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….

 

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.

In A Nutshell

acorn-990846_640

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.

The Heretical god

Calvin-and-Arminius.Pics

It is a sad fact of the Church that its members declare boldly God’s love for the world and yet also delineate just as boldly where in the world love’s limits can be found. ‘Love goes this far and no farther.’

Ephesians 3:19 says God’s love passes knowledge. But, many take God’s incomprehensible love, shrink it down and place limits on it. Whether intentional or not, this makes God’s love comprehensible. The Biblical revelation in 1 John 4:8 says that ‘God is love.’ As God and his Love are one and the same, placing limitations on God’s love is a heresy. For to declare limits on God’s love is the same as to declare limits on God, and thus, to declare God as comprehensible. But, no one can reduce the Infinite to the finite, or the Formless to some form. To do so is to make God a god. And the only useful thing to do to a god is to kill him.

‘But, who has placed limits on God?’ One might ask.

It is those in the Reformed Tradition (RT), which is to say, the intellectual descendants of John Calvin. But, it is equally those in the Arminian Tradition (AT), the intellectual descendants of Jacobus Arminius. For the former declares God chooses for Himself only a portion of the already-damned humankind, and the latter declares the All-Powerful One to be impotent against man’s will to damn himself. For the RT, God will do nothing for the finally-damned portion or humankind. For the AT, God can do nothing for the finally-damned portion of humankind.

For both Traditions, God’s love does not pass knowledge. They know its limits. And, therefore, they know, as in fully comprehend, God. Let us, as true members of the Church, wipe this god of theirs from our minds, for that is this god’s only real use. And worship the God who is limitless, infinite, and formless Love.

John 3:17, For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

Who will I lose?

When it comes to the end of this whole human experience, the end of the world and the universe, where all come to meet their Creator, I cannot help but feel a tinge of fear. OK, maybe a lot of fear. Let me explain:

Ever since I was young, I was thankful that I and my family were among the ones who would be saved from being thrown in the great divine trash heap to which most of humankind was doomed. I would look around at the mass of humanity being carried along by the floods of sin and evil without anyone to pull them out. To be sure, some people might be pulled out. In my mind, my family, friends, and I had been pulled out and were also given the task of pulling everyone else out. But, there are some people you just can’t reach.

So, there we were in the great Ark of Christianity, drifting along the floods of humanity; thankful that we were aboard, but silently mourning the loss of millions of others. Fake comfort was offered to us to alleviate the realization that “this is just how it is.”  We were told either (1) that God logically cannot save everyone since most of humankind was out of reach or refused help, or (2) that God had chosen us above all others and purposely left the rest to drown.

It took years to ponder the implications of each idea. Later on, I could not get past the feeling that God was either, according to (1), impotent against the human will and the gates of hell prevailed over most of humanity, or, according to (2), God did not want to save everyone, making Him quite the divine monster. Must I be told to love my neighbor, feel compassion for him, know him personally, and ache for his salvation until such time as he can no longer be considered my neighbor? Can God throw out his own image into the trash heap?

Yet, I believed that’s exactly what he was going to do. My neighbor, whom I must love as myself, would be ripped from me. And, it would feel like I was being ripped apart. If I loved him, really loved him, that’s what it would feel like. The gates of Hell really were the victors in the end. The gates would steal my neighbors, maybe my future family members, maybe even my own son or daughter.  How can I live with that? How can God, who is said to love everyone even more than I love them, live with that? If God is love, He too will be ripped apart. But, if he already chose some for the trash heap, he is indifferent, uncaring, and places quite the unreasonable burden of future grief on all his followers. They must love all people, but prepare to lose all people. For God did not really love them in the first place. At least, He did not love them enough to save them. How can I truly love my neighbor as myself under these conditions? Will my neighbor, just as valuable and worthy of love as myself, no longer be my neighbor? God forbid! To lose my neighbor is to lose my very own son. That’s the strongest I can put it. To lose even myself to the trash heap of Hell is nothing compared to losing my own son there. I cannot love such a God who would throw him away, be God grieved or indifferent.

God forbid that I should love more than He does. Can God be outdone in love? “No!” my heart cries, “He loves more than I.” I cannot have been educated in love from my earliest memory by my mother and father, by my brother and sister, by all who have ever come before me: whose written words of love have instructed me, and gotten love so wrong. I know not what else to say except that if God is Love, as the Scriptures and all who have taught me say, then His hands are good hands to fall into. In death we all go to Him who is Love. And who shall be able to separate us from the love of God? No one. Not even ourselves.

Still, I do not know this for sure. It is only the logic of Love, which spurns all other logic. It is only the hope that all this will not end in the most horrifying way possible; that not even one will be thrown away – that God will not let one of His lost sheep slip through his hands. They look like big strong hands, don’t they?

How do we know who and what God is?

When considering the “what” or the substance of God, we must admit that we cannot know it. We get things wrong if we think God is something we can picture or get our minds around. St. Anselm says, “I would be surprised if we could find anything from among the nouns and verbs which we apply to created things from nothing that could worthily be said of the substance that created all.” We can certainly compare God to things that we know, but these words don’t typically mean the same things as they do when applied to created things. We must realize the words have an analogous relationship.

For instance, I can say that a cheeseburger is good and that Fred is good. The word good does truly and literally describe both Fred and the cheeseburger, but the word has a different meaning when applied Fred than it does when applied to the cheeseburger. In the same way, I can say that God is good and that Fred is good, and that “good” truly and literally describes both of them but does not mean the same thing.

And let’s not forget, we really do have some descriptive words that can be attributed to God, words like Creator, the Source of everything, pure actuality, pure existence, true, good, one, being, real, and beauty. But, unlike us, God does not have these things, God IS these things. And each descriptive word is referencing one thing, not many. It’s like when the words “Superman” and “Clark Kent” refer to the same person. They just refer to him in different aspects. And words like good and true are different aspects of God.

All these things describe the “what” of God. I have not yet gotten to the “who” of God. “What is God” and “Who is God” are two different questions, and not very many people realize that.

The “Who” of God would be hard to figure out on our own but it is possible. For instance, if we consider love to be what God is, as when we say “God is love”, then of necessity we must say that God is a Trinity of “Who’s”. Because, if God is only one “who” then, when considering God before he created anything, what sense does it make to say that God was loving? What was he loving before creation? If God is one “who”, then there was nothing to love. He could love himself, but he would not know the kind of adult, mature love we speak of when we talk about loving another person, when we talk about giving ourselves wholly to them. He would have to create something in order to love, which would mean that he was deficient before creation. Generally, people don’t think “deficient” appropriately describes God.

But, if God is three “Who’s”, then it’s easy to see that he did have this adult love all along. For each “Who” of the Trinity was loving and giving to each other equally before creation. And we are invited into the love that’s already going on, sort of like joining in on a quiet fireside chat.

As you can see, there are some things to be said about God. But we must be careful about the kind of things we say. Attributing created qualities to God as if they were a direct comparison is wrong.