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.

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God is not well behaved

When someone says that God is perfectly good, I feel they are somehow saying that God is humanly good; that he is well behaved in a human sort of way, following all the human rules: no killing, taking perfect care of his neighbor, treating animals perfectly well, no slavery, no destroying cities, does not cause pain to others, treating others equally, giving his perfect wealth to the less fortunate, and so on. He is perfectly well behaved.

One realizes the absurdity of such a saying when thinking of God as a well behaved lion. He roars perfectly loudly, he has the perfect number of female lions to procreate with, he perfectly eats his meals before the female lions, he runs fast across the African plain, he perfectly sharpens his teeth on the bones.

God has no more need to act like a well behaved human than he does a well behaved lion. Only things that are ordered can possibly be perfect. Ordered things have a certain way they should be. But God is not ordered. If he was, we could ask who ordered him. Such a question would reveal a being more ultimate than he, which would indicate that he was not God.

What about God as God; are there certain sets of actions that typify what it means to be God? Does God create because that’s what a God does? Does God have a nature, a certain set of actions that he does or else he is not God? I think the answer to these questions is no, God is not ordered nor does he have a nature.

All this means that God is not a moral being. He is obliged neither to make your life any better or any longer. When we say God is good, we are not saying he is well behaved as a God should be. We are saying that God is goodness itself, the source of all created good. God who has no nature and is not ordered created things with natures, things ordered. When a man sets his face in the direction of God and says that God is good, he is seeing his human reflection from the source of his human goodness. And while looking there he sees, as much as he is able to see, how he ought to be. God is reflecting back to that man the way he is made. But, it is an error to project that same reflection upon God and say that this is how God is good.

God is indeed good, but not in any created sense.

Atheism can have no wish for a moving Theism

I’m surprised at the extremely Christian Fundamentalist attitude of Atheists. I come across it when I question some aspect of God or long-held belief that Fundamentalists believe. In moving these Christians away from error, I not only get opposition from them, but from Atheists. I’ve come to realize that Atheists can have no wish for a changing, growing, or moving Christianity. For then they must change what they deny. If we would only give them some positive claim they can understand sufficiently enough to deny, they can go about their merry way. Always wishing for something concrete to grasp in the world and in religion, atheists are most comfortable with the hardened Fundamentalist conception of Christianity. That is the thing they can most fully grasp in order to most coherently reject. But, that cannot be the case for Christians. If we were to say that what has been said in the past is all that can be said, the prospect of future Christianity would be dim and unadventurous. Not to mention that things that don’t grow die.

Is there really a Hell?

Dante$27s-Inferno

Greek Mythology, the Enlightenment, and Hell

Text I’m writing against: Elmer Towns HELL

You can also listen to the post by clicking here: Is there really a Hell?

Whenever I attack a subject like this, many Christian people have a tendency to think I’m trying to throw the whole subject out. But while I’m really not throwing it out, the Christian might complain, “Well, if Y is the case about X, then X must be false and worth throwing out. And, since I simply cannot throw out X, Y must be false.” They throw the baby out with the bathwater just to show the absurdity of such an action and then put the baby and the dirty water back in the tub just as it was. I would just ask a little leeway from these people to let me hold on to X and keep it intact while questioning Y about it. I promise X will not be damaged in the process.

Now, let me state up front that it is not the case there is no Hell. It is the case that I’m attacking our understanding of it (which is Y). I’m going to address two things that I think have affected Y and show how they have led to a wrong understanding of God. The text I am writing against is an chapter in a book written by Dr. Elmer Towns simply entitled “Hell: Eternal Abode of the Unsaved.” The link to it is at the top of the page. His entire book is available online.

So much of what this world rejects about hell is wrapped up in two things: Certain Christian folks insisting on describing Christianity as a system of spiritual rewards and punishments, and the idea of never ending torture. Many today are told that if they do not believe Christianity is the one true religion, they will experience torture without end in hell. But, if they accept Christ, they will go to heaven. It is no wonder that, as a consequence, God is viewed as a great celestial bully. He holds out two hands and slaps you when you pick the wrong one. But, the proper response to a bully is to stand up to him. Today, we have many atheists who have the fortitude to pronounce that they are more moral than God. After all, if they were God, they would not create an eternal torture chamber just to make themselves feel better about being rejected.

The modern attitude toward God is a direct result of this faulty understanding of Hell. God is rejected today in the name of human freedom. But, even though they don’t know it, God is the only chance for freedom humanity has. How can we make them see this? It is by recognizing the errors in our thinking about Hell. Towns, in his chapter, “Hell, the Eternal Abode of the Unsaved”, hit the nail on the head when he said, “God created Hell.” This ought to cause us to wonder why we attribute eternal torture to Hell. Why would God torture? Why would he do it eternally? Is eternal torture consistent with what we know about God?

Let me start to answer these questions by saying that God is the source of everything. He is the origin of all things. And, without God’s preserving activity keeping everything in being, everything would cease to exist, even torture. Everything is totally dependent on God’s on-going creative activity. Colossians 1:17 says, “By him [that is, God] all things consist.” So, if Hell is created, why do we think it is eternal? Eternal is something we attribute to God and nothing else. He is the Eternal One. Nothing is just like God. God, being the source of everything, does not exist in the same way that created things do. God is Existence itself. He does not have it for a time, nor does He have it for an infinite amount of time. It follows then, that God does not endure. He does not have duration. He is not confined by time to endure it. Therefore, it is an error in Theology as well as the doctrine of Hell to say as Towns says later on in the same chapter, “Hell lasts as long as the duration of God.” In principle, Hell cannot possibly last as long as God; God is not something that lasts. And, nothing can have a divine attribute like God has it. So, in what sense can we say Hell is eternal? It’s not all that clear. Is it simply that it’s effects are eternal? And what’s the difference between something lasting eternally and lasting forever? Let me identify what I think is the cause of this confusion.

This idea that torture in Hell will last forever seems to have a correlation with Greek mythology which was later combined with Enlightenment thinking. The Greeks imagined a place of eternal torment. Think of the myth of Prometheus who was tied to a rock while a vulture picked at his liver every morning. While the vulture was gone the liver would grow back just so it could be picked at the next morning. Sisyphus was condemned to eternally push a rock up a hill only to have it roll back down for him to do again. Both things were repeated over and over with no end to them. And borrowing this idea of eternal repetition, Hell has come to be described as a place where one is burned again and again eternally with no hope of ever being burned up. In other words, there is no end to be achieved. There is no goal to be reached. There is no point to it; no purpose. And, if there is no point, what is the sense in saying that justice will be satisfied by those being eternally tortured? The occupants can still hold hatred toward God and perversion in their mind, and add to the list of sins that warrant punishment. Even if the burning somehow made them more moral, it would be no advantage to them. There is no second chance available for them to finally say, “Now, I trust God.” Therefore, Justice’s work will never be done, it will be eternally at work with no end in sight.

This creates a problem for the character of God. When does God ever do anything with no point to it? The answer is never. He always has a purpose in everything. And, isn’t that really the fear that people can’t take, senseless and purposeless existence? Even Towns seems to realize this when he says, “The worst part of hell is that its inhabitants know it will never end.” Our greatest fear is not the vulture picking at the liver. It’s not pushing the rock up the hill. It’s not the torturous burning described in the Bible. It’s that it repeats without end. No goal or end will ever be reached by these torturous activities. God himself won’t achieve anything. This misconception of Hell actually affects what God is like in our minds. The people of this world know it and that’s partly why some reject Him.

The other error that this conception of Hell is combined with comes from the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment conceived of nature as able to exist on its own steam; that is has, so to speak, existential inertia. God is seen as the divine machine maker which completes his work with creation, stands back, and watches it work. If God were to walk away, or die, it would continue. This idea combined with the pointlessness of the Hades of Greek mythology has infiltrated the Christian conception of Hell. God can forget about something and it will keep on existing. And the horror of the thing that keeps existing is that it repeats the same activity over and over without end.

What does it mean, after all, for God to say in Matthew 7:23, “I never knew you?” For Existence itself to forget you is for you to stop existing. Contrary to the Enlightenment, you have no existential inertia. That’s just not how God creates. God is not the divine machine maker. He is more like the violinist who plays a melody. If he were to stop, so would the melody. He could also be described as a story teller. If he were to stop telling the story, it would cease to be; existing in nothing but the residue of the memory of Angels. The Scriptures indicate, we and all of creation are the very words of God. And, this is His story. He spoke and still speaks all things into existence. For God to say, “I never knew you”, sounds more like what Christ says in Matthew 10:28, “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” It seems there is a point to it after all. The burning are finally burned up. The man who murdered or lied for the brief moment that encompassed his life is no more. All that is left is a faint memory of evil actions with no being to have caused them, and even that memory may be wiped away. It is a terrifying thought to imagine that the love that I held in my life, the things I cherished, and the things I built are all for nothing. All meaning and purpose that might have been is wiped away with the closing of a book by the hands of God. The story is over. The actors are finished. The stage is destroyed.

Having an end or goal to be reached is the difference between punishment and torture. Torture is done by those who want to extract information from the tortured, merely demonstrate their power over them, or satisfy some perverted pleasure. But God is in need of no information from anyone, neither is he in need of fulfillment of any kind. God does not have a need to feel powerful or feel pleasure. An argument could be made that the occupant in hell is somehow bettered by knowing that God is more powerful than he, but power needs to be demonstrated only once, and continual demonstration is near to abuse. Not to mention, there are many other ways to show power and some more effective than torture. In any case, making the occupant better is punishment, not torture.

Punishment has a purpose to it. It is meant to correct, to heal, to redirect, to rehabilitate, to change so as to bring in accordance with right living, or to make better. But sometimes making someone better leads to their death. We all know some circumstances where this is the case. Some cancers cannot be removed without killing the patient. Correcting certain medical conditions can prove fatal. And, it is just in this way that Christians understand the damage sin causes. It damages the core of our being. From the very first self-inflicted injury Adam’s rebellion caused, humanity began to bear the fatal marks. We were wounded unto death. All our evil actions changed us for ever, made us defective, made us less than what we should be. These defects, if they were to be corrected, would certainly destroy us. In this way, the punishment of hell will certainly last eternally. We will be eternally wiped from existence. There is an end to be had, and that end is the end of it all. He who is punished is delivered from the evil of his soul; which, when it is removed, removes him as well. The remedy is the cause of destruction.

I’m thankful more than ever that, while we are living, we can partake of the remedy that Christ has offered. Our old life is crucified with Him and we are given a new resurrected life. The new man that we become is born of God. This is the gift of salvation, to receive his remedy now before we receive the destructive remedy later. You can be born twice and live with God, or die twice and cease to live. I will not receive the second death because I have received a second birth. Christ tasted death for every man that we might receive the gift of life. For those who put their faith in him, we have God for our inheritance, the Eternal One whose beauty the world but only reflects.

To some, it may still seem like I am denying the existence of Hell. That is not the case. I’m denying a faulty understanding of it. But, I am also not here to advertise my own understanding of Hell. The reason for this post is to move Christians away from the influences of Greek mythology and the Enlightenment. The character of God has been affected by these influences. He has become a bully who forces surrender through fear, and a God who does at least one thing without purpose, burn people forever. Let’s revisit and debate the verses concerning Hell with renewed interest. Let’s discuss the meanings of words like eternal and forever. Let’s begin to investigate what Hell is really like. Then may we understand what is truly at stake, and reach out with Christ’s remedy for the world.

How can the church be better understood?

retrieved from www.cs.columbia.edu
retrieved from http://www.cs.columbia.edu

I think the church will always be misunderstood, but I also don’t necessarily think that misunderstanding is something that needs to be corrected. Don’t get me wrong, there are things that should be corrected, but there will always be some things about the church that is foreign to this world. It will always be misunderstood. That being said, our focus should not be a clarification of doctrine to this world or an explanation of how a Christian ought to live. Those things will continue to be strange. With this in mind, I think the question, “What can churches do to become a better reflection of Christianity?” is well intentioned but wrong-headed. A better question might be, “What can churches do to become a better reflection of Christ?” There is a difference. Whereas Christianity is a way of life, a transformation, a set of doctrines, the proper use of faith, a set of beliefs, and so on; Christ is a person who actually did a few things. His works are recorded in the Bible. So, what sort of things did he do? What did he say for us to do?

I think these questions, and the question of what the church ought to be doing, are answered when looking at the works of charity, and by charity I mean gift-love or giving-love. These are the works of the outpouring of ourselves into this world.

1. We can welcome all people into our houses and homes. We can give them a place to stay, a refuge away from the cruelties of this world. Show them hospitality, good food, and great company.

2. We can give them of our bounty, our fullness. Give them of the grace of God which is given to us. Feed the hungry and give the thirsty to drink. As we have been given, so we ought to give to others.

3. We can give clothing to others to protect them from the heat and cold. Let’s face it, some people don’t have good clothes and you don’t have to go far to find someone in need of a good shirt and pants.

4. We can go into the jails and prisons and those that we can redeem or pay their way out by means of bail, we should do so. Some cannot pay their way. We should keep in mind that we have been forgiven and we ought in a similar way to forgive others and set them on a right path.

5. We can comfort those on the point of death. We can help those especially who do not know Christ, who lay at Hell’s door. We can lead them to love and introduce them to Christ who will take them to heaven. But, also, it is good just to sit with them in their last minutes taking special care of those whose last moments will be filled with bitter pain.

6. We can take care of those who have just died: give them a coffin, pay for a restful place in this earth for their body to lay. Show kindness to their loved ones who may not have the money for a proper burial or ceremony.

7. Finally, let us take care of the orphans and widows that are left alone in this world. They should not be left to themselves to waste away for lack of care. We should come to their defense when needed, and supply their needs.

By these things, we will attract all of humanity to the church. Misunderstandings will always abound, but the works of love will always soften hearts and even reason-hardened minds. And as a bonus, believers in the church who do these things won’t have time to be the terrible witnesses they have been in the past. By this, we can show the love of Christ to a pain-filled and despairing world who will only see their own reflection in the Christians who only try to put on a better face. The world will not see the face of Christianity as it is, only as they are able to perceive it.

Pastor Ryan J. Bell giving up the deep thinking he never began

Ex Pastor Ryan J. Bell Explains Why Hes Journeying Into Atheism and Living for a Year Without God

Ryan J. Bell, former Christian pastor, has announced he will live a year without God. The claim itself is not all that interesting, but the following statement of his is:

“For the next 12 months I will live as if there is no God. I will not pray, read the Bible for inspiration, refer to God as the cause of things or hope that God might intervene and change my own or someone else’s circumstances,”

I can understand living without the typical Sunday school answer to life; almost every question can be answered with “read the Bible and pray.” Alternatively, answer “Jesus.” It’s not that the answers are wrong. The questions are just insufferably shallow. It’s rare that I come across a question that makes me think deeply– a sad state of affairs for Christianity.

Not referring to God as the cause of things is standard for atheist rhetoric. He’s already talking like a man ignorant of God. Is he really going to pretend there is no source of everything? The world just is? There is no explanation? Sometimes I wonder about the logic of God-deniers.

As for God intervening, you can be a Christian and think it illogical that God intervenes in the universe. You don’t have to be an atheist for that. Practically a whole host of theologians from before Thomas Aquinas and after him thought that God was too powerful to intervene in the world. To intervene is to come in where you were not, and that can’t apply to God who is, right now, actively creating every place.

Anyway, I think it’s good that he’s abandoning shallow Christianity, but bad that it’s not for the purpose of diving more deeply into God. Maybe he doesn’t think there is anything more to Christianity than what he’s been taught. He undoubtedly reflects many other Christians out there who may or may never realize their foundations run about a foot deep.

Are you thankful you exist?

SS26043

Socialism, Communism, and all political theories that involve attaining some degree of utopia here and now, at bottom express a dissatisfaction with the way that God has made things. They intensely dislike the world that God has made. And in their own faltering political ways, they attempt to get rid of these great blunders that God has created.

The main thing that proponents of Utopian societies want to get rid of are the limitations of our individual circumstances. That we should be constrained by our humble or poor birth, or the defectiveness of our culture or environment, is seen as a great evil. God has made us to struggle with this evil and this is something Utopians will not do. By means of money, i.e. distributing large piles into equal smaller ones, circumstances  and the struggles it would take to rise above them are left behind.

The majority of complaints stem from the existence of suffering and evil. And here I cannot but be baffled. To exist in this world is to be confronted by the challenge of every second. Each tick of the clock brings change and, thus, something to adapt to; something to struggle with. We imagine that evil and suffering is somehow inflicted upon us because God is himself evil and torturous. Yet, when we write our stories and books we add suffering and evil in the mix. We give our heroes a villain to fight with. We give them monstrous struggles to overcome. We send children into terrible abusive places and to terrible abusive people. We ordain the deaths of thousands of fictional people. We turn almost the entire world into soulless horrible inhuman zombies that destroy every piece of humanity it finds; yet we call the story good, and we pay good money to see them on film. Through imagination we create entire worlds and dash them to pieces. But, do the readers of these stories then turn around and call the authors evil? Do we blame them for the suffering they write? No.

The end of the road for people who continually complain about their personal struggles is the wish for death. It is the desire not to exist; to leave this real actual story. It is really an unthankfulness for existing. This is exactly where I am baffled. Because, despite the suffering I’ve endured, I still count it better to exist than not. And though I may understand someone’s desire to leave this world after having endured so much pain, I cannot think that about anyone who lives in the West. We have so much: technology, medicine, and many amenities in life. Yet, we are the most unthankful bunch I’ve seen. We constantly want each other’s things for ourselves, especially each other’s money; and we paint ourselves as victims of every challenge God sends our way. Every second we endure we find something more to complain about.

We are such hypocrites; who write end-of-the-world stories with great suffering in them, and then berate God for doing the same. I, for one, would rather meet the challenge and try to rise above the circumstances than be idle and unthankful. Every political Utopian desire is a wish to rewrite our actual story into a non-story: a state of existence where we endure through time but never leave the condition of happiness; a place where we become human pets in a little earthly terrarium that the government takes care of. And that, my friends, is not even a fairy tale. It’s doesn’t even count as a story. Neither can I imagine that that is what Heaven is. I certainly wouldn’t want to go there.

The language of God

All of our lives, all of creation can be seen as communication from God to us. All of it, including ourselves, are the on-going words of God, His continual speaking. We may go our whole lives and not recognize the world as such, as the words of God. But, once our eyes are open to it, everything becomes a conversation with Him and from Him. That is why, when asked for proof of God, the first impulse is to point to everything.

The Communion, the bread and wine, is a call to recognize, in unity, the word of God in the elements. The bread and wine become a shared meaning that only God knows the depths of and which we only participate in partly. The bread and wine are His language which we attempt to speak in Communion with Him. These are our first words in our new birth.

Not answering the question

It is an interesting phenomenon of this age that some people think the answer to the question “why is there something rather than nothing” to be more something. The atheist/naturalist has adopted the short-sighted nature of being satisfied with something. But, they have not answered the question. They just posit more something for the question to consume. The Christian is not satisfied with something, that would be illogical, neither is he satisfied with nothing, that would be meaningless. In short, he does not give an answer that isn’t an answer, like some people of this age. The Christian, and any other person who wants meaning and logic, seeks the source of all the somethings that make up everything. “Why”, He asks, “Why the whole thing? Why is there anything you can think of that is something instead of just nothing?”

What is supernatural?

What is supernatural? It is other than natural, not part of reality. Whatever reality turns out to be, it is natural. If we have souls, they are natural. If there are angels, they are natural. Anything that is part of reality, is part of creation, and therefore natural. So, what is supernatural? It is something that does not have a nature, something that is not created, does not exist in our world. If God is said to be supernatural, what does that tell us about God? Nothing. It gives us no knowledge of him. It only tells us what God is not. God is not-universe, not created. God is wholly other than the universe. The word supernatural, then, is exploratory. It is a step into the unknown to try to give it a description. Those who use it disparagingly step into nothing briefly only to mock it. Those who use it with reverence express only a desire to know, to know the source of everything.