Henry and Charity 3

Charity: Henry… listen, do you have a minute to talk?

Henry: Sure. What’s going on?

Charity: I was thinking about what you said and I did some research. You talked about the character of Jesus’ life and death, but I was wondering about the time in between his death and resurrection. I came across an account written by Nicodemus. It’s an old story with old language. — It says that a great light shone down on Hades and lightened up all mankind. And the prophet Isaiah said that it was the same light he spoke of when he had said in his book, the people that dwell in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. And John the Baptist came in among them and they wondered who he was. He said he was the last of the prophets sent to make straight the way of the Lord. He spoke of Jesus to them and advised them that those who believe on him will be saved, but those who don’t will be condemned. Then the first man Adam sent his son Seth in among them to reveal a secret he kept till now, a story of his last dying wish he whispered to his son. Adam had sent Seth to the gates of Eden which the angel was guarding to offer a prayer that he might be allowed to get some oil from the fruit of the tree of life to heal his father. But, the angel said it couldn’t happen at this time. And the angel said the Son of God would come to earth as a man and be anointed with this same oil. This Son of God would rise again and cure Adam and all his descendants of all sickness. But, for now, it cannot happen. Then after the inhabitants of Hades heard the story, they were filled such great joy and hope. Then Satan came and conversed with Hades itself. He said he just had the Jews crucify one of their own race, one calling himself the Son of God. But, now that he is dead we can safely put him in chains down here. For Satan remembered this Jesus said his soul was very sorrowful, even unto death. Satan took that to mean he was afraid to die. This gave him joy not least because this Jesus had worked so many miracles even to the point of raising some from the dead just by so much as a word. But Hades fired back saying that if he was able to do that, why would you bring him here? If he has that kind of power then he must have been mocking you when he said he feared death. Having the power to reverse death by only a word, who here will be able to resist him? There will be no one left here when he is done. And then Hades, Satan, and all inhabitants of hell heard a voice saying, Lift up your gates, o you rulers, and be lifted up, eternal gates, and the King of Glory will come in. And when Hades heard, he told Satan to try and hold him if he could. So Satan went. Then he told all his demons to stand firm and secure his bars and gates. It was then that King David remembered what he wrote in the Psalms and said aloud, I predicted this voice — lift up your gates, o you rulers. I saw all this through the Holy Spirit. He further quoted, the dead will rise and those in the graves will be raised up, and all those in the earth will be glad. Where is thy sting, O Death? Where is thy victory, O Hades? Then the voice came again, lift up your gates. And Hades answered, Who is this King of Glory? Then the angels said, the Lord strong and mighty in battle! And all of a sudden, the brass gates were broken and the iron bars were crushed. And everyone that was imprisoned was freed and began to walk out. The King of Glory entered as a man and all the dark places in Hades were filled with light. And Hades cried out loud, we are conquered! But, WHO are you that has so great power and authority over the dead and the living? And WHAT are you that you come here without sin? And while Hades began to blame Satan for killing him and bringing him here, Jesus took the first man Adam by the hand, and lifted him up. Afterwards he turned to the rest and said, come with me all you who have died through the tree that he touched. Look! I have raised you all up again through the tree of the cross. Then he sent them all out. Adam thanked him and all the saints and prophets gave thanks because he had brought back their lives from destruction.

Henry: I… wha… that was amazing. And you found that in your research?

Charity: Yes!

Henry: I don’t know if it’s true but, if anything happened when Jesus died, that was probably it. – There are a couple things I find real interesting about that account. No one was left in hell, and they all had to walk to get out. John the Baptist said they could choose not to believe, but who in their right mind would want to stay? In the end, no one stayed. I find it interesting also that they had a choice after they had died. Many Christian people have said mankind would be judged right after death, and that there was no opportunity to follow Christ afterwards. They are at least wrong concerning the ones in Hades.

Charity: Something you said there caught my attention. What man in his right mind would stay there? It gets me thinking that if all ignorance of God was taken away and God was seen as he truly is, would anyone in his right mind choose to be without him? God is supposed to be the fulfillment of mankind – man’s highest good, his greatest desire. What man would say no to the greatest goodness and joy he could ever experience?

Henry: We were created to be with God. It is at least part of the nature of humanity to want him. Maybe it’s like bondage and imprisonment to be without him.

Charity: Yes. Maybe all these people who say no to God in this life because of ignorance or misunderstanding, when the light shines in their dark places, they too will praise him for rescuing their lives from destruction. – Hold on, let me go back to something we talked about the other day. I’m connecting some dots here. What if the ‘gift’ of salvation is by faith and works and everyone will gladly put forth the work of walking out of their own prison? What if all mankind will be saved, and the separation of mankind into groups “the saved and the lost” will be wiped away? What if all that remains is the saved?

Henry: Now, hold on. This is all just conjecture. I’ve been avoiding argument with you so far, but that’s not what the Bible says will happen. Your research should include the Bible, not just old books. God is going to tell the wicked to leave his presence and they will burn in everlasting fire, Matthew 25:41. He will separate mankind into two groups. The shepherd will divide his sheep from the goats, so to speak, Matthew 25:32. I would like to join you and say that everybody makes it to heaven, but that’s just not so.

Charity: But, I thought God loves everyone the same. Why would he ever give up on one of his sheep and let them be a goat forever? Does God stop loving them?

Henry: Of course not! He loves even the goats, but he lets them go their own way and will not force them to follow him.

Charity: You agreed that the highest good man could obtain is God.

Henry: Yes.

Charity: Then why would God stop seeking after them knowing that he is the highest and best thing for them? Wouldn’t he still call out to them after the judgment? Wouldn’t he cry out to them in hell and brake the bars of their prison too?

Henry: No. That’s why they call it the judgment. It’s the final state of mankind.

Charity: I don’t get it. Why would God finalize something so awful? Few find the straight and narrow path, Mathew 7:14. The Gospel is supposed to be the good news. How can it be that when ninety percent of mankind will be grouped in with the goats? Only a few sheep will remain and the rest go to the “slaughter house.” That’s bad news, not good news. The God I remember from my youth left the ninety-nine sheep to go seek the one who was lost. He was not willing that one of his sheep should die, Luke 15. We are all that lost sheep.  Apparently God came after you. Why would he not come for me? Why would he not come for everybody?

To Be Continued…

Henry and Charity 2

Henry: Charity, I discussed our conversation with a few of my friends and family.

Charity: Oh… it was a pretty intense conversation. I thought about it a lot too. What did your friends and family say?

Henry: Well, at first, they didn’t think you were sincere and some thought you were arguing against God. And some thought you just didn’t understand. But, I assured them you were honest with me and knew that God loved you. But, really, they were the ones who didn’t understand. They just didn’t get your concerns.

Charity: Thank you for standing up for me. I appreciate it. Did any of them have anything good to say?

Henry: Yes. Oddly enough, it was my father who said something interesting. He used to run a farm out in North Carolina and most of his advice comes in the way of farming illustrations – so you’ll have to excuse the metaphor. He said, you can be the best pig in the farm but the famer’s still gonna slaughter you in the end. The farmer’s plans don’t change because of the behavior of the pig. In fact, the better the pig, the happier the farmer will be to slaughter it. However, if the farmer plans on bringing the pig into his house for a pet, it matters very much how the pig behaves. A good pig will surely fulfill the farmer’s plans, but a bad pig may end up in the slaughter house.

Charity: Your dad seems to imply that good works do have something to do with it after all. Do you think that’s what he was saying?

Henry: Well, it started me thinking about what God wants, what his plans for us are. God isn’t willing that any should be slaughtered, so to speak, but that all should come to repentance, 2 Peter 3:9.

Charity: I like that, but, again, it sounds like work.

Henry: It does sound like that, but then I get to thinking about the verses I mentioned earlier. They emphatically say, not by works of righteousness, but according to God’s mercy are we saved, Titus 3:5. And salvation is not by works because mankind could brag about the work he had done to earn salvation, Ephesian 2:9. My pastor is always saying you can’t earn salvation. It’s a gift. Yet, I cannot say that belief is effortless or that a faith without works is one that God honors. So, I don’t have any real answers on this. Sorry.

Charity: You know, it’s nice seeing you be real about these things. I feel like I know a little bit more about you. It’s better than being on the receiving end of a proselytizer’s conversional urge. Your dad had said something good, though. If God does really love all of us, it must be more than some desire to have a pet in the house. Love esteems the other as equal or better than itself. But, how can we be more than just a glorified pet to God? Can we God’s equal? The gulf separating the created from the creator is infinite. Can that distance ever be met?

Henry: Hmmm… When I look at the life and death of Christ, I don’t see the desire to have mere heaven-dwellers filling celestial streets. I see a loving desire so strong that it was willing to taste death just to have the one it desired. Yes, we are the created and He the Uncreated, but the love displayed on the cross must be one that lifts us higher, that bridges that distance. You could look at his death for humanity and interpret it as a master loving his pet, but you would have to dismiss his life. He didn’t go around as a kindly master caring for his pets. He loved us as his equals. He washed his disciple’s feet, John 13. He took on the duties of a servant, esteeming us better than himself, Philippians 2:7. If Jesus truly was God, then God truly loves us. And I can only say that we are more than creatures to him.

Charity: I think you got something there. I’ll have to think about it.

Henry and Charity

Henry: Do you know for sure that you’re going to heaven?

Charity: I don’t think God is ever going to stop loving me, so… yes. I think I’ll be in heaven some day.

Henry: You may ‘think’ you are going to heaven, but I have faith in Jesus, so I have been assured of my salvation. I know I’m going to heaven.

Charity: Isn’t that kind of arrogant? Aren’t you assuming that you have a special place in the eyes of God while the rest of us occupy some less esteemed position? I thought God was not a respecter of persons, Acts: 10:34.

Henry: Yes. But, you should keep the context in mind. Peter goes on to say in the next verse that in every nation he that fears God and works righteousness is accepted by God.

Charity: But, how can God claim not to esteem one person over the other when he clearly makes a distinction between those who fear him and do good works and those who do not. I at least fear God and do good works, so I still don’t perceive a difference between you and me. Still, it seems God respects us but he does not respect others.

Henry: Doing good things will not get you to heaven. As they say, the road to hell is wide but the narrow path leads to heaven. Some will find it, many will not, Matthew 7:13-14. And there is a difference between you and me. Without faith, it is impossible to please God, Hebrews 11:6. And, God esteems all people the same because he loves us all equally. It does not mean, though, that we aren’t divided into groups: the saved and the lost.

Charity: What does the division of humanity ultimately result in?

Henry: The natural result of sin is death, Romans 6: 23. But the gift of God is eternal life. We must receive the gift of life from God if we are to go to heaven and that involves having faith in him.

Charity: I have faith in God. I trust him. He loves me and I think I will be with him because he loves us all equally as you say. If he loves us all equally then we all have received the gift.

Henry: No, no, no. You’re get this all wrong. We are divided into the saved and the lost. Some have received the gift and some have not.

Charity: You mean, God gives the gift to some and not to others?

Henry: Not exactly. It’s given to all, but every person has to decide if they will receive the gift. Those who receive it will be with God. Those who do not receive it will be separated from God.

Charity: But the verse didn’t say we had to receive it. It just said it was a gift.

Henry: But, if I give you a million dollars, you must receive it in order for it to be yours. It is the same with salvation. You must receive the gift of salvation or it is not yours.

Charity: That makes sense, but how do you know if you have received it? Is there some method of confirmation that eternal life is in your possession?

Henry: If you confess Jesus Christ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved, Romans 10. Call on the name of the Lord and you will be saved.

Charity: So, my salvation is all on me? Doesn’t confession and belief fall under the category of good works? I must assent to certain propositions, namely that Jesus existed, that he was the Christ, that Jesus died, that God exists, that he raised Jesus from the grave, that Jesus is alive, and that he offers me eternal life as a gift. Not only that but I must confess all of this verbally or mentally. That’s actually a lot to do, considering that I’m not sure about any of this. You may be convinced all of this is true, but I am not fully convinced. I’m not rejecting this, don’t get me wrong, but I really have to do some historical research on Jesus, and verify this method of salvation. I can’t believe or confess something that I’m not fully convinced of. This ‘gift’ is turning out to be a lot of work.

Henry: But you don’t have to do any research, you just have to believe and confess.

Charity: Well, that would be half-hearted belief. I would hope this was all true, of course. But, do you think God wants people to believe all these things without knowing whether or not they are true?

Henry: You can take my word for it. It is true. Actually, don’t take my word for it. Read the Bible. It will verify all of this.

Charity: You’re adding to this list of works I must do.

Henry: Wait a minute. I didn’t have to do all that historical research. In fact, I didn’t really have to search the Bible. These verses were pointed out to me by my family, my friends, and my pastor. I believed them all and I accepted Christ as my Savior. I showed you the same verses that were shown to me. In hopes that you might be saved as well. Besides, salvation comes not by righteous works by us, but God saves us by his mercy. Salvation is from God, not us. It doesn’t come by works, Ephesians 2:8-9.

Charity: You’re confusing me here. You did tell me I had to assent to a certain number of propositions and at least confess with my mouth a few of those propositions before I can be saved. Those are good works. You can’t tell me to do things and not to do things at the same time. Now that I think about it, I have to believe you too — that you’re not trying to lead me the wrong way. I’m sure you are sincere, but so are so many others who espouse other beliefs. I’m not saying you’re deceiving me, but what if you yourself are deceived? How do you know your family, friends, and pastor weren’t deceived?

Henry: Now look here, God is good. He would not deceive me, nor did he send into my life a bunch of lies. God is truth. He is the way, the truth, and the life, John 14:6. I believe the Bible is true and I believe in Him. He is worth believing in, and I am telling you about him. He is the truth.

Charity: Henry, I didn’t have the luxury of growing up the way you did. I’m just not sure about the things you are so sure about. I wish I was sure. But, you aren’t helping things when you tell me salvation doesn’t come from works and then tell me some things to do and believe. I either must do these things or I must not. This ‘gift’ you talk about is very complicated.

Henry: But, these things aren’t good works. They’re not in the same category as works. They are beliefs.

Charity: You’re telling me beliefs are effortless? What about the wrong beliefs? Are they effortless too? Do beliefs just come upon me without my say so? Do I have no choice in this? If I have a choice, then it takes my effort and therefore I must exert mental work, and, at least when it comes to me, I must research these things you mention to see if they are true. Doesn’t the Bible say to test the spirits to see if they are true because not all of them are from God, 1 John 4:1? And doesn’t the book of James say that faith without works is dead, James 2:20? Is a dead faith a faith that God honors?

To Be Continued…..

Sia’s Chandelier

I want to discuss Sia’s Chandelier. My feelings are mixed and many. Watching the video, I was filled with an unexplained wonder and what I can only describe as slight horror. Young Maddie Zeigler danced quite well, and obviously has great creativity that she put into her performance. But, there was something about it that bothered me. And up until now, I haven’t really talked about it. I couldn’t make sense of her dance in light of the song. Don’t get me wrong, She did well. But, her performance was a child’s understanding of what is a very mature and painful experience put into words. In my head, I kept trying to connect the dance to the song, but they seemed worlds apart. Maddie did her best to reach for something leagues beyond her grasp as a child but failed. As well she should have failed. I would not wish her to reach it. To do so would be to destroy her childishness. Many of our young girls have been driven, unfortunately, to shake off the dust of childhood too early. It is a tragedy. Innocence is worth the keeping, and childishness is the great flower that blooms in the beginning of our lives which we revisit as adults time and again to drink in its bouquet and remember what joy is. The length of children’s bloom is treasured by all including the adult the child eventually grows into. At least, it is treasured by those in their right minds. Children today are leaving childhood too fast and some with contempt, ready to enjoy the fruits of adulthood with all its benefits. I fear that the only fruit being enjoyed is not by the one who has grown but by all those vampires who want to suck the innocence dry from the young blossoms who make the jump to adulthood in their naivety. Childhood should be cherished, not touched. Once touched, it spoils.

Now that the video is out of the way, let’s discuss the song. I connect with this song on a deep level. How many times in my life have I awoke to shame and guilt from the things I did the night before? Too many. It’s a torture self inflicted. No one is to blame but me. Frustration and anger lead the charge in my assignment of guilt, and a vow to “Never do it again” quickly follows. Then a great fear comes upon me that have no choice in the matter. I do what I do. I will always do it, and I will always despise it. I wish for the day I will be free of it. A scream reverberates from the pain deep inside me. I have never heard it, until now. Sia’s scream at the beginning of the chorus is simultaneously beautiful and the most terrible thing that can ever be experienced. It is the scream of all those who bear within them silent secret pain. It is borne by those who have been abused, all who have been damaged, hurt, all those whose most precious things have been taken, thrust into dark pits of evil and spoiled in every way conceivable. I feel it. In a way, I always feel it, as my dark shadow that never leaves me except when it can vanish unseen into the night. Yet, Sia says she wants to fly like a bird through the night and feel her tears as they dry. It’s a way of dealing with the pain, to fly like a dove having no safe place to alight, to cry through the pain just to reach the end where one is finally numb if only for a moment. To hold on for the night, to hold on for dear life. To just get through it, wishing there was no tomorrow that remembers what you did. No tomorrow to house the shame a guilt just waiting for you. Time marches ever closer to tomorrow. Tomorrow begins the anger, the vows, but for now, I am numb, just holding on.

Sia’s scream is the incarnation of all of this, the bringing into space, time, and matter of a cry that is otherwise spiritual. To borrow from Tennyson, “But what am I, an infant crying in the night, an infant crying for the light, and with no language but a cry.” I am repulsed by her cry and drawn to it. It is beautiful and full of anguish. It is the very instance of pain, but formed in such a way so that others may say “Sing it again, it is beautiful.” Kierkegaard described it as poetry. He said, “What is a poet? An unhappy man who hides deep anguish in his heart, but his lips are so formed that when the sigh and cry pass through them, it sounds like lovely music. His fate is like that of those unfortunates who were slowly tortured by a gentle fire in Phalaris’s Bull; their cries could not reach the tyrant’s ears to cause him dismay, to him they sounded like sweet music. And people flock around the poet and say: ‘Sing again soon’ – that is, ‘May new sufferings torment your soul but your lips be fashioned as before, for the cry would only frighten us, but the music, that is blissful.”

I enjoyed Kierkegaard’s imagery until I saw one of Phalaris’ Bulls accurately portrayed. I was disgusted. It is a fate worse than death. Death would be a welcome visitor to the inhabitants of the bull. But, life and suffering is prolonged for the joy of the beautiful sound it makes. Such is poetry. Such is this song; a crying in the night, a crying for the light. O God, let there be light. Let my cry reach unto something real. I don’t want this pain and this fire that I experience to be for nothing. If I were to cease existing upon death; that is, to sleep the sleep of oblivion, I would not be satisfied. I cry not for oblivion. I cry for light. O God, let there be light.

He is not God

How effective was Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection? Sure, love covers a multitude of sins but does it cover all sins? Christians say that the blood of Jesus is enough to wipe away even the worst of sins, but I don’t think even they really believe this. For these same Christians will later backtrack and say the only sin that is not forgiven is the rejection of Jesus as your savior. Apparently, Christ’s blood does not cover those who reject him. The situation is similar to that in the Garden of Eden; only, instead of “of all trees in the garden you may freely eat except for THIS one”, the commandment is “of all the commandments laid upon men, thou mayest freely violate, except for THIS one.” God can take a murderer, a rapist, even a genocidal maniac; but he cannot take those who reject him. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; or my Son’s sacrifice is ineffective.” Nothing is impossible for God, except forgiving rejection.

Is this your god, Christians? Is his grace really that impotent? God’s grace crashes through every barrier, breaks every chain, but must bow down as to an idol when it encounters the stubborn human heart. Is not a God who covers even the sin of rejection greater than one who must bow down to it? And if God is less than the greatest, he is not God.

A Blunder of Cosmic Proportions

“God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” Universal salvation is God’s plan, his ultimate goal. The question is, does God’s plan ultimately end in failure. The loss of even one person is a failure for God. But, that is what you affirm — God’s ultimate failure — if you say, as I hear many Christians say, that most people in this world and even throughout history will end up in never ending conscious torture in hell. They will be separated from God forever. Christians site the verse, “straight is the gate and narrow is the way and few there be that find it.” Christians affirm not only God’s ultimate failure, but his utter failure in that he loses almost everybody. It is a colossal failure, a blunder of cosmic proportions.

The Reformed Tradition in Christianity is no better. They get around God’s failure by saying that universal salvation wasn’t his plan in the first place. Contrary to the verse cited above, God does not want all people to come to repentance. God determines who will be saved and who will not. And, most of humanity he damns for hell while a few of them he chooses to be with him. So, in the end, God does not fail. He just means to avoid the cosmic blunder by saying that he meant to do that in the first place.

So, we have two choices. Either God bows down to the idol of free will and utterly fails, or there is no free will and God planned from the beginning to damn most of humanity to hell.  Both views of God are awful. Neither one is appealing.

Protestants are Cherry Picking the Bible

The issue of Bible interpretation is a point of contention among atheists as well as Christians. It is claimed that a man and his Bible is all that is needed. After all, the Holy Spirit will guide you into all truth (John 16:13). Yet, one won’t spend too long in Christian circles till he discovers that “a man and his Bible” will come up with extremely off-the-wall ideas. He always has a need to be corrected by others in the Church. He’s like a tree which needs stilts to hold it up or it will grow crooked. It is suggested that the way to correct these bad understandings of the Scripture, is to have the Bible reader research what the great men of faith have said about things. He is told to reach back to the early church fathers and use them to get a better interpretation of Scripture. However, this is just a more well read version of “a man and his Bible”, albeit a more humble one. The individual is still the final arbiter of what he reads. The Protestant will accept St Augustine’s ideas on grace and faith, but not on the Eucharist, and certainly not on the Pope. He is, for all intents and purposes, cherry picking, as the atheists are so fond of pointing out. And in this accusation, I think they are right. My dear Protestants, we are cherry picking.

Let me point out, though, that doesn’t mean we are all wrong. An accurate interpretation of Scripture does exist, and our cherry picking is bound to hit the mark at some point. But, it’s bound to miss it as well. So, how do we know when we get it right? It’s a hard question. And one can see that our problem exists because we address the problem at an individual level, i.e. “a man and his Bible.” We have a real need to refer ourselves to an authority. The only relevant authority available to us in these matters is the Church. So what does the Church say about the Scriptures? And therein lies the rub. Which Church is to be the authority? The Independent Fundamental Baptists?… The Southern Baptists?… The Methodists?… The Free Will Baptists?… The Nazarenes?… The Church of Christ?… The Assembly of God?… The Lutherans?… or (oh, the horror) The Catholics?

And do any of them actually have a list of doctrines that define their denomination? For instance, what does it mean to really be a Southern Baptist? In my own experience, I’ve learned that each denomination has disagreements within themselves, and a certain amount of that is OK, even healthy. But do the Southern Baptists have a list of core doctrines on which none disagree and therefore define the denomination? If they do, that is precisely what is meant by the much hated term “Church Tradition.” Each Church, if it is to be legitimate, must have a coherent Church Tradition or they are a denomination without a definition. And that is one thing I cannot stand. Whatever you are, you must know what you are.

Whatever the answer to these questions above, it cannot be that Church Tradition must be avoided. Each of us, as individuals, need Church Tradition to help us understand the Scripture. We need an authoritative arbiter of the truth. We need a Guardian of Orthodoxy. But, if one exists, there are serious implications for the many denominations out there. If there is a church that is right, then all the other churches are wrong. And some are more wrong than others. There would be elements of the true Church in the other denominations, but they would not be the fullness that makes up the Church.

I do not claim to have an answer for this problem, but I know one thing. I no longer abhor and reject Church Tradition. I have a real need for it. I am looking for a Guardian of Orthodoxy. I do have a direction I’m looking and I have real reasons for looking in that direction. But, I don’t feel comfortable sharing that yet. I only write this so that others may see the problem and begin the search themselves.

Who’s right?

Tradition and belief beget and support one another. There is no escape from tradition in the church. Protestants would prefer that the written word of God resolve every doctrinal controversy, but it cannot. For false teachers quote the Bible for support of their false beliefs just as the true teachers do. What actually resolves the dispute is tradition; the church’s explanation of what the scriptures really mean. Those who say tradition is not an authority are actually appealing to their own tradition on the matter. Tradition is necessary for attaining the correct beliefs. 

The Case of Hypocrisy: Why did Christ not die sooner?

Why did Christ not die sooner? After all, he instructed others to turn the other cheek. Why did he not do so to his enemies? There was at least one mob who tried to stone him or throw him off a cliff. Yet he walked right through them and escaped. Others tried to trap him in a legal conundrum by bringing him a woman caught in adultery. If he said to stone her it would violate Roman law. If he decided not to it would violate Jewish law. He did not, however, turn the other cheek. He did not willingly become trapped. Again and again the Pharisees and Sadducees tried to find fault in him yet he got the better of them every time. 

Jesus required of his followers that if a thief takes from them their coat, you ought also to run after him and offer him your shoes as well. Should Christ do less? So why did Christ not willingly, even enthusiastically, give himself up to his accusers and fault finders? Could we not now accuse him of hypocrisy? 

If the problem we see is a problem of giving, then the solution must be found in giving also. In other words, If Christ did not give himself to his accusers it is because he had already given himself over to something else. One cannot give what one does not have. And one cannot give what is already given previously.

Christ’s will was submitted to the Father, and the will of the Father was for Christ to instill in his followers the Kingdom of God. For while he could not give his life to his accusers it was only because he was pouring it out to his disciples. His goal was to regenerate mankind beginning with this tiny band. When, finally, it came time for Christ to die it was only because his project resulted in failure. God had told him it was finally time to give himself over to his enemies, and even then, Christ beseeched God that this cup pass from him. He did not want to die. And he did not want to die because he did not come for the express purpose of dying. He came for the express purpose of living; living as mankind always should have lived: giving themselves to one other with reckless abandon. Pouring our lives out to one another.

Shamefully, it turns out, to be really human in this world is to be taken advantage of and killed. Christ’s death showed up the world of man for what it really was. Christ could not change it. This fact was brought home to him right after he begged of God that he would not die. He came back to find that his disciples could not even manage to pray with him one hour, his most needful hour, but instead gave in to their tired flesh and slept. They could not give him an hour because humanity was too weak; even a humanity that had spent every waking hour with the giver of strength. They had spent three years with him but could not manage another hour. Christ had failed, not because he missed the mark, so to speak, but because the mark could not take being shot.

It was then, upon this realization of his failure, that he could give no more to his disciples, but still had everything to give to his enemies. All they ever wanted was him, to do with what they wanted: to summarily dismiss him as a fraud and madman, to take what he willingly gave. His life. 

Thankfully, God’s response to this failure was a pouring out of his love to the world. He sent his Holy Spirit to shed abroad the love of God in our hearts so that we may give as Christ gave; so that we may live as he lived. This is the good news, that despite our brokenness, God loves the whole world. Salvation has come to mankind! While we were yet sinners taking Christ’s life by our own hands, he died for us. 

Why should I believe in a God I can’t know?

If we don’t know exactly what we are saying when we say ‘God exists’, does this mean we don’t know God? Is he outside of possible knowledge? Should we doubt his existence because we cannot know him?

The words we use to describe God do not contain their normal everyday meanings, as when we say that God is good. We use borrowed words to describe God. We dress God up verbally in second-hand clothes that don’t fit him very well. And we must always guard ourselves from thinking that these “clothes” reveal who and what he is. Our words are stretched beyond their normal meanings. We cast forth verbally in a kind linguistic expedition, always reaching for, but are never quite able to obtain, God. Even the word ‘God’ was borrowed from the pagans. They were always talking about gods; but when Christians use it, they do not mean that God is a god. They do not mean that he is a god among others. He is not an instance of the kind ‘god’. The Christians stretched the word beyond its pagan use to get what they have today.

To say that ‘God exists’ is not to say that we have figured him out, but to claim a need to carry on a certain activity, to assert the necessity to engage in exploration. It is the need to ask a certain question about the world. To prove that this certain activity is valid, is like trying to prove that science is valid or that learning is valid. Let me demonstrate.

Let’s say that little 5-year-old Rachael is sitting with some older children when she hears one say, “That dress looks absolutely magnificent!” Rachael has never heard the word magnificent before, but she is captured by it and wonders what it means. She thinks about it as she heads home from school, and as she walks in the door, her mother hands her a beautiful new jacket. She puts it on and exclaims, “Thanks, Mom. This jacket is magnificent!” Does she know what she’s saying? No. Has she used the word correctly? Yes. Do we say that her use of the word is invalid because she does not know what she’s saying? No. For we know good and well what the word means and that she has used it correctly. The point is that she is learning. And that is how we all learn at the beginning. We are given words by our parents from the day we are born: words like Mama and Daddy. And we use them not really knowing what we are saying, but growing into that knowledge as we mature. Our borrowed words drive us to the meanings we do not yet know. These borrowed words, if we honestly reflect about them, constitute a kind of knowledge. They are a reference to a world that, as yet, we do not know. They give us a knowledgeable framework with which to deal with the world while, at the same time, highlighting our ignorance.

It is just this sort of knowledgeable framework that Christians have when we use the word ‘God.’ We do not know what exactly we are saying, but we do know there is a need to say it. There is a need because some radical questions still need asking. And let me stress that these are childish questions, not because they are stupid questions, but because they are the sorts of questions children ask naturally. Adults tend to be annoyed by childish questions. It’s the incessant ‘why’ question asked one too many times. ‘Why was I born?’ ‘Yes, but why was I born instead of someone else?’ ‘Yes, but why is it that way?’ ‘Yes, but how were we made?’ ‘Yes, but why was anything made?’ Adults had answers a few questions ago, but now our child has asked ‘why’ again and we have no answer. When they get older, they learn to put the question another way, “Why anything at all instead of nothing?” Adults would rather that children stick with their studies and learn adult questions; questions that can be answered by proper methodologies and by reference to the material world. And much schooling nowadays does a good job of choking the ‘why’ out of the kids who are told they need to start living in the real world.

A society that discourages this kind of radical questioning is a society which believes in itself; believes it has found the answers, believes that only its authorized questions are legitimate. But, of course, the scientific answers it has found is precisely due to this kind of radical questioning. It’s due to those who asked, for instance, whether the Newtonian world was really the last word. They dug down and asked questions of what everyone else took for granted. They claimed a need for research and exploration. They believed that they could make startling new discoveries and affect quite unexpected changes in the scientific world; and they did.

And this is precisely parallel to asserting your belief in God. It is a belief in the kind of radical question to which God would be the answer. And how do we show that the question is valid? It’s by pointing to anomalies; not anomalies in science, but anomalies in a world picture that excludes God. It is an anomaly, for instance, to say that while it is valid to ask ‘How come’ about any particular thing in the world, it is not valid to ask it about the world as a whole. ‘How come anything at all instead of nothing?’ Being puzzled over this question is to be puzzled about God. To say that we aren’t allowed to ask it simply because we cannot answer it is rather like the annoyed adult silencing his inquisitive child. The adult silences the child because he has no answer and would rather not deal with an uncomfortable question.

The modern arguments for God’s existence serve as a sort of reinforcement of this radical question simply because they point to anomalies in the world. Apologists question whether what they are told is the last word on the subject. It is not to say that, if their arguments succeed, that we now know something concrete about God. It is to state that we are here and ask ‘Why.’ ‘Why is there a creation? There must be a Creator.’ Like what the word magnificent was to Rachael, the world itself is our knowledgeable framework that guides us to God. In a sense, the world poses our question for us. It does not grow tired of ‘Why’, but instills in us the curiosity to ask it.

(I owe many of my thoughts to Herbert McCabe)