Arguing with the Preacher (and feeling a little guilty)

I DON’T want to get rid of my guilt. I DON’T want to be justified; not if it means God declares me righteous when I know I’m really not. Let me just get it out there: I am not righteous. And how am I justified? I am certainly not justified by doing wrong. The older I get, the more wrong I see in myself. You say Christ has justified me, but I am not justified because I am not righteous.

The Preacher says: No, you are justified. Christ fulfilled the law so you wouldn’t have to. When God sees you, He sees His Son’s righteousness. Now you are righteous in the eyes of God and the law because Christ obeyed the law. He did it for you because you could not. 

What law are you talking about? It is certainly not man’s law. I can break man’s law tomorrow by murdering my neighbor and no amount of theological defense is going to get me declared not guilty in the eyes of the court. Are the courts of men breaking divine law by following their own? I can’t murder my neighbor and claim to have the moral high ground.

If you say I am righteous by God’s laws, then I must conclude God is now only pretending I am righteous when I’m really not. Besides, the law of my own conscience still pricks me in the heart, and it shows me that I am not righteous but guilty. I lusted after my neighbor just this morning. Am I not guilty of that? How is it that I see a guilty man and God does not?

The Preacher says: But, that’s the good news. Whether you realize it or not, you’re not guilty. Of course, no one is perfect. Not yet anyways. We all must go through a process of sanctification. That means we learn to follow God’s law and become more like him. Every situation in this life is an opportunity to grow towards perfection. Stay in study and in meditation on God’s word, and endeavor always to obey it. We may not get all the way perfect in this life, but God will make us perfect in the next. Trust in Him, He will take care of you. 

See… here’s where you lose me a bit. How can a sinful, imperfect being consider himself to be saved when he continues to be this sinful, imperfect being? The perfection you talk of in the next life seems to be the real salvation. It seems to be after death, when I am made perfect, that God will really see me. Here in this life, He only sees His Son when He looks at me, but when I am perfect I will no longer need to cover my filth with a righteous mask. When I am no longer filthy, but can live with God, being truly seen by Him — that, to me, is salvation. I cannot bear to have God look away. I want to be always in His eyes. But if the only reason God can look at me in this life is that He sees His Son instead, then that is the same as if he was looking away. He does not really see me, and I am not really saved. In this life, I’m just covered with a Christ-shaped band-aid.

Also, how can I deny the guilt I experience after my conscience accuses me of lusting after my neighbor? Should I walk around denying what I feel? It seems to me that guilt is a good thing because it is a powerful motivator for repentance. Without it, I may not feel any desire to change for the better.

The Preacher says: Boy, you are looking at the situation from the wrong end. God sees you here and now because of the work of Christ on the cross. Otherwise, God could not see you at all, for he cannot bear to look upon evil. So, a Christ-shaped band-aid is not such a bad thing. When you asked Christ into your heart to save you from your sins, He saved you, and took up permanent residence there. You are saved. Don’t act as if, to really see you, God has to look down on you. He actually lives inside of you. He says you are not guilty. He is the one who justifies you. Are you going to argue with God? God is here with you right now, writing His laws in your heart so that you will do them from your heart. He will make a change in you making you more and more like Him. Your attitude should be like Paul Bunyan, who wrote Pilgrim’s Progress. He said:

 

One day as I was passing into the field . . . this sentence fell upon my soul. Thy righteousness is in heaven. And methought, withal, I saw with the eyes of my soul Jesus Christ at God’s right hand; there, I say, was my righteousness; so that wherever I was, or whatever I was doing, God could not say of me, he wants [lacks] my righteousness, for that was just before [in front of] him. I also saw, moreover, that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse, for my righteousness was Jesus Christ himself, “The same yesterday, today and, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

Now did my chains fall off my legs indeed. I was loosed from my afflictions and irons; my temptations also fled away; so that from that time those dreadful scriptures of God left off to trouble me; now went I also home rejoicing for the grace and love of God.

I’m not arguing with God. I’m arguing with you. If God justifies me and says I am not guilty then why does He still, as you say, “make a change” in me? That kind of justification sounds fake. God is only pretending I am righteous, knowing full well that my real righteousness is, as John Bunyan says, “in Heaven.” Band-aids don’t fix wounds. Time and bodily care does. It is when I can stand before God as perfect in the grace of his sight, that I finally have salvation. And if I cannot reach it in this life, because my righteousness is only in Heaven, what does that say here and now about sanctification, all my struggle to be like Christ?

Whether I struggle or not, when I’m dead, God stops patching me up with a Christ-shaped band-aid and I actually become just as righteous as His Son. It is then that I come into the fullness of salvation. I DON’T want that. I DO want to be righteous, but not because God snaps his fingers and instantly makes me that way after I’m dead. That robs me of any virtue in my actions. Sure, I will do holy and righteous things, but not because I learned to do it, or struggled to. It will only be because I was changed at the snap of God’s fingers. I want to struggle in the process of becoming more like Christ until I actually am, perfectly: to have God’s consuming fire burn away the impurities of my soul through my experiences. Then it is really me who is holy and righteous, and stands before God unashamed because he did not have to force his righteousness upon me.

The Preacher says: Careful son, that sounds like works-based salvation. You can’t get to Heaven on your own works.

Really… hmmm….

 

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God’s Rays of Light

God’s rays of light cast themselves upon us, and these holy illuminations are, unto them that fall away from him, a voice that recalls them and a power by which they rise. To them that have stumbled into a corruption of the Divine Image within them, it is a power of renewal and reform. It is a sacred grounding to them that feel the shock of unholy assault, and a security to them that stand. It is an upward guidance to them that are being drawn unto it, and a principle of illumination to them that are being enlightened: a principle of perfection to them that are being perfected, a principle of deity to them that are being deified. It is simplicity to them that are being brought unto simplicity, and a unity to them that are being brought unto unity.

 

— adapted from Dionysius the Areopagite, The Divine Names

Prayer

Prayer is an effect of grace given to us by God. Prayer also affects us, through the work of the Holy Spirit, by increasing our capacity for receiving His grace. Without God first giving us the gift of grace, not one person would be able to pray. It’s because of this John says, “We love God because He first loved us.” Thus, prayer finds its beginning in each person because God first draws each person to Himself. And prayer opens the door for further grace to enter. We, his children who wish to become the sons and daughters of God, do not frustrate His grace, but find our true selves within His glorious light.

Investigating God pt. 3

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Considering what was written in the previous posts “Investigating God”, one might be tempted to return once more to that massively huge list compiled while visiting all the universes and add one more item to it. At the very bottom, one may be tempted to add the word “God”. Because, after all, the Christian says there is a God. And, here the Christian declares an emphatic NO. There is no logical world in which the universe and even the multiverse can be added to a list that includes God. God and all that exists do not share a co-existence. The notion that God preceded the “Big Bang”, the beginning of the universe and can be included in the chain of cause and effect that began existence is a false notion. God is not the first link in the chain of cause and effect. He is the source of the chain’s existence from beginning to end. In other words, there is no metaphorical “room” which contains God and “all that exists.” Remove God from the room and leave all existence, and the Christian will say you are right. God is not to be found in all existence. He is the source of it, and as such, does not belong in any category humankind can conjure.

God is transcendent. He transcends all categories. He is beyond all categories and conceptions. In fact, God constantly breaks through all categories. Take the category, for instance, “all things that exist”- the very thing the Christian says God is not included in. This category is broken by God through the person of Jesus of Nazareth. The Christian says, God is not in the world, and yet in the next breath, he declares that Jesus is God. Note the use of the helping verb is. Jesus was a man who existed in the past and yet the word “is” indicates Jesus exists today. It boggles the mind. God is not in the universe and yet he was a member of human history.

Thinking further about the person of Jesus. God demonstrates in Jesus that he transcends the category of nature. For all humankind has only one nature, yet Jesus, says the Christian, has two of them. Jesus is both God and man without any mixing of the two. He was not a spirit who appeared to be human. He was not merely a man used specially and uniquely by God. He was not a demigod being part human and part God. Jesus had the full nature of God and the full nature of man.

God transcends his presence. The Christian says that God is omnipresent. God is not in the universe, yet God is everywhere. Still, the Christian insists, one cannot point to a locality or place in the universe and say, “There God is.” This is so because God, as the source of all that exists, is actively creating every place. It takes God’s continued activity as creator for any place or thing to exist right now and even exist in the next moment. If God stopped, there would be nothing: which is the absence of anything at all. Thus things continue to exist because God is everywhere.

Another category God breaks through is Oneness or Unity. The Christian will say God is One and that God is Trinity. He is One and Three. God is even called a Tri-Unity. This is to say God is one essence, or nature, and God is three Hypostases or Persons. But, God is not three Gods. There is only One God in three Persons. These three Persons have no division; they are One. Each person can be distinguished but there is no separation between them. They cannot be opposed to each other, and cannot be defined in terms of what the other is not. A man is considered different or diverse from a woman. An Eskimo is diverse from a European. A man of one culture is diverse from a man of another culture. This is so because each is defined by what they are not, e.g. the Eskimo is not European. But, the Three-in-One are an absolute diversity, non-comparable, and not defined by opposing one to the other. They aren’t defined by what they are not. The Three are distinct but not divided.

Of course, the source of all human categories, should be expected to break through them, to transcend them. If we could have a complete understanding of the source of all existence, we would be God. God is both unknowable and knowable, incommunicable and communicable. And holding these things in balance with one another is a reminder that we cannot know everything, and it is also a call to ascend beyond our human comprehension to the great heights that God has for us. For as Jesus is so we are called to be, called to be more than human. For our true diversity consists not in our humanity, but in bearing a unique image of the divine. To be a person is more than to be human. It is to be in a process of becoming. For we will be as Jesus Christ is, participating in his divine nature by the divine light of his grace. May we each become fully alive.

 

Investigating God pt. 2

retrieved from https://www.theodysseyonline.com/fraternity-greek-gods
retrieved from theodysseyonline.com

 

The gods of days past, the Norse gods, the Greco-Roman deities, and the eastern gods of the Asians and Arabs were all thought to have an existence that touched our own. And, their existence made a difference. They could visit the world of humankind, visibly or invisibly. And when they did, armies would fall, the outcome of wars would be decided, and human loves were thwarted. To come into contact with a God was to come into contact with a force to be reckoned with. Whose will would win over? Time would tell. Sometimes the gods would win and sometimes humans would win. A God would crave appeasement, sacrifice, or worship; and followers either complied or faced the consequences. What humankind did had an effect on what God would do. The existence of the gods was in competition with human existence. For mankind to be fully alive, free, and in control he must say NO to God. A NO to God is a YES to man.

Then comes the Christian, who stares all humankind in the face, and declares there are no gods. But the same Christian will claim to worship God. When examining this situation, one begins to declare the Christian to be suffering from a host of contradictions. At one moment the Christian declares, “There is no God within the whole of existence.” And the next you will see him bow down to worship him.

To the Christian, however, the entire ancient world was just confused. The worshipers of the gods were the ones ailing from contradictions because they were confused about divinity, confused about what it is. There can in principle be no competition between God and humanity since God, as the source of their very existence, is just what makes them what they are. To be God is to be the source of all items in the whole of existence, including anything a philosopher might call existence itself. As the source of all that exists, God is just what makes everything what it is. As such, God makes no difference to anything in the universe. God is the reason why everything is what it is. Therefore, the will of God is what gives fullness of life to humanity. To say YES to God is to say YES to humankind. The glory of God is man fully alive. To reject the source of your very existence is to reject life. It is to die, non-participation in existence, in some way. This is why Adam and Eve were said to have died the day they ate of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. By disobeying God they were turning away from the One who made them, in every way, what they are. Because they refused the source of existence, they refused to participate, in some way, in their very own existence, whether one classifies that existence as physical or spiritual. Adam’s choice to eat the fruit wasn’t an expression of his free will. It was a limitation of his human freedom to be all that he could be. Limited freedom means limited life. The closer God communes with humankind, the more humankind will realize their true selves, free from death and corruption.

Investigating God pt. 1

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Suppose you and I set out on a great quest to find God. We looked under every rock, mountain, and hiding place in the earth. We examined all the biological life and found none that were God. We took to the stars and searched every planet, analyzed deep craters, and went diving into vast alien oceans. And when they turned up empty, we went spelunking in the depths of every black hole, scoured every galaxy until there were none left to scour, and still, we could not find God. We then compiled our findings and made a list of every item in the universe, and counted the universe itself as one of the items. Next, we launched ourselves into the multiverse and witnessed the birth and spectacular deaths of all the universes as they came into existence and passed away. Having a “doorway” to every universe, we searched each one and aggregated the items we found there into our impossibly massive list. And, still, God was not found among them. Finally, we found the origin of the multiverse, whatever contraption that may be, and discerned its inner workings, and from it discovered all the knowledge contained within every universe ever generated. The knowledge of the infinite ages was ours, but alas, in all that knowledge was not the knowledge of God. So with weary faces, we turned our eyes toward home, that quaint universe from which we emerged, and told our fellow man of all we had found, and what we had not found. And while the whole world watched, we pointed to our massive list and resolutely revealed the one sentence of which we could now speak with authority: “There is no God within the whole of existence.” As we ended our lecture, a dingy farmer in dirty overalls and a piece of straw in his mouth greets us enthusiastically with a firm handshake. After a quick spit of tobacco extrudes from the side of his mouth he says, “Its such an honor to meet you sirs. My name is Morgan, I’m a Christian, and I already knew all that.”

 

 

In A Nutshell

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Consider this thought: Some parts of creation observe other parts of creation and themselves. This fact is astounding.

If I were to look at a nut on the ground, would not it amaze me to learn that deep inside the nut, far deeper than can be adequately described, there are impossibly tiny bits of nut that are eagerly looking around and excited about what they see? I should wonder at the behavior of these tiny bits of nut, why they bother themselves to look about. And if I learned later that the tiny bits had formed education centers and universities, might not I begin to suspect that maybe, just maybe, something “un-nutty-like” had gotten into the nut? And, if I found out later on that a large number of them considered themselves to originate from beyond the nut, might I begin to suspect they might be right?

Is the parable of the lost sheep just wishful thinking?

It has been suggested, or rather lamented, that we cannot love as God loves. For God loves without limits, and we cannot seem to live without erecting borders, whether national or personal. Humankind does not love. But, I would also add, humankind does not live either, precisely because they do not love. It is our own limitations that blind us to the truth of Ephesians 3:20, “Now unto him who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think…” If our own limitations lead us to think that most of humankind will forever abide in Hell without end; we must be reminded God is able to do exceeding abundantly above what we think. We must not project our own limitations on God.

It is a sad state of the Christian Church that its members look with despair upon their brothers and sisters and have no hope. The parable of the Good Shepherd who leaves the 99 to find the one sheep which was lost is, in the eyes of Church members, just wishful thinking. For the reality is the beggar on the street, the homeless under the bridge, the addict in the drug house, the rebellious brother, sister, mother, or father who did not make a profession of faith toward God—none of them were rescued by the Good Shepherd. God is, in the end, a failure. And God failed because the one being rescued did not reach out to Him.

Dear Body of Christ, God cannot fail. God will not fail. Do not look with despair towards the end. Our story is a triumph, not a tragedy. And if your understanding of salvation will not allow you to hope in this manner, then you have a terrible understanding of salvation. For God is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think. And the God who loves without limits can cause you to love as he loves too. For to love your neighbor is to love God; and to love God is to love your neighbor. One cannot be done without the other.

 

God’s minimum cardinality (a SQL explanation)

ERD_GOD_MAN

SELECT * FROM Humankind WHERE Saved = ‘true’ AND Loved IS NOT NULL
? rows returned

Cardinality here refers to whether God has any sort of mandatory relationship with the whole of humankind. Is it an optional relationship, as in, its possible no one may be with him in the end? Is it a mandatory 1:1 relationship, as in, at least one human will be with him? Is there a difference between Christ’s ideals and the reality he can feasibly create? Is Christ’s ideal to save all humankind, which is a “one to many” relationship? Will he fail in his ideal?

Let’s start by evaluating Christ and humankind by examining some statements which many Christians have held to be true throughout history, statements that start with ideals, but then are reduced by reality.

1. God sincerely wills or desires the salvation of each and every sinful human being.

2. God will eventually achieve a complete victory over sin and death and will therefore accomplish the salvation of everyone whose salvation he sincerely wills or desires.

3. Some human sinners will never be reconciled to God and will therefore remain separated from him forever.

To accept statement #3 as true, you must reject either statement #1 or #2. However, let us examine some clear “one to many” statements in the Bible and see if these statements point to a different truth. What effect does the “one” Christ have on the “many” humankind?

I Cor. 15:28 “When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.” So, in the end, all things, including humankind, will be in subjection to God. This does not mean God will have forced praise heaped upon him from unwilling participants. He calls that iniquity in Isaiah 1:11-13. Rom. 5:18 “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.” Thus, all humankind will have justification and life. Verse 19, says that same group, humankind, will be made righteous. And the force of God’s grace is more powerful than the potency of sin (verse 20). I Cor. 15:22 “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” Thus, all humankind will be made alive.

From these verses, the entity Humankind has the following 5 attributes:

Future subjection (not forced).

Future justification.

Future life.

Future righteousness.

They are given grace more powerful than sin.

 

What attributes does the entity Christ have that necessitates this effect on the many?

I Cor. 15:45 – The last Adam, the life-giving spirit.

I Cor. 15:49 – the man from heaven.

Rom. 5:10 – the Son of God.

Rom. 5:21 – Our Lord.

From here we can create statement #4 which removes statement #3 above. Instead of rejecting either statement #1 or #2, we can accept both and make a new statement.

4. God will eventually accomplish the salvation of each and every sinful human being.

The minimum cardinality for humankind is the same as the maximum. Christ (“one”) created a mandatory relationship with humankind (“many”). Notice, this does not negate the (1:1) relationship in which Christ is the only way to heaven. Neither does it require that all humankind accept the (1:1) relationship in this life. All references to justification, life, righteousness, and subjection are future relationships. Neither does it destroy hell. It just means hell will not last forever because God will not fail in his ideals. God’s ideals will be reality.

References:

(The statements #1 – #4 above were adapted from the reference below, p. 38.)

Talbott, T. (2014). The Inescapable Love of God. Wipf and Stock Publishers: Eugene, OR.