given the fact we are evolutionary creatures there was no breach of our relationship caused by some fictitious “original sin,” and therefore Jesus did not “die for our sins” to act as some “justification” to settle some fictitious debt owed God? If you don’t believe in the atonement doctrine, then why use such language?

Jesus’ teachings do not require us to believe things about him, but to believe with him and live as he lived, by faith in our ability to find and do the will of God when we wholeheartedly desire to do the Father’s will.

Now, if a Muslim desires to do the Father’s will, and lives as best he can a life based upon truth and goodness, and yields the fruits of the spirit in his daily life with his fellows, but still does not believe Jesus was divine, do you believe Grace he will find eternal life therein? I would like to know your views on this question, if you please.

Grace said...

Hi, Rob,

I think that regardless of anyone's opinion relating to evolutionary theory, who can deny that we live in a fallen, broken world. We are alienated from God, and from each other.

I know that in my own life, I fall totally short of expressing the love of Christ, and sometimes can deeply hurt those that I care about the most.

Through the centuries Christians have come up with many different explanations, and theories to illustrate, and explain the work of the cross. All fall short of the reality, itself, and are crude in comparision.

What you've presented, I think is more a caricature. I don't feel that even most very conservative Christians would view the atonement in this way.

I've heard this analogy, and I think it's a pretty good one. Christ suffered to save us from our sins in the same way a fireman suffers burns and wounds to save a child from a burning house. He saves us like that fireman carrying that child from a burning building, until in union with Him, we are totally filled with His own light and glory.

God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not counting men's sins against them. God absorbed the consequence of human brokenness and suffering into Himself, so that we could share in His life. He has conquered evil, death, and the grave.

I personally don't feel that Christians need to agree concerning all the precise mechanics, and theories that are out there. We are not going to be able to fully understand, and have every answer given to us on a silver platter. That's for sure.

It's enough to know and agree that "Jesus saves." And, what I do know Rob, is that Jesus has saved me. All my hope and trust is in Him.

I think that I can't know what is going to happen to all the Muslims in the world, or who in the end will be saved or lost. For me, this is in the hands of a just and merciful God.

But, I think that if anyone is "saved," it will not be by their own efforts, and strength, but purely through the grace of God, as shown in the cross of Christ.

Guys, look into Lk. 18, the story of the rich young ruler. Jesus basically told this young man in order to inherit eternal life, he needed to keep all of the commandments, and literally sell everything that he owned, and give to the poor.

Are any of us able to do this? Have we given up everything we own to help the starving children in Darfur? Do we keep all the commandments? In another place, Jesus tells folks that to be angry with someone without just cause is like murder, for a man to lust after a woman is like committing adultery in the heart.

Surely, we should look at the overall teaching of Jesus, and the whole witness of Scripture. Jesus after speaking to the rich young ruler, and sharing that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, was asked by his disciples,

" Who then can be saved?" And, he responded, What is impossible with men is possible with God."

That is the whole truth, friends. We are not going to merit or work our way to Heaven. Salvation is purely a gift, by the amazing grace and love of God.

Now I'm not talking about "cheap grace," either. A relationship with God in Jesus makes a difference in our lives. We are being made like Him. But, well, I could go on and on. That's another topic, I guess.

Enough from me. God's peace to everyone here. :)

(I will be away for several days, and not always around a computer. But will try to respond as much as I can to anyone who might want to talk.)

Grace said...

P.S. The turkey turned out just find. It was an awesome day. :)

Flycandler said...

Arrrrgh! Unfair! "Shuck and Jive" gets into the metaphysical meat whilst I am stranded in a part of south Georgia without reliable Internet access! And while I get to the part of Shirley Guthrie's Christian Doctrine that touches on these very issues!

Forgive me as I play catch-up.

As I've mentioned before, the Calvinist/Reformed tradition (of which the Presbyterian churches are a part) posits an elegant solution to the "pagan baby problem". Basically, an omnipotent/omnipresent/omniprescient God can choose to redeem whomever God damn well pleases, and it is ultimately not up to us. This has been extended (partly by Calvin himself, but to a much more extensive degree by his disciples) to a scary concept of double predestination (some bound for heaven, some for hell), but what I bring from it is a kind of fuzzy universalism. The question of "are you saved?" is irrelevant to a Presbyterian. God through Christ chooses to redeem us, who are all equally worthy of God's disfavor. Guthrie writes brilliantly about this in terms of the doctrine of the Trinity. It's not that Christ as a distinct person appealed to an angry "Old Testament God" (to use the evangelicals' term) who only reluctantly gave in and let Jesus be nice to us. Christ in God decided to manifest Godself into the human form of Jesus in large part to rescue us from our own human nature.

My associate pastor(-elect)'s favorite quote of Calvin is (and I paraphrase) "the human mind is a veritable factory of idols". Idols that include materialism and empire and exploitation. The earthly ministry of Jesus and the supernatural work of God are there to help free us from that paradox.
--
On the nativity story front, I once had a Sunday School teacher who had an interesting solution to the problem of the birth narratives. They are at best only awkwardly parallel and at worst completely contradictory. Her solution was simple: "which one, Matthew or Luke, was one of Jesus' disciples? Matthew, right. Therefore he was actually there and saw it, so his story is the correct one." This beautifully daffy logic ignores several key facts, such as that had Matthew happened to be in Bethlehem at the time, he would have been an infant himself and likely executed by Herod's troops.

Like John, I find the question largely irrelevant. If I had incontrovertible proof that Jesus was the biological son of Joseph or any other mortal man or that the angels did not descend and scare the crap out of the shepherds or if Miss Cleo's great-great-great-great-great-great-great-(etc)-grandfathers did not see an unusually bright star and actually stayed home, it would not make me trust in Jesus as Lord any less. It's entirely possible they were made up to provide a framework to underline the divinity of Jesus. It's entirely possible that both narratives occurred as written. Neither possibility changes the ultimate message of Christianity.

Happy Boxing Day, all!

Mystical Seeker said...

Rob, you're right that I didn't provide page numbers. Sorry about that.

The most recent quote that I posed comes from pages 89-90 (of my edition of the book), early in the chapter "Toward a Philosophy of Religious Pluralism".

OneSmallStep said...

**I think that regardless of anyone's opinion relating to evolutionary theory, who can deny that we live in a fallen, broken world. We are alienated from God, and from each other.**

I'm not sure this makes sense, though. Given what the evolutionary theory says, there was always death in the world. In order to be "broken or fallen," humanity had to be whole and perfect in the beginning -- which is impossible, per the evolutionary theory. WHich is why I think a lot of Christians fight the evolutionary theory, because it puts their whole theology in disarray.

**I've heard this analogy, and I think it's a pretty good one. Christ suffered to save us from our sins in the same way a fireman suffers burns and wounds to save a child from a burning house.**

Yes, but then the person rescued isn't made to feel guilt for the suffering the fireman had to do. It's accepted as a part of the job requirements. We aren't also told that we don't deserve to be rescued by the fireman, that we're enemies of the fireman until he suffers in the fire and so forth. IN this analogy, the victim generally has no responsiblity towards the fire. In the case of the atonement, people are often told that we're the reason Jesus had to suffer/die in the first place.

**Guys, look into Lk. 18, the story of the rich young ruler. Jesus basically told this young man in order to inherit eternal life, he needed to keep all of the commandments, and literally sell everything that he owned, and give to the poor. **

Except the rich young ruler did keep all the commandments -- he said he did, and Jesus didn't disagree. What "got" the ruler is the requirement that he give up all he owns.

In a side note, I had a Jewish friend explain this parable to me in a totally different context -- it's entirely possible that the ruler was disapointed in what Jesus said, because he found it foolish. What if this ruler had people depending on him? What if his money was used to support the poor? He'd have no way of doing either if he gave up everything he owned,

**In another place, Jesus tells folks that to be angry with someone without just cause is like murder, for a man to lust after a woman is like committing adultery in the heart.**

This is going to depend, though. If someone has a brief moment of lust or hatred, that's not their fault -- we can't always control our feelings. If they indulge in that feeling, it's another story. But if the person is considered sinful simply for having feelings, then that is not just.

**We are not going to merit or work our way to Heaven. Salvation is purely a gift, by the amazing grace and love of God.**

Except if you had a child, wouldn't that child "merit" everything you could possible give that child? Love, hope, life, possibilities?

**Now I'm not talking about "cheap grace," either. A relationship with God in Jesus makes a difference in our lives. We are being made like Him.**

But you can see this radical change in all sorts of religions --in Islam, in Mormons, in everyone. And I think that's the point that everyone is getting here, and why they say that more than one path is valid. If only one true path was valid, I would expect that we'd only see this change in one religion. But we don't. We see the fruits of the spirit in all sorts of people. What other conclusion is there to draw?

Mystical Seeker said...

But you can see this radical change in all sorts of religions --in Islam, in Mormons, in everyone. And I think that's the point that everyone is getting here, and why they say that more than one path is valid. If only one true path was valid, I would expect that we'd only see this change in one religion. But we don't. We see the fruits of the spirit in all sorts of people. What other conclusion is there to draw?

That captures what I think is an essential point in a nutshell. To deny the transformative power that granted to followers of other faiths besides one's own is to be naively tribalistic at best, or bigoted at worst.

I'm not sure this makes sense, though. Given what the evolutionary theory says, there was always death in the world. In order to be "broken or fallen," humanity had to be whole and perfect in the beginning -- which is impossible, per the evolutionary theory.

This points to two basic problems with a lot of Christian theologies--first, the idea that the world "fell" from a higher state of grace; and second, the eschatological hope that the basic laws underlying the universe will be magically altered by God so that people won't die or that the lions will lie with lambs. Both ideas don't make sense given what we know about the evolution of the universe.

It makes a lot more sense to say that the world operates as it has through God's participative activity for the last 14 billion years ago, and it will continue to be that way, because that is how God exists in relationship with the world. God apparently thought it was worth it to evoke into being an ordered universe with galaxies, stars, planets, animals, and people, with all the attendant problems that go along with that. The emergence of conscious but potentially suffering creatures was a trade-off, one that God considered worth the price. To suggest that God never really liked this 14 billion year process, and thus will suddenly undo what it took 14 billion years to produce seems rather absurd. The universe is what it is, and God is a part of it. To deny the very means that God chose to evoke the present world into being is to suggest that either God makes mistakes, or that God changes his/her mind. The fact that God chose to evoke the world into being this way suggest to me that there is something overall good about the world. Is it perfect? No. But it is the world that God chose to evoke into being, and for me, that counts for something.

Rob said...

Glad the turkey turned out great! I think I understand better where you are coming from Grace. My comments are below:

"It's enough to know and agree that 'Jesus saves.' And, what I do know Rob, is that Jesus has saved me. All my hope and trust is in Him. "

I think Jesus would say, "God saves," and he does this because he loves each and every one of us as his own son or daughter. All he asks as the price of entering into this spiritual joy and eternal life, is living faith, and the sincere desire to learn to do his will. If Jesus is the vine, and the Father is the husbandman, and we are the branches, and they require only that we bear much fruit, than it seems it would be better to be a fruit bearing Muslim or Buddhist than fruitless branch that says "Lord, Lord," but is barren of spiritual fruit. Don't misunderstand my words, for they are not meant to apply to you personally Grace, but only to make the point that it is not what we believe about Jesus that saves us, but that we are truly part of the living vine and bearing much spiritual fruit. And it is only by the bearing of fruit that we know someone (Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, etc) is connected to the living vine. Forget not, Jesus said plainly "Not everyone who calls me 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but only those who do the will of my heavenly Father. (Matt.7.21) When that day comes, many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, ... and in your name perform many miracles?' (Matt.7:22) Then I will tell them to their face, 'I never knew you; out of my sight, you and your wicked ways!'" (Matt.7:23) It would be better to be a sincere Muslim or devout Buddhist who sincerely seeks through prayer and worship to become compassionate and merciful as Allah and Buddha (God) are merciful and compassionate, to yield abundant fruits of the spirit, than to be a Christian professing "in Jesus Christ's name only" and barren of the living fruits of the spirit. "By their fruits you will know them."

I have no problem calling Jesus my savior, not because he died for my sins, but rather because his life and teachings revealed a fuller revelation of the nature of God as our heavenly Father, and how to live a life dedicated, as human being, to seeking God, finding God, and dedicating one's life to doing his will and loving and serving one's fellows. My own experience with Jesus' teachings leads me to see salvation as a free gift, given by the Father because he is our loving father who desires to give his children his good gifts, just as a wise and loving earthly parent experiences great joy in giving good gifts to their own children. While salvation is a free gift, the price of entrance into this kingdom of eternal life is living faith and the sincere desire to do the Father's will; but having once entered, we are expected to grow through grace and sincere effort into the full maturity of faith liberated sons and daughters of God, and to yield abundant fruits of the spirit in our lives of service to our fellows.

"I personally don't feel that Christians need to agree concerning all the precise mechanics, and theories that are out there. We are not going to be able to fully understand, and have every answer given to us on a silver platter. That's for sure."

I sure agree with that. What you call "mechanics" though is what critical thinkers (theologians, philosophers, religious teachers and such) through the ages have called theology and church doctrine (not necessarily in the negative sense of the term). Each generation, from the first followers of Jesus on, have struggled to reach their own understanding of the meaning of his life and death on the cross.

"I think that regardless of anyone's opinion relating to evolutionary theory, who can deny that we live in a fallen, broken world. We are alienated from God, and from each other."

Here is were my views differ. This "fallen" metaphor may work for you, but many find it misleading and inadequate to modern knowledge. You say, "who can deny that we live in a fallen, broken world." If this is an evolutionary world, then it can hardly be considered "fallen" as though there was some previous idyllic state (i.e., garden of Eden and "original sin"); it is a very different picture to view human beings as evolutionary creatures subject to the imperfections of being evolutionary animals who have evolved from the level of instinctual behavior up to the level of self-conscious creatures capable of knowing the difference between right and wrong (moral insight), and indwelt by the spark of divinity and able hear, however imperfectly, the still small voice of God within. Such doctrines as "total depravity" and "original sin" and some fictitious "fallen" state from paradisiacal perfection are incompatible with the fact of organic evolution. Modern, educated, and deep thinking men and women simply won't accept such metaphors that are incompatible with facts.

If God has chosen to use organic evolution as the means by which to make creatures such as human beings, then there are implied in this truth real consequences for how we think about God and humanity. It does not make sense to call man "fallen" (in the traditional Christian sense it has been used throughout history) when even in his most primitive state he is the product of the very creative/evolutionary process God so ordained. Even if one speaks "metaphorically" of the "fallen" state of humanity, this is a misleading and erroneous metaphor that prevents a full understanding of the nature of God, in my view. I find the concept of a infinitely loving heavenly Father compatible with a Creator God that would use an evolutionary world to create finite evolutionary children at an epistemic distance from a full awareness of him, and by living faith choose to do his will.

One can still address the very real issue of sin, but it seems one must rethink these terms in light of the modern knowledge that we are evolutionary creatures and this is the means by which God ordained we come into existence. Clearly, he did not intend us to start out in perfection, but to evolve into perfection from an immature state.

"Through the centuries Christians have come up with many different explanations, and theories to illustrate, and explain the work of the cross. All fall short of the reality, itself, and are crude in comparison."

Of course they all fall short; our philosophical and theological conceptualizations are only approximations to truth, but that is the reason that each generation must be willing to reformulate and rethink its own philosophical and theological formulations when confronted with new knowledge and facts that refute each generations own erroneous interpretations, such as the believe that mankind is somehow "fallen" when in fact he is an evolutionary creature.

"What you've presented, I think is more a caricature. I don't feel that even most very conservative Christians would view the atonement in this way."

I can only chuckle at this, for what world are you living in Grace, if you really think there are not many Christians who each and every day preach the atonement doctrine as characterized above? It is alive and well, regrettably, I am afraid.

"God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not counting men's sins against them. God absorbed the consequence of human brokenness and suffering into Himself, so that we could share in His life. He has conquered evil, death, and the grave."

For me, Jesus death on the cross was not to effect man's reconciliation with an angry God, but to stimulate our realization of the Father's eternal love and his Son's unending mercy. He taught us to pray for those who persecute us and to love our enemies; he then lived what he taught, even unto the cross. Truly, that is the author and finisher of my faith.

"I think that I can't know what is going to happen to all the Muslims in the world, or who in the end will be saved or lost. For me, this is in the hands of a just and merciful God. But, I think that if anyone is 'saved,' it will not be by their own efforts, and strength, but purely through the grace of God, as shown in the cross of Christ."

I think you are avoiding my question Grace. I didn't ask you about "all Muslims," as that would be like asking about "all Christians," and we already know not all who say "Lord, Lord," shall enter the kingdom of heaven. I asked you about a Muslim who sincerely seeks to do God's will and yields the fruits of the spirit in his daily life. And it is in my view counter to scripture and common sense to claim that we are not required after entering into a spiritual path by faith to make sincere efforts to learn to do good and not evil, albeit our growth is always a mixture of self-effort and grace. Frankly, I think many Christians have a problem with this, and while it is true God can save whomever he will, there are different ways of conceptualizing this within a religiously plural world.

Grace said...

I guess in some measure, Rob, we'll have to agree to disagree. By fallen and broken, I mean this in a spiritual and moral sense. We all come far short of the love of Christ, and the holiness of God.

I think that our nature tends toward self-centeredness. We want our own way, rather than God's way. There is an alienation that's there. It is in this sense that we are at emnity with God.

Exactly how this all fits in there with evolutionary theory, I don't know, to be honest. But, all of what I'm sharing is a reality that I can easily see around me, and that I've personally experienced in my own life.

The transformation I'm talking about is something deeper than just externally being loving, or doing good, moral deeds. It can only come about by union with Christ, by His work in us.

Right now I'm struggling to even find the right words to explain this. It's true that on the surface there are non-Christian people whose lives are more exemplary than those who claim the name of Christ.

But, I'm looking at the end of the whole story. We're going to be made exactly like Jesus, without sin, perfectly loving and holy. (And, One, God bless you, but anyone who thinks that they have perfectly kept all the commandments their whole life is either lying or totally deceived. I'm lucky to get through one day.)

Plus, I think only God can know a person's heart,and real motives. In truth, it maybe be more a sign of the grace of God working in a struggling pedaphile's life who is in Christ, to refrain from the molestation of one child, than for a non-Christian physician acting out of a habit of charity and good works to save the lives of ten children.

But, yes, it is my personal conviction, that a Muslim or any person wholly and sincerely seeking to know God, and to do His will, will in the end be saved by Christ.

On the other hand, I feel that God out of His love doesn't force anyone into the kingdom. People are free to deliberately and willfully reject the work of God in Christ, and go their own way.

My thought is that we should in a loving and sensitive way do our best to share the "good news" with people who are open to hear, and leave the results to God. In the end, He is the redeemer and judge over the whole earth.

Fly, I agree with about every word out of your mouth. Although, I do interpret the virgin birth of Jesus in a literal way, and have no problem with this at all. Are you studying for the ministry, Fly??

Rob said...
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Rob said...
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Rob said...

"Exactly how this all fits in there with evolutionary theory."

As evolutionary creatures there is no shame in being imperfect; imperfection is the state we have been created in. Humans may well tend naturally toward self-centeredness, for after all God has endowed all animals with strong survival instincts and other drives that assure the continuation of the species. It is these animal instincts which we seek to overcome and transcend through spiritual grace and moral discipline. And as self-conscious creatures, we can do this because of the spiritual endowments of God that are free gifts to all. And since God has so endowed such imperfect evolutionary creatures with free will, it is only inevitable they can choose sin, and even descend into wickedness, for if this were not a possibility, then free will would be an illusion.

"The transformation I'm talking about is something deeper than just externally being loving, or doing good, moral deeds. It can only come about by union with Christ, by His work in us."

What makes you think that the "fruits of the spirit" Jesus refereed to when he said, "You will know them by their fruits," means anything different than those fruits which are forthcoming from those sincere souls that desire to know and choose to do God's will? Of course, only God can judge the true mixture of grace and self in any act of goodness or moral choice, for only God can judge by the true intentions of the heart and mind, while we as mortals must judge by outward deeds. All religions recognize this difference between outward appearances and inward sincerity, and the fact that these two may or may not be in accord. Why is that Christians automatically assume the good works of Christians are "about something deeper" or "spiritual fruits" while the good works of Muslims or non-Christians are based upon "just externally being loving, or doing good?" Of course, the reason is theological arrogance, which is hardly according to the spirit of Jesus teachings, as others have noted above already.

"Right now I'm struggling to even find the right words to explain this. It's true that on the surface there are non-Christian people whose lives are more exemplary than those who claim the name of Christ."

How arrogant to a priori assume the good works of non-Christians must be only "surface" appearances, as many Christians have been quick to do throughout history. In truth, some non-Christians are more spiritually fragrant and experiencing more of a living relationship to the true vine than some self-professed Christians. Jesus' words I quoted above make it plain; many Christians just refuse to accept this because they hold a narrow exclusivist doctrine in their minds that prevents them from being able to acknowledge living spiritual fruits in others when they see them, simply because they are not so-called "Christians." This is no different than in Jesus' day when they charged his good works were the work of the devil, because his teachings did not conform to their theology. Ironic how history repeats itself.

"In truth, it maybe be more a sign of the grace of God working in a struggling pedophile's life who is in Christ, to refrain from the molestation of one child, than for a non-Christian physician acting out of a habit of charity and good works to save the lives of ten children."

I think this statement above truly highlights the height and depth of spiritual arrogance engendered in conservative Christianity's exclusivist dogmas; it exemplifies a narrow exclusivist dogma that would sooner accord to a sexual predator's so-called "good works" that he restrains himself from sexually attacking a child, than the "good works" of a devout non-Christian who saves and serves (as Christ called us to do) through selfless loving ministry the lives of children; ironically, many actual examples of which exist in this world. Of course, it is the height of so-called Christian theological arrogance in that on the one hand some Christians openly admit no human can judge the inner heart, yet they repeatedly seek to discount any "good works" from non-Christians as somehow "habits of charity," rather than the "fruits of the spirit." I am reminded of how odious it was for the Jews to say the word "Samaritan," when asked by Jesus regarding the good works of mercy ministry performed by the Good Samaritan, who was their brother! Truly, this day we see Christians playing the role of the lawyer!

"But, yes, it is my personal conviction, that a Muslim or any person wholly and sincerely seeking to know God, and to do His will, will in the end be saved by Christ."

Then clearly, it is not what we believe about Jesus that saves us, but that we do what he teaches us, and that we do what he commanded us, to love all men and women as God loves each one of us.

Flycandler said...

Grace, I am not studying to be a minister (though I am an officer in the church); however, my significant other has a bachelors' in theology and is planning to go into seminary in the next year or so (United Church of Canada, the mostly-Presbyterian plus Methodist plus Congregational union denomination).

I had a nice response all typed up and freakin blogger.com ate it.

Essentially, I touched on some of the ideas that Rob just did. The term "broken world" is IMO a theological means of describing an "imperfect world", which I think we can all agree on. Evolution does not produce perfection. The innate human tendency toward selfishness, pettiness and cruelty may all have survival elements--our forbears who had these traits were more likely to fend off foes long enough to reproduce. The theologians call this "original sin". On the other hand, humans (and a lot of animals as well) do have an innate tendency toward compassion, community and self-sacrifice, all of which can ensure that the offspring will have the advantage of safety-in-numbers until they are able to reproduce. Calvin called these tendencies divine.

All in all, I think that these are simply two ways of describing the same phenomena in human beings. One way uses the vocabulary of the theologian, the other the vocabulary of the biologist.

It's all very Zen. ;-)

Flycandler said...

And Rob, my inner Luther is screaming "salvation by faith, not by works! Salvation by faith, not by works!", but you raise interesting points.

I really hate the tendency amongst evangelicals to say that all one has to do is recite the correct magic prayer and POOF! one is Saved. As a Calvinist, I do think that the ultimate action of redemption starts with God alone and not with us. God chooses us, not vice versa. I've always thought of the whole Making-a-Conscious-Decision-To-Accept-Jesus-Christ-As-Personal-Lord-and-Savior-and Trainer is in fact an action. A mental one to be sure, but still an act initiated by the human.

Calvin thought (and I agree) that the response of a people (despite being undeserving) freely given such a precious gift as grace is to turn around and gratefully show such love and grace to their neighbors. Calvin would probably not go as far as I would in this regard, but I do think that people who do not necessarily identify themselves as Christians are also moved by a powerful urge to show gratitude for God (whatever name they use) and God's love to their fellow man and woman. The terminology may vary, but the impulse is the same.

Flycandler said...

Sheesh, second time in two days that Blogger has cut off my humorous hyphenations.

First was calling the Wise Men in the Matthew narrative the great great great great great great great (etc) grandfathers of Miss Cleo.

Second was the term Making a Conscious Decision to Accept Jesus Christ as Personal Lord and Savior and Trainer.

Mystical Seeker said...

I just cracked open my copy of "Thank God for Evolution!" by Michael Dowd, and I ran across this little quote:

"By no longer opposing evolution, but wholeheartedly embracing it as the "Great Story" of 14 billion years of divine grace and creativity, I now have a more intimate relationship with God and a more joyful walk with Christ than ever before." (p. xxvi)

Mystical Seeker said...
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Mystical Seeker said...

Why is that Christians automatically assume the good works of Christians are "about something deeper" or "spiritual fruits" while the good works of Muslims or non-Christians are based upon "just externally being loving, or doing good?" Of course, the reason is theological arrogance, which is hardly according to the spirit of Jesus teachings, as others have noted above already.

Once again, I agree with you, Rob. You are absolutely correct that there is simply no difference (that can be justified by anything other than tribal arrogance) between the way Christians are transformed by their faith and the way people of other faiths are similarly transformed. To say that Christians are somehow different in this regard is just a throwaway expression of religious superiority, unjustified by anything but a self-serving religious dogma.

Every major world faith points its followers toward something Greater than themselves, something more magnificent, and in so doing it grants those people a connection with the Infinite and Transcendent in incredible ways. This transformative power exists. And it clearly spans across multiple religious traditions. Dogmatic blindness notwithstanding, it is time for people to outgrow their tribalistic arrogance and recognize this fact.

OneSmallStep said...

**We want our own way, rather than God's way. There is an alienation that's there. It is in this sense that we are at emnity with God.**

But what if the way we want, even as an atheist, is one where there's peace on earth? Where there is no war, no oppression, none of that? That is the way I want to go -- however, per orthodox Christians, since I do not hold to their doctrine, I'm still in the "lost" category, and destined for hell.

**(And, One, God bless you, but anyone who thinks that they have perfectly kept all the commandments their whole life is either lying or totally deceived. I'm lucky to get through one day.)**

I'm going based on what the young ruler said. Jesus did not contradict him. The young ruler did not commit adultery, did not murder, honored his parents, and didn't give false evidence. What held the ruler back wasn't his lack of ability to follow the commandments -- it was his reaction to Jesus saying that the ruler should sell all he had. Jesus didn't call the ruler a liar, or say that the ruler hadn't followed all the commandments. If no one was truly capable, wouldn't Jesus have called him on that?

And, yes, people were able to follow those commandments -- Zechariah and Elizabeth were considered blameless and upright. The Tanakh is filled with instances of requests for God to reward the righteous and such.

If no one is capable, then what we have is a God who provides laws that he knows everyone lacks the ability to follow, and then condemns them. That is not just.

**In truth, it maybe be more a sign of the grace of God working in a struggling pedaphile's life who is in Christ, to refrain from the molestation of one child, than for a non-Christian physician acting out of a habit of charity and good works to save the lives of ten children.**

I don't think we can have it both ways here: if people are truly drawn towards their own way only, then the non-Christian should not make it a habit of performing charity and good works. This also means that we can't tell based on the fruits of people where they stand in terms of God. It again comes down to it's a matter of what you believe, and what you believe only. If you do good works as a Christian, you've got the grace of God. If you do good works as a non-Christian, then it means nothing. It's just a "habit."

Rob said...

Gosh, between Flycandlers moving words, and Mysticals equally moving expressions, I can only say I am grateful to be amongst such folks with living, moving, searching, and dynamic faith! Oh that I could find a Christian church to fellowship within, to take my family, that would nourish both our souls and minds in this kind of honest quetsioning and searching.

Flycandler, I am moved by your words, for they are my very soul experience. I can attest that in my own experience it was true the "ultimate action of redemption starts with God alone." And does not this accord with Jesus teachings that the good shepherd, like the loving father, goes in search of his lost children (sheep), even before they know they are lost; or that he forgives them their errors and sins, even before they ask. And is not the beginning of our own intellectual recognition of our spirutal poverty, and associated hunger for truth and righteousness, the very leadings of the still small voice working within us, proof, that before we are consciously aware of God that he has already found us?

I cry out with you and Luther Flycandler, proclaiming "faith, the gift of God, as the price of entrance into the kingdom of heaven," for once we recognize our spiritual poverty and seek to find God, know him, and to become like through wholehearted and unselfish devotion to doing his will, praying "Not our will, buy thy will be done," we have truly then realized that the Father loves us with an infinite love, and we are enlightened sons and daughters in the family of God. What joyous freedom! Acceptance of this gift of faith entrance into the family of God is a free will choice that is made just as we are, incomplete and imperfect as we are, belligerent animals and sinners all, but willing, with that mysterious mixture of grace and effort, to surrender our whole being to the transformative embrace of God's transforming embrace and Jesus Christ's guiding presence in the living Spirit of Truth, which is nothing more nor less than the desire to follow truth wherever it might lead, and which is ever taking the dead letter of doctrine and by his associated Spirit of Truth reality-izes those promises of salvation and increasing peace and joy in spiritual realities of the kingdom of heaven. And what a personal trainer he is indeed ;-)

And none of this contradicts the corollary truth that this door (faith gift of God) is not open to those who would enter the kingdom for selfish glory. All are called, all are invited, all are indwelt by the still small voice, but not all freely respond, for free will means the possibility to deny this gift, as well as to accept it. Salvation is not for those who are unwilling to pay the price of wholehearted dedication to doing my Father's will. There must be, as Flycandler notes Calvin taught, that “turn around” which “gratefully shows such love and grace to their neighbors.” Indeed, the price of entranced is already freely given faith by grace; but we must sincerely accept it and progress therein, seeking in free will devotion to maintain a living spiritual connection to the vine, thereby yielding abundant fruits within the Father’s spiritual family. Spiritual development depends, first, on the maintenance of a living spiritual connection with true spiritual forces and, second, on the continuous bearing of spiritual fruit: yielding the ministry to one's fellows of that which has been received from one's spiritual benefactors. Spiritual progress is predicated on intellectual recognition of spiritual poverty coupled with the self-consciousness of perfection-hunger, the desire to know God and be like him, the wholehearted purpose to do the will of the Father in heaven.

Jesus teachings impress me as a process by which we acquire, by living faith and grace, a righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of slavish works. Faith, simple childlike belief, is the key to the door of the kingdom; he also taught that, having entered the door, there are the progressive steps of righteousness which every believing child must ascend in order to grow up to the full stature of the robust sons of God. And these steps are shown in his teachings regarding the technique of receiving God’s forgiveness that the attainment of the righteousness of the kingdom is revealed. Faith is the price you pay for entrance into the family of God; but forgiveness is the act of God which accepts your faith as the price of admission. And the reception of the forgiveness of God by a kingdom believer involves a definite and actual experience and consists in the following four steps, the kingdom steps of inner righteousness:

1. God's forgiveness is made actually available and is personally experienced by man just in so far as he forgives his fellows.

2. Man will not truly forgive his fellows unless he loves them as himself.

3. To thus love your neighbor as yourself is the highest ethics.

4. Moral conduct, true righteousness, becomes, then, the natural result of such love.

It therefore is evident that the true and inner religion of the kingdom unfailingly and increasingly tends to manifest itself in practical avenues of social service. Jesus taught a living religion that impelled its believers to engage in the doing of loving service. But Jesus did not put ethics in the place of religion. He taught religion as a cause and ethics as a result.

The righteousness of any act must be measured by the motive; the highest forms of good are therefore unconscious. Jesus was never concerned with morals or ethics as such. He was wholly concerned with that inward and spiritual fellowship with God the Father which so certainly and directly manifests itself as outward and loving service for man. He taught that the religion of the kingdom is a genuine personal experience which no man can contain within himself; that the consciousness of being a member of the family of believers leads inevitably to the practice of the precepts of the family conduct, the service of one's brothers and sisters in the effort to enhance and enlarge the brotherhood.

The religion of the kingdom is personal, individual; the fruits, the results, are familial, social. Jesus never failed to exalt the sacredness of the individual as contrasted with the community. But he also recognized that man develops his character by unselfish service; that he unfolds his moral nature in loving relations with his fellows.

At least that is how I understand my personal trainer, the Spirit of Truth.

Rob said...
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Rob said...

"By the old way you seek to suppress, obey, and conform to the rules of living; by the new way you are first transformed by the Spirit of Truth and thereby strengthened in your inner soul by the constant spiritual renewing of your mind, and so are you endowed with the power of the certain and joyous performance of the gracious, acceptable, and perfect will of God. Forget not--it is your personal faith in the exceedingly great and precious promises of God that ensures your becoming partakers of the divine nature. Thus by your faith and the spirit's transformation, you become in reality the temples of God, and his spirit actually dwells within you. If, then, the spirit dwells within you, you are no longer bondslaves of the flesh but free and liberated sons of the spirit. The new law of the spirit endows you with the liberty of self-mastery in place of the old law of the fear of self-bondage and the slavery of self-denial...."

"Salvation is by the regeneration of the spirit and not by the self-righteous deeds of the flesh. You are justified by faith and fellowshipped by grace, not by fear and the self-denial of the flesh, albeit the Father's children who have been born of the spirit are ever and always masters of the self and all that pertains to the desires of the flesh. When you know that you are saved by faith, you have real peace with God. And all who follow in the way of this heavenly peace are destined to be sanctified to the eternal service of the ever-advancing sons of the eternal God. Henceforth, it is not a duty but rather your exalted privilege to cleanse yourselves from all evils of mind and body while you seek for perfection in the love of God."

"Your sonship is grounded in faith, and you are to remain unmoved by fear. Your joy is born of trust in the divine word, and you shall not therefore be led to doubt the reality of the Father's love and mercy. It is the very goodness of God that leads men into true and genuine repentance. Your secret of the mastery of self is bound up with your faith in the indwelling spirit, which ever works by love. Even this saving faith you have not of yourselves; it also is the gift of God. And if you are the children of this living faith, you are no longer the bondslaves of self but rather the triumphant masters of yourselves, the liberated sons of God."

"If, then, my children, you are born of the spirit, you are forever delivered from the self-conscious bondage of a life of self-denial and watchcare over the desires of the flesh, and you are translated into the joyous kingdom of the spirit, whence you spontaneously show forth the fruits of the spirit in your daily lives; and the fruits of the spirit are the essence of the highest type of enjoyable and ennobling self-control, even the heights of terrestrial mortal attainment--true self-mastery."

Jodie said...

I like the interrelationship between forgiveness and love of neighbor. I really do think that one of the main points of God's intervention in the affairs of men was to teach the fine art of forgiveness. Perhaps by example. We are forgiven not so that we can live happily ever after in some kind of after life utopia, but so that we can infect others with the virus of forgiveness in this one.

Forgiveness leads to healing.

Such healing as to overcome even the injury of death.

Flycandler said...

Oh, Jodie....

We are forgiven not so that we can live happily ever after in some kind of after life utopia, but so that we can infect others with the virus of forgiveness in this one.

Forgiveness leads to healing.

Such healing as to overcome even the injury of death.


I am literally jumping up and down and shouting, "yes! yes! YES! YES!!! YES!!!!!!!!"

You hit the nail exactly on the head. THIS is what Christianity is all about. I am stuck plum in the middle of the Southern Baptist/Pentecostal belt, and I tire of the obsession with self in Christianity here. "What do I have to do to obtain salvation?" "Have you made your conscious decision to accept Jesus Christ as personal Lord, Savior and Trainer?" This is the most important gift to us from the Reformed tradition: it's not all about us. It's all about God and God reconciling Godself to us. It's about us gratefully receiving this gift and translating it outward into the world in a spirit of gratitude. And yes, it's all about reconciliation and healing!

Grace said...

I would see even faith as a gift from God, not as a kind of work. I don't think it's so much that we accept Christ. He accepts us. Our outward confession is just a reflection of this.

Rob, maybe I can share this in another way. I think if anyone is saved, it is because of the work of the cross of Christ, which was wholly of God.

Then, of course, I think that saving faith results in "good works." A relationship with Jesus makes a difference in our lives, and also impacts culture. It's not about just us.

However, I would not automatically assume that because someone is leading a moral and ethical life, that this is automatic proof, the person truly knows God.

I certainly don't want to imply though, that the good works of a non-Christian mean nothing. Only to say that we can't work our way to heaven, and that only God knows anyone's true heart and motives.

Guys, I'm up here in the mountains, and will probably be off the computer for sometime. But, thanks so much for all your sharing, and for the discussion.

All of God's blessing to you and your significant other, Fly.

OneSmallStep said...

**Perhaps by example. We are forgiven not so that we can live happily ever after in some kind of after life utopia, but so that we can infect others with the virus of forgiveness in this one.

Forgiveness leads to healing.**

The interesting thing about this, though, is how it can relate to those in awful conditions. One thing that bothers me about the penanl substition atonement theory is that it doesn't really offer anything to those who have already suffered, whether through war or oppressive regimes. Say you have a person who's parents were brutally slaughtered, she suffered throughout her whole life ... and then someone came to her and said that Jesus took her punishment so she could be with God.

Who here honestly thinks she'd ever accept a message like that?

However, I would say the woman still needs salvation, but in terms of the "salve" sense. She'd need healing. Situations like that have a high potential for bitterness and hatred, and so the woman would need to experience forgiveness, but more along the lines of how to forgive those who have wronged her.

**However, I would not automatically assume that because someone is leading a moral and ethical life, that this is automatic proof, the person truly knows God.**

The problem is, then, that we have no way of knowing who exactly knows God, then. We can't go based on outward manisfestation. If we have two people who have that radical life, and one is an atheist and one professes to be a Christian, and yet the behavior is exactly the same ... we still come down to it only matters what you believe. And per the sheep/goats parable, it has nothing to do with belief structures. It has to do with actions.

I think one of the difficulties here is that simply because one advocates good works are a way of knowing God, does not mean that we're all saying we can work our way to heaven. If one does good works to earn salvation, then the good works have become selfish -- which is exactly why I think Paul said it wasn't about good works, or what someone does, because that leads to boasting, which is a symptom of pride. If salvation is something that can be earned, then salvation becomes selfish, and individual-directed.

If I act good to earn praise, then I'm no longer doing good. I'm focusing on myself, and what I get out of it. Rather, I act good because I know it's the right thing to do. My concern isn't to gain heaven or avoid hell. Whatever the afterlife is, if there even is one, then I'll deal with it then.

This is not to say, however, that I think we don't deserve God's love (and I can see Fly cringing from here ;) I do think we deserve it -- not due to anything we do, but rather what we are: the creation of God, made a little lower than angels, and crowned with glory/honor. Don't children you have deserve your love, simply because of who they are?

And, if we inherited any sort of sin nature, then we would deserve help even more, because we'd be trapped in something not of our own making.

Mystical Seeker said...

The problem is, then, that we have no way of knowing who exactly knows God, then. We can't go based on outward manisfestation. If we have two people who have that radical life, and one is an atheist and one professes to be a Christian, and yet the behavior is exactly the same ... we still come down to it only matters what you believe.

Right. There is simply no basis for saying that people with one set of beliefs (i.e., Christians) "know God" while others (i.e., non-Christians) do not--other than a tribalistic assumption of the superiority of one's own religion. To assert a priori that non-Christians somehow do not know God clearly makes no sense.

I think the idea of salvation as healing actually has a great deal of merit. To me, that is part of the transformational power of religion. Not just the ethical element of faith--doing good works--but the healing element as well. And, once again, Christianity has no monopoly on this aspect of faith.

Don't children you have deserve your love, simply because of who they are?

Yes. This gets to the heart of God's love, in my view. We have God's love because we deserve it. Love is not irrational--a parent's love for their child is not, and neither is God's love for us. It makes perfect sense to love. God doesn't love us despite how terrible we are--what a horrible concept of God's relationship with us! God loves us not despite, but because. I would never want to worship a God who cuts us a break in the afterlife department but who really doesn't think much of us or our worthiness. Love is positive, it is overflowing, and it is self-emptying. This emphasis on our supposed unworthiness doesn't see that. And who would want a parent who really thought of us as "unworthy"?

Jodie said...

onesmallstep brings up an essential point about suffering.

The context in which the gospels were written and in which they were first successful is one in which the followers of Jesus were suffering unspeakable pain.

What they saw in Jesus was a prototype for their own suffering. They endured because He endured. He endured first and he endured the worst even though he was innocent.

This is most powerfully portrayed in Mark, thought by most to be the earliest gospel.

But Matthew was written in the shadow of the butchery of Jerusalem and it is highly likely that the Christian church in Jerusalem suffered the same fate as everyone else who was there. They too were innocent.

The death of Jesus on the cross most certainly had a very different meaning to those people. It wasn't his atonement and death that saved them, it was his resurrection and the fact that he was alive and well and present in their suffering that meant everything.

And if you have ever talked to someone who turned to Jesus while being in prison and tortured you will learn that this is true even today.

So they could hold on to their faith and their identity, face betrayal, the circus and the cross and they could rise above it and forgive. They knew that Jesus was alive and beckoning them from the other side of death, showing the way.

Flycandler said...

Yes, that "gaaaaaaack!" sound you heard was me reading Onesmallstep's post. My inner Calvin had a hemorrhage. Then I thought about it a little more.

The PC(USA)'s Brief Statement of Faith puts it this way: "we deserve God's condemnation. Yet God acts with justice and mercy to redeem creation."

It may not be that we are inherently unworthy of God's love (there's a whole Calvinist rabbithole to go down here). We do hold in the Reformed tradition that we are worthy of God's disfavor, and there may be a subtle point here. It's important that we avoid the temptation to project human ideas of love and the parent-child relationship onto God to the exclusion of any other form of understanding. I bow to our resident MOWS on this.

I think where Reformed thought properly puts the emphasis is on who initiates the redemptive process. It's not because we are lovable (indeed, we demonstrate our unloveableness on a fairly regular basis), but that God chose to redeem us in an act of love. I think it says something to the power of divine, unconditional love that we are loved regardless of whether we deserve it or not. It's just not an issue for God.

OneSmallStep said...

Mystical,

**doesn't love us despite how terrible we are--what a horrible concept of God's relationship with us! God loves us not despite, but because**

Yes. I once talked to a friend about the problem with the depraved viewpoint is that I end up standing before God and asking why God loves me. What is it in me that produces that love, or what is it in anyone that produces that love.

Her response was that God loves because of who God is, and it has nothing to do with us. To which I said that it made it sound like God had no choice in loving, and it thus became almost a cold love. If God had a choice, perhaps He wouldn't love.

If a child has done awful things, and yet asks the parent why the child is still loved, many parents would say, "Because you're my child."

Under my friend's viewpoint, if God were asked, I can't help but think God would just respond, "Because I do." Which then divorces any part humanity has to play. But with the parent example, both parties play a role.

**It wasn't his atonement and death that saved them, it was his resurrection and the fact that he was alive and well and present in their suffering that meant everything.**

I think Jodie is bringing up a key point here -- the crucifixion/suffering is meaningless, unless there's a resurrection to accompany the death. Otherwise, the suffering wins. I think it's Paul that says since people die on the cross with Christ, they will now live because Christ lives. It's the resurrection that produces salvation, because that's where the freedom is.

Rob said...

"I would see even faith as a gift from God, not as a kind of work."

That is a common belief held by Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. This is even taught by Shin Buddhism:

"According to Rennyo, faith is fundamental and is the source of nenbutsu. Faith "is granted by Amida Tathâgata...this is not faith generated by the practicer,...it is Amida Tathâgata's Other-Power faith.["1] The term shinjin is taken by Rennyo to be Amida's Other-Power true mind which displaces the believer's mind of self-striving. An alternative term for faith is anjin or yasuki kokoro, which for Rennyo has essentially the same meaning as shinjin, but with emphasis on the aspect of the peace or tranquility that attends reception of faith. (Bloom 2006: 166)

1. Rogers and Rogers, Rennyo, V-12. p. 251. See V-12, On the Sleeve of [Amida], Numata Center (1996) BDK English Tripitaka 106-I, pp. 116-117.

(Bloom, Alfred. Rennyo and the Renaissance of Contemporary Shin Buddhism. In Rennyo and the Roots of Modern Japanese Buddhism. (eds., Blum, Mark L. and Yasutomi, Shin'ya). Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2006; p. 165; 166.)

"I think if anyone is saved, it is because of the work of the cross of Christ, which was wholly of God."

So to bad for all those poor souls outside the Jewish religious tradition and prior to the Jesus' death on the cross, eh? Once again, this is the absurdity of evangelical-fundamentalist theology. They make of Jesus' life and teachings a mockery, nothing, a target of ridicule and laughter due to this silly theological doctrines and such abstract theological claims centered on some fictitious "work of the cross" as though it was this simple mounting of a cross that somehow magically changed cosmic reality. Neither Jesus' own teachings or his revelation of the heavenly Father support such childish scheme as salvation being dependent upon some theologically formulated "work of the cross"; mankind was just as loved and saved before Christ came; the only difference is now we have a fuller vision and revelation of the true nature of God as each individual's loving heavenly Father.

There are real meanings in the cross, but they do not lie in viewing the cross as some magical event of cosmic proportions; rather they lie in what he taught and how he lived his life, even in the face of such unjust and cruel treatment as he was subjected to in the false charges, sham trial, and humiliating treatment right up to his death on the cross. Jesus, by his wholehearted submission to the will of God was a perfected specimen of human self-control. When he was reviled, he reviled not; when he suffered, he uttered no threats against his tormentors; when he was denounced by his enemies, he simply committed himself to the righteous judgment of the Father in heaven. Even amidst the pangs of mortal death he had the time to listen to the faith confession of the believing brigand. When this thief reached out for salvation, he found deliverance. When he saw the manner in which Jesus faced death upon the cross, this thief could no longer resist the conviction that this Son of Man was indeed the Son of God.

And this knowledge is nothing new, as the forefathers of liberal Christianity saw this long ago:

Jesus himself attached no expiatory or propitiatory significance to his death; he fitted it into no scheme of salvation. The cross was his own personal religious problem which he solved in the light of the divine will for himself. God in his experience needed no objective atonement: He seeks only a simple and wholehearted obedience. In his thought the religious redemption of men is exceedingly simple. It is a direct drive to the heart of the loving Father who forgives because He loves. (Bundy 1928: 261)

The Christological speculations that have dominated Christian thought and Christianity's understanding of itself and its task have no counterpart in the thought of Jesus.... His relation to the Father is simply and plainly religious, the difficult matter of learning and performing the divine will.... [H]e never conceived of a religion that hinged wholly and solely upon theoretical conceptions of his person, their acceptance or rejection.... He sets no Christological confessions as necessary conditions for participation in the kingdom. He even warns his disciples against too exclusive attachment to his person as a dangerous self-delusion:

"Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but het that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy by thy name, and by thy name cast out demons, and by thy name do many mighty works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity." (Matt. 7:21) (Bundy 1928: 262-263)

And a modern Christianity that interprets its experience and its task solely in the light of orthodox conceptions and confessions concerning Jesus' person is treading upon treacherous ground. (Bundy 1928: 263)

When Jesus comes to speak of those things which matter most in the sight of God, he always speaks in terms of the divine will, never in terms of the acceptance or rejection of his person. Entrance into the kingdom he makes absolutely dependent upon the performance of the divine will which he presents in the simple but difficult terms of rigid ethical character and moral conduct. The great question which historical Christianity has set before the world is: What think ye of the Christ? But the questions which arise out of the religious message and experience of Jesus are of quite a different order. What think you of God and His kingdom? Is God your Father? Are you His children? Do you perform the Father's will? Such questions can not be answered in abstract theological terms, for they are the pressing problems of a practical and living piety with which Jesus confronts his followers. Each must answer them for himself. Organized Christianity can not answer them for him nor keep him from answering them for himself. The follower of Jesus can not answer them in the terms of doctrine and dogma, creed and confession, officialism and orthodoxy; all such is too impersonal. (Bundy 1928: 263-264)

Jesus did not demand that his followers believe in or on him, but that they believe with him.... Religion is not so much a process of teaching and learning; it is rather a process of communication and impartation. It is less the mastery of a subject-matter, more the sharing of a spirit. The whole inclination and disposition of Jesus was to share what he himself had sensed, sought and secured as permanent religious values. (Bundy 1928: 264)

Jesus not only challenged his followers to believe what he believed but to believe as he believed.... The religious faith of Jesus is a personal passion that consumes him entirely. However, it is not a source of narrowness and dogmatism.... He demands that faith possess a fervor that is sufficiently strong to make it commanding.... In the religious experience of Jesus faith becomes a life-enterprise, and he demands that it be just such for his followers. (Bundy 1928: 265)

It is much more comfortable to confess a religion about Jesus than it is to strive to live the religion of Jesus after him. The Apostles' Creed is easily repeated, but to believe what Jesus believed and to believe as he believed is a very different matter. To believe that God is a living and loving Father, that all men are His children, that God has a kingdom, that it can and will come, and that soon, and to devote the whole of human life, personal and social, to preparation for its coming to the extent of exhausting life itself in the kingdom's service, is a difficult religious task. But just such is the religious experience of Jesus, and over against its richness and reality our modern Christian experience appears as woefully impoverished and unreal. (Bundy 1928: 266)

(Bundy, Walter E. The Religion of Jesus. First ed. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Company; 1928; c1928 p. 261; 262-266.)

OneSmallStep said...

Fly,

**We do hold in the Reformed tradition that we are worthy of God's disfavor, and there may be a subtle point here.**

Perhaps. For me, punishment only seems effective if it serves a purpose. Punishment for the sake of retribution doesn't accomplish anything. Punishment for the sake of correcting, and producing a changing of behavior does. The latter is also a form of love.

I just don't see in the gospels Jesus going around telling everyone they deserve to be punished, or deserve God's disfavor. He does have sharp words for the religious elite, yes. But for the ordinary person, he was saying that they do deserve compassion and mercy and justice and goodness. Now, repentence would play a role, yes. Because this was meant on a universal fashion, the only way you're truly going to experience any of that is if you welcome your loathsome brother into the circle as well. If you deserve this, then everyone deserves this.

This is not to say that no punishment should occur. A parent who lets a child do whatever s/he wants isn't actually a loving parent.

For me, it comes down to I don't see how we can tell people they have worth on one hand, and yet deserve nothing but God's disfavor on the other.

** It's important that we avoid the temptation to project human ideas of love and the parent-child relationship onto God to the exclusion of any other form of understanding. **

The difficulty here is going to be that if God is constantly referred to as a Father, and demonstrates a Father's love, then we're going to look for empircal examples, such as our parents. A true loving parent does punish, as well, in order to correct behavior. All we have are human ideas in the end, because anything we learn or experience is filtered through a human perception. I mean, Jesus even says that if we who are "bad" give our children bread when the child asks, how much more will God give when asked, since God is "good?"

Mystical Seeker said...

Interesting to see Shin Buddhism brought up here. Of all the Buddhist sects, that one has always intrigued me the most, because of its theology of grace. It sees salvation as a free gift and is correspondingly steeped in gratitude.

Flycandler said...

Very interesting thoughts.

As someone who grew up a "Star Trek" and "Doctor Who" fan, I am reasonably familiar with the mechanics of time travel--on a narrative level, not a quantum one. It is not a big stretch of imagination for me to believe that the omnipresence of God stretches across time as well as space. Just as I can testify to Calvin's doctrine that God can choose to redeem anyone God damn well pleases, God can choose to redeem anyone anywhere and anywhen God damn well pleases (Calvin wouldn't have said "damn", he'd have said "zut alors").

See, Calvinism isn't just an elegant solution to the Pagan Baby Problem, it's good for dealing with all your Limbo needs!

Mystical Seeker said...

The difficulty here is going to be that if God is constantly referred to as a Father, and demonstrates a Father's love, then we're going to look for empircal examples, such as our parents

Agreed, and also I think it is important to note that it makes no sense to use the word "love" with respect to God unless it has an analogue in human experience. Otherwise, it is a meaningless word.

W.H. Vanstone, in his book "The Risk of Love", did a good job of identifying the marks of love, and as he points out, because God is perfect God must therefore manifest perfect love.

Rob said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Flycandler said...

Rob, I see what you're saying, but like any good Shirley Guthrie fan I'm gonna have to break out some Barth on you.

I do think that the entire story of Jesus Christ is not contained in the events between his birth and a month after his death. The entire Bible is a lengthy narrative testifying to the epochal creation-fall-redemption cycle. As Jesus himself said, he did not come to abolish the law and the prophets (i.e., the Tanakh), but to fulfill it.

Indeed, the Old Testament is full of rules and people breaking them and getting smoted. In this long-term POV sense, the creation-fall part of the narrative is more or less told by the time Jesus arrives, and then we get to work on the redemption stuff. As you mention, Jesus repeats the prophets' call to repent, but his main focus is on the ultimate redemption: the Kingdom of God.

I also agree with you that of course the logical way to think about an entity that is constantly described in parental terms ("Our Father", "Your Father in Heaven", "Heavenly Father", etc.) is to do so in terms of our own parents or parent-child relationships around us. These can be very helpful in our understanding, but we just need to bear in mind that this may be a limited way to see it, through a glass darkly if you will.

Mike Huckabee recently got into trouble by suggesting that, as the Church of Latter Day Saints teaches that both Jesus and Lucifer are "sons" of God, therefore Mitt Romney thinks that Jesus and Satan are brothers. I'm not going to attempt to defend the Mormon faith here, but the misunderstanding of the terminology is worth noting. If we call God "Father" and Jesus "God's Son", and think of ourselves as "children" in relation to God, does that make us Jesus' biological siblings? Are we therefore equal to Christ? Is Christ therefore separate from God the Father?

Again, my only point here is to say that the parent-child model is a useful way to understand our relationship to God, but it is by no means the only way to do so.

Rob said...

"It's important that we avoid the temptation to project human ideas of love and the parent-child relationship onto God to the exclusion of any other form of understanding."

Jesus himself for good reason placed the concept of the idea/ideal of God and our relationship to God upon the ideal of love as exemplified in the parent-child relationship, and he did not hesitate to use human parent-child analogies when teaching this new and enlarged concept of the nature of God as our heavenly Father. He also thought of God as the Holy One, and as Spirit and Truth. And the idea that somehow human beings (imperfect creatures by God's own evolutionary design) "deserve God's condemnation" is a theological creation the origin of which is in the mind of men and not God nor Jesus, and it goes hand in hand with other such erroneous beliefs as "total depravity" and such. It is my view, it is time to speak honestly and frankly of such mistaken views of the nature of man and his relationship to God.

"I think it says something to the power of divine, unconditional love that we are loved regardless of whether we deserve it or not. It's just not an issue for God."

This is true, it seems, for God loves and saves the sinner even before the sinner repents and seeks God. But then, this should not be a strange idea for any mature human being that is a parent and truly, unselfishly, and wisely loves their children. Does not the wise earthly parent, who has the longer time frame and better understanding of the inevitable immature choices (part of the learning experience) of their offspring, wisely seek to allow them that freedom which provides room for leaning from their choices (natural consequences), and when the child stays into dangerous territory, sometimes seek to restrain or discipline them out of love, not anger, for the child's own welfare? And does not the loving parent find it easy, even natural to forgive the wrongdoing of their offspring, to with open arms welcome them back home and into the loving embrace of the family? If human parents can conceptualize and experience this kind of selfless and forgiving love and devotion to their children, how much more must the infinite God, who sees the end from the beginning, who ordained the evolutionary creation of imperfect human animals, who is each little belligerent animal's loving heavenly Father know that farseeing love and wisdom that saves even their erring children?

Rob said...

Whoops, sorry about that Flycandler. I think I put your response before my post when I fixed a spelling erro ;-)

"If we call God "Father" and Jesus "God's Son", and think of ourselves as "children" in relation to God, does that make us Jesus' biological siblings?"

I appreciate your point, but really, must we always take literally what is clearly is meant to have spiritual meaning? Of course, we are not talking about "biological" relationship, but spiritual relationships here.

Jesus taught that God was Spirit and Truth. Those two statements should forever prevent such literalist interpretations from being taken seriously, but alas, they don't ;-)

OneSmallStep said...

Fly,

**If we call God "Father" and Jesus "God's Son", and think of ourselves as "children" in relation to God, does that make us Jesus' biological siblings? Are we therefore equal to Christ? Is Christ therefore separate from God the Father?**

I wasn't thinking of it along these lines, because biological concepts are purely materialistic. Families are comprised of people who aren't related biologically. That would be even more key here, since God is a Spirit, and thus not limited, or evening containing, genetic material.

However, Christians are referred to as "joint-heirs" with Christ, and heirs of God, if we are also children of God. (You're also speaking to someone who doesn't believe Jesus was God). I'll see your "gaaaack" and raise you a "jaw drop." O:-)

However, I'm not sure I'd say that Christ is "seperate" from God. I don't think anyone is "seperate" from God, even murderers. They just don't see how they're connected. I have a panentheistic view of God.

Rob said...

"onesmallstep"

"Punishment for the sake of retribution doesn't accomplish anything. Punishment for the sake of correcting, and producing a changing of behavior does. The latter is also a form of love."

Wise fathers may chasten their sons, but they do all this in love and for corrective purposes. They do not punish in anger, neither do they chastise in retribution. But neither is the Father a lax, loose, or foolishly indulgent parent who is ever ready to condone sin and forgive recklessness. We should
not mistakenly apply Jesus' illustrations of father and son so as to make it appear that God is like some overindulgent and unwise parents who conspire with the foolish of earth to encompass the moral undoing of their thoughtless children, and who are thereby certainly and directly contributing to the delinquency and early demoralization of their own offspring. God most certainly does not indulgently condone those acts and practices of his children which are self-destructive and suicidal to all moral growth and spiritual progress.


"I just don't see in the gospels Jesus going around telling everyone they deserve to be punished, or deserve God's disfavor. He does have sharp words for the religious elite, yes. But for the ordinary person, he was saying that they do deserve compassion and mercy and justice and goodness. Now, repentence would play a role, yes. Because this was meant on a universal fashion, the only way you're truly going to experience any of that is if you welcome your loathsome brother into the circle as well. If you deserve this, then everyone deserves this.

I suspect that Jesus well recognized that many of those common folk whom the religious elite of his day and age held were outside the pale of the many purity maps of Jewish law and cultic practices were more sinned against than as sinning of their own desire, and it was just such merciful understanding forgiveness that moved many to repent and desire and seek sincerely and wholeheartedly salvation. Jesus' disdain was reserved for those who placed heavy financial burdens upon the poor and widows, and those religious leaders who were not sincere, and he only denounced their spiritual disloyalty to the very truths which they profess to teach and safeguard.

Jesus blessed the poor because they were usually sincere and pious; he condemned the rich because they were usually wanton and irreligious. He would equally condemn the irreligious pauper and commend the consecrated and worshipful man of wealth.

OneSmallStep said...

Hi, Rob.

**But neither is the Father a lax, loose, or foolishly indulgent parent who is ever ready to condone sin and forgive recklessness. We should
not mistakenly apply Jesus' illustrations of father and son so as to make it appear that God is like some overindulgent and unwise parents who conspire with the foolish of earth to encompass the moral undoing of their thoughtless children, **

I'm not sure here, but it sounds like you're agreeing with me. If not, then what you're saying is what I was trying to say. Only you said it better.

Rob said...

Yes OneSmallStep, I am agreeing with your spiritual insights, which I think are OneLargeLeap towards truth compared to some more conservative evangelical theologies ;-)

I have so enjoyed the insights shared by Mystical, Flycandler, yourself, and Grace, although I cannot help but feel that she is straining credulity and parsing words to avoid saying that odious word, "Good Samaritan."

John Shuck said...

Wow! Are Shuck and Jivers not only smart but prolific? I can't keep up with you. Thanks for the good, good stuff!