Friday, December 18, 2009

Cut and paste theology

"Well, you cant just cut out the parts of the Bible you dont like"

As i've begun to have not-so-traditional interpretations of the Bible and Christianity, Ive heard this phrase more and more. The ironic thing always being that I never recall asking that we "cut out" any part of scripture to begin with. Of course what people usually mean by this is that we should make sure not to just ignore certain parts of the Bible, and instead interpret each verse/passage with the whole of scripture in mind. And while I agree with that idea, I contend that doing so does not magically lead you to one unassailable Biblical those who use this phrase seem to think.

The first reason for this, is simply that every person who reads the Bible comes to it with prior assumptions. These may come from a sermon you heard last week, something your parents told you when you were young, a book you read by Joel Olsteen, or dare I say that which you desire to be true or false. All these things and more help create the lens by which we view and read the Bible(or really anything else in life). In some cases it helps us connect ideas and events in a way that aids our understanding. A simple a connection I remember making at a young age was from the story in Genesis 22; where God tells Abraham to sacrifice his only son, but at the altar provides Abraham with a ram to sacrifice instead. I quickly saw that story as a foretaste of Christ's future atonement , that I probably wouldnt have seen had I not been already familiar with the Gospels.

However in other cases, our presumptions hinder us from seeing things that otherwise would maybe be more apparent. This is because some of our presumptions are very "set in stone"(or what I call core beliefs). If one is to define something as a core, unmovable belief, then any passage or verse that seems in opposition to that, is systematically going to be interpreted around that core belief. One of the typical core beliefs of a Christian, for example, is the deity of Christ. So when they read a verse like, Ephesians 1:2 where Paul says, "Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ."
Its not likely they are going to assume that Paul means that Jesus isnt God, even though Paul references God and Jesus here almost as if they are two separate beings entirely. Rather, one might say, Paul's simply refering to Jesus and the Father in a "trinitarian" sense (Thats not the greatest example, but you get the idea). Now, with that said, many peoples core beliefs do change on occasion. But it happens more slowly and a lot less often than our perspectives on more "minor" biblical issues(such as baby baptisms and the rapture). Core beliefs are usually so deeply hardwired into our hearts and minds, that to modify them requires a major reassessment of our world and biblical view. So even in the face of considerable evidence it is only natural that we fight for these ideas tooth and nail...even to our "theological death" so to speak.


Our presuppositions on the Bible are also developed through our readings of other parts of the Bible. Each interpretation we make about a particular verse/passage will in some way affect how we see another verse/ that in the same chapter or 8 books later. One particular conflict that is solved in such a way, is in regards to Jesus being the savior of "all men" and the existence of an "eternal" Hell. Both are concepts founded on several verses, but at face value we logically cant believe both ideas. Jesus cannot save all mankind and yet, some be lost eternally to Hell...its a contradiction, so we have to make some interpretations here. We may interpret that Jesus is the savior of all, but only in the sense that He can potentially save all, thus allowing for the existence of a never ending Hell for some. Or we may interpret that the Hell texts do not speak of a literally unending punishment and that any punishment God gives is for our ultimate good, thus allowing for Jesus to be the savior of every single person at some point. The reasonings for both conclusions can be debated of course, but in both cases one interpretation gives way to another.

This is how we make sense of the Bible, by subliminally bending texts around the poles of our core beliefs. Which is why I find the phrase "You're just twisting scripture to say what you want it to say!" to be as pointless as the cutting out scripture phrase . Because everyone, in some sense "twists" verses around their deepest held theological ideas to compile a coherent perspective on the Bible and what it says about God, life and us. Theres pretty much no way not to do that, because without it the Bible is nothing more than contradictory books and letters that adhere to no rhyme, reason or purpose. Some verses/passages have to be assigned minor roles, if you will, so that the main concepts of the Bible can play on the center stage of our interpretations. This doesnt in any way mean you ignore certain verses, it just means you arrange them so that coherency can exist among them. Without our ability to give order to concepts and ideas presented in scripture, I think it loses its most important quality which is its spiritual quality. And the only way to do this is by praying and listening to what God is saying to us as we read. Otherwise you may arrange a coherent sounding theology, but it'll just be a big tower of cleverly stacked falsehoods.

Lately, this realization has caused me to lose a bit of interest in debating, particularly in regards to Bible verse meanings. It can be fun, and I think its actually somewhat of a necessity to challenge one another on them for personal growth and understanding. But there are just so many different ways to look at and connect its themes, that it seems pretty prideful for me or anyone to jump up and shout "EUREKA! I have constructed the perfect grid for which to arrange all Biblical concepts!". Obviously I feel the way that my theological grid arranges the main concepts of the Bible is the most compelling, or I would simply just believe something else. But its not my place to tell people how they have to interpret things, I can only share the reasons why I interpret things the way I do and politely leave it at that.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

To preach, or not to preach?

So as many of you know by now, I'm beginning to believe that I am called to be a pastor, or something ministry related at least. There are a number of reasons that have been more or less "snow balling" within me, however I believe the conclusion was finally triggered a few days ago. And so Im going to attempt to walk through the process that brought me here, in hopes to clarify to myself (and to others) what I'm thinking on this...

The last several weeks/months have left me very frustrated with life, what with my car dying, my job giving me less and less hours, and my graphic design leads giving me less than stellar results. I had been feeling for a few months now that maybe I was supposed to do something that didnt strictly pertain to my graphic design degree, but I wasnt sure just what. That and I tried to avoid thinking about it, since I didnt want to be one of those American morons that spent years going to college for something, only to realize afterwards that they wanted to pursue something else entirely. But the doors of opportunity appear all but open in this crappy economy. So finally I prayed in desperation, asking God to tell me what I was supposed to do even if I didnt want to hear it, and the idea of a pastor and ministry immediately came to mind. Being as its something ive only passingly entertained in my mind before, I naturally asked God if He had gone completely mad or if I was just hearing things.

After mulling it over for awhile though it began to make more sense. Over the past several months I've heard time and time again, from both Christians and non-Christians, that I should be a pastor...though I'd always respond how I didn't feel cut out for that line of spiritual duty (and Im still wondering if I am). After all, who am I really? Just some artist/musician guy who writes religious blogs and works at a supermarket. I have a number of issues that cause me not to be the model Christian more often than not(ex. impatience, laziness, selfishness) , and I struggled with giving speeches in both high school and college. So I certainly wouldn't seem to be the most likely candidate for a preacher-type.

Though I guess when you think about it, Jesus chose some pretty unlikely people to first spread His word; A couple of them were fishermen, Matthew was a tax collector and the apostle Paul murdered Christians before Jesus appeared to Him. Prior to Jesus calling them, none of them probably had a clue as to the great roles they would play in God's story. And perhaps in a similar way, God has used other people to call me to something I never would have considered in years past.

Another thing thats helped spur me in this direction, is my over all frustration with "church" and Christianity in general. As ive stated before, its really been a struggle finding my place within a system that I no longer believe in. I love God, I love the scriptures, I love all my Christian brothers and sisters and I support many things that churches are doing throughout the world. However, going to church in the attempt to salvage what truth I can and plant seeds of knowledge, has been an endeavor that has left me more frustrated than uplifted. All you are given in church today, are traditional interpretations and ideas(with small variances here and there) in a manner that leaves little room for personal interpretation. And if you are so bold as to question the clergy's interpretation, you are often looked down upon and told how you cannot possibly be right. Which makes my biggest problem with Christianity not the fact that I disagree with it on a couple key beliefs, but that it has fooled itself into thinking its beliefs are beyond reconsideration.

As long as Christianity lives in that delusion, it will continue to discourage its participators from thinking and discerning for themselves. As long as people arent discerning for themselves, they will continue to commit the most tragic crime of religion: elevating man-made beliefs above God's conviction within us. And the more I realize this, the harder it is to simply sit by while good-intending leaders of faith, direct people down a path that can cripple their spiritual growth (as it did mine). Thats why, God willingly, I want to bring believers together in a setting where people arent guilt-tripped into believing a certain set of doctrines, but are free to have their own interpretations. A place where I can give a message according to what I feel God is showing me, but also let everyone voice their opinion. A place where I can tell people about Gods truly unconditional love and salvation for humanity, that I never learned about in "church". A place where I and others are truly unbound by fundamentalism, to search the scriptures ourselves and see what is true. Perhaps some meetings we wont even talk about the God, but simply go out into the community and reflect God in deed. And the only setting I can think of that this would be realistic would be in like in a home or some other non-formal location.

Im not sure whether God is really calling me to ministry or not, or just how exactly I am supposed to go about that. And my views on any of the above ideals could change or become more specific, especially in my ordination process (which is part of the reason I want to go through with it, to give me time to sort out my vision). But if He is calling me to minister, I hope I can help give people the tools to search out God themselves through the scriptures, and underpin it with the fact that God's spirit is the ultimate teacher...not a creed, not a church, not a theologian, and certainly not me.

So to preach, or not to preach? I dont know, but either way I'll still make annoying Facebook statuses ;)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

If Hell isnt eternal, how can Heaven be?

Once again, I got into the subject of universal salvation, this time over on the Faith Freaks forum. One of the objections was a popular one that, up until recently, I didn't feel very good at answering; hence I didn't really write a blog strictly pertaining to it until now (whether I am any good at explaining it now, you can be the judge). The objection was,

"If Hell isn't eternal, how can Heaven be eternal?"

This line of thinking comes from verses like Matthew 25:46, which reads,
"And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

And at face value, this verse seems to denote that the coming punishment (Hell) is literally eternal in duration, as well as the coming life (Heaven). But I believe the truth of the matter lies within a Greek word I have talked about long ago on here, which is the word aionios. It is the word in Matthew 25:46 (as well in many verses) that is often translated as "eternal". However, it is not always translated so. In fact, some scholars would argue that it should never be translated as forever or eternal, except perhaps in the case of God. This is because aionios is an adjective, which derives its character from the subject to which it refers. In other words, its time duration is defined by the subject it's attached to.


To clarify further, aionios is kind of like our English word "tall". If I use "tall" in a sentence like,
"There was a tall man at the park, and he even had a tall dog! What a coincidence?" and I say that I think the man was around 6'7", you're probably not going to think that the dog was also 6'7"! That's because the word "tall" in itself has no set height, its only a general term for describing height. What its actual height may be is completely relative to the subject in question. So the dog could have been less than half of the mans height, but still be considered tall for a dog. Such is the same with aionios, except in regards to time. (note: as I'm sure you know, several other English words function this way as well. Such as "big", "great", "long" and "thin")

This dismantles the common objection that aionios must be rendered as eternal, even if used multiple times in the same sentence. There are several Biblical examples in which this is obvious, one such is Romans 16:25-26,
"Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long [aionios]
but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the [aionios] God"

The first aionios obviously does not mean eternal and it appears most Bible translations recognize that (because it makes no sense to say a mystery was kept secret for eternity, but then say it "has now been disclosed". That butchers the meaning of eternity, which is "without end"). However, the second use of aionios is rendered eternal because we understand God to be literally eternal or without end. Gods eternal property is not changed simply because the same word earlier in the sentence does not mean eternal. And I would argue that in the same way, the eternal property of "eternal life" in verses like Mat. 25:46, is not changed by the fact that "eternal punishment" is not literally without end.

Now you may object, and ask as to why I think aionios in the case of life literally means eternal, where as punishment I believe it is only temporary? And I suppose there are several reasons why I think this, many of which I talk about on my blogs here. However, without writing another blogs worth of information, I would simply like to point to how scripture defines the coming punishment. As you may recall, the original punishment decreed by God for sin was "death" (Gen. 2:17). In the new testament, Paul echos this by saying the wages of sin is "death" (Ro. 6:23). And the lake of fire in scripture is called the "second death"(Rev. 21:8). So "death", whatever that entails, is the punishment for sin, the aionion punishment talked about in places such as Matt 25:46. Yet this punishment of "death" (both first, second, third, whatever) cannot possibly be eternal, because we are told in 1 cortinthians 15:26 that "the last enemy to be destroyed is death"

So if a time comes when death is destroyed (both in the physical sense and the spiritual separation sense) what is logically left to partake in? Life! Not just a physical life, but also a spiritual life. This conclusion fits nicely within context because in the following verse it talks of God subjecting all things to Himself, and ends with verse 28 which states that God will be "all in all". And in order for God to be all in all that is subjected to him, the period of punishment and separation must come to an end at some point in the future.

I'm certainly no Greek scholar, as I've said before. and I'm sure there are much wiser people that will disagree. But hopefully this sheds some light of understanding for you, on texts that seem to speak of "eternal" punishment.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

God cannot? or God will not?

Under all the controversial Greek words and different perceptions on key Bible texts, I really feel the universal salvation debate comes down to this; If God does not save all humanity, it is because He either cannot...or will not. All the opposing arguments that can be raised against Ultimate Reconciliation, boil down to one of those two morbid conclusions. And it seems to me that both conclusions are riddled with problems even just within themselves.

God cannot?
This is the conclusion we must come to, if the Arminians are correct(this is where most of mainstream theology falls). Because they propose that although God would really like all peoples to be saved, he cannot execute it because of "free" will. This is the more "friendly" conclusion of the two, since it paints God as sortof a hopeless romantic, rather than a big-fat-meanie-face. Yet I find it poses God as either very weak, or very in lack of priority.

In this view, He seems very weak because there is a force(ie human "free" will and or Satan) that can overcome His plans against His will, and for all eternity none the less. Either that, or He seems very in lack of priority because (as I stated in last weeks blog) He views human "free" will as the most sacrosanct thing in all the universe, even in the case of it doing irreparable destruction to ourselves. And as I said before, that would not be a demonstration of ultimate love, but a demonstration of ultimate apathy for His very own creations.

If we boil the "God cannot" theology down even father, we continue to find the same apathy. Because even though God isnt barring anyone from accepting his grace, He already knows that most will never accept or benefit from it. But if God knew that all humankind could not be saved(despite His desire to) that means He brought billions upon billions of people into existence, knowing that most would be forever doomed! You can pawn it on "free" will and the Devil all day long, but the bare bones of it is that He knew, yet still made...which seems no more responsible than two minimum-wage-earning adults, purposefully having more kids than their salary can obviously support...then blaming most the kids for their starvation, instead of themselves and their bad planning. I would grandly hope God is not that ridiculously stupid.

Some will argue that perhaps God does not actually know the future, or at least does not know who will be saved when all is said and done(one such idea is open theism). That would seemingly get God off-the-hook, except that that would mean God just took a huge gamble with the eternal destinies of mankind. God created humanity, and didnt stop its condemnation, knowing at least that the outcome could be less than all souls finding redemption. This poses God both as a cosmic gambler and a haphazard, inept creator...none of which can I believe God to be.

God will not?
This is the conclusion we must come to, if the Calvinists are correct. They propose that God will save all that He so desires(which is the "elect"), but God simply does not desire to save all people. He could save all, if He wanted, but He doesnt want to...thus He will not. So yet again were presented with the cosmic gambler, who rolls a big die in the sky on who He will love and who He will not. If youre lucky, God will lavish the knowledge of the truth to you and give you eternal paradise! But if youre not so lucky, you will become one of Gods eternal stress balls.

I find this view, deeply more disturbing. Partly because it doesnt have the human "free" will scapegoat to clean Gods hands of our big sin mess(which it wouldnt anyway, but I digress). But mostly because it means that God purposefully created people that He not only knew wouldnt be saved, but didnt want to save either and finds glory in their everlasting torture. God has the ability to cure all his offspring(through Christ), but chooses only some while disowning the rest and leaving them to die. And I cant help but ask, would that even be a god you could love with all of your heart? Many calvinists or reformed people claim so, but I honestly dont think I could.

In conclusion, this is the question I ultimately came to before knowing about universalism, and I think it applies to both the Arminian and Calvinist view: Why would God even create a single, precious soul, allow them to be born into sin and yet not want to rescue them or know he wouldn't be able to? If you do not believe in ultimate reconciliation, I really challenge you to chew on that question this week.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Choice, and its various shades of grey

Choice. Its a word you often find in Christian discussion, commonly used to articulate beliefs such as "free" will. Many Christians like to use it in attempt to sort of cleanse God's hands of any responsibility, regarding His creation and their deeds(particularly choices that determine ones afterlife destination). They may use it in a sentence like "Well God loves everyone, but He loves them so much that He gives them a free will choice!" or "God nor anyone else causes people to do bad things, they choose themselves to do bad things! He wants them to do good, but its their choice!"

And of course that sounds all warm and fuzzy, and seems like a simple enough concept to grasp. I certainly accepted it for many years. But once I really dived into some of the variables surrounding "choice", I found that it appeared to lose its supposed "black and white" simplicity, and gain various shades of grey.

Lack of Information
One of those shades of grey, is lack of information about the very choices being made. For example, I typically love Asian food, so I may be given the chance by some friends to try sushi for the first time. Lets say however, that I am unaware and uninformed that sushi has raw fish in it which has a higher chance of food-borne illness...and lucky me ends up getting some sort of stomach virus from it. Would it therefore be logical to say I "chose" to have a stomach virus by eating sushi? Probably not, since no one even bothered to inform me on the contents of sushi or the risks. You could say that I probably should have investigated a bit further on the food before hand, which may be true...but regardless is not rational to say that I chose to have the stomach virus, being that the possible result was unknown to me.

In the same way, I don't think its fair to make the deduction that people choose Hell and separation from God, merely because they chose to eat the "sushi" in life(aka sin). People with lack of information on the consequences of sin, do not choose the consequences themselves; they chose the sin in ignorance.

Going back to my sushi analogy, if I eat the sushi and contract a virus from it, what is the likely-hood that I'm going to eat sushi again? Probably not very high. If I do, I can certainly tell you it would eventually lose all appeal to me; if getting sick was a constant result of me eating it. Hindsight and often regret is the result of many of our choices in life, but thankfully we have the capability to learn from them(even if that takes a long while, haha). Thus, it seems like an enormous assumption for mainstream Christianity to say that most of human kind will never learn from their mistakes (in choosing something other than God), and will continue their unrelenting rebellion for all time. I personally cant accept that as a reasonable conclusion to make, especially in light of verses such as Philippians 2:10-11,
"in order that in the Name of JESUS every knee should bow, of beings in Heaven, of those on the earth, and of those in the underworld(wouldn't that be "Hell"),
and that
every tongue should confess that JESUS CHRIST is LORD, to the glory of God the Father."

I don't know about you, but the picture of everything in the universe bowing and confessing to Jesus...just doesn't scream "unending rebellion against God" to me. Obviously there must come a point where, in hindsight, everyone and everything realizes and confirms that Jesus is LORD!

This is a big one. If someone tells me that a crappy looking bridge is safe to cross, can I merely choose to believe them without any confirming evidence? If its breaking apart in certain areas and looks extremely old, chances are I'm not going to personally see the reason to believe that it is safe. Try as I might to believe this person, something needs to cause me to believe that the bridge isn't going to give way and let me fall to my death, after taking 5 steps across it.


That belief isn't something I can just "drum-up" out of thin air and choose to have, it is caused into existence by something else. That something else could be watching other people cross that bridge and not die, or perhaps reading the results of a safety inspection regarding the bridge. So its not a matter of whether I chose to believe the bridge is safe, but whether something convinces me that the bridge is safe...and therefore my belief in the bridge is born.

On a more solemn note, I remember reading something very disturbing once. It said that above the doors to the gas chambers the Nazis put Jews in, read "Christ killers". Regardless of any pre-conceived notions those Jews had about the person of Jesus, do you think reading that had a positive effect on what they thought of this Christ and those that supposedly claimed to do His "work"? Do you think they were any more likely to accept Jesus into their heart in their last moments after reading that? No, of course not. The disgusting actions of Hitler and the Nazis, presented those Jews with a false representation of Christ and His followers...thus marring and probably destroying any hope of those people coming to Christ before they died. And it isn't just the Nazis who have presented people with a false representation of Christ; its happened with the KKK,the Westboro Baptists(God hates fags), "Turn or burn" preachers, Catholic priests molesting children, and even some of the most well-meaning Christians who present God as an ever angry, unsatisfied deity.
Misrepresentation and misinterpretation on who God is and how He views us, radically impacts our Earthly choices to serve and obey him. It also radically impacts whether a love for God is fostered within us. If I'm a Jew hearing about that "Christ killers" story, its very likely that I'm going to think the Christian view of God is a very-antisemitic and demented sort of God... I wouldn't love him or want to obey him based upon that false interpretation.

Choice shouldn't overshadow safety

Its really kind of puzzling to me when I hear other Christians say,
"God loves us SO much, and respects our ability to choose SO much, that He will let people rot and writhe in Hell eternally if they so choose."
As if God letting us toss and scream in our own sin forever, was somehow an ultimate demonstration of true love. If God truly loves anyone, I would sincerely hope that His respect for our choices would never be placed above His will for our eternal safety.

If I had a son who was drowning in the ocean, and I had the means to save him, I somehow doubt it would matter to me if he screamed "NO!!!". My love for his life and well being would be greater than whatever ignorance he was undergoing to think that he can either save himself or that dieing would be better. In the same way, I think there comes a point where God values our eternal well being above our choices. For him to do otherwise, would speak of a far more disturbing evil than the Christian "no-no" of God interfering with our choices.

There are really countless other variables I could bring up(and have in some blogs) that constantly effect our choices both big and small. Choice is not some black and white, free of influence decision, as Christianity would like to paint it. And I truly believe that God is smart enough to realize that as well.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

One body of Christ

Long before I ever came into my period of "questioning" my beliefs, throughout the years I never really understood why Christianity was divided into the thousands of denominations we have today. I suppose if we wanted to know how, we would have to look at church history and the reformation from the Roman Catholic Church and so on. But I just always thought the idea that we as Christians needing to "further define our beliefs" by creating sub-genres for ourselves (over petty issues like "I dont believe in baptizin' no babies!") was rather silly.

Thus in the past 8 or so years of being "saved" Ive never really considered myself any particular denomination (well when I was a little kid I called myself Catholic having no idea what that meant, but my dad was! And later in life I would sometimes call myself a Wesleyan if people asked since the church I was baptized in was Wesleyan). But I never really felt that urge to box my beliefs up and brand them with a label for all to see that Im "part of THAT group". I was saved, I was Christian, I believed in the Bible...and that was good enough for me. Even when I found myself becoming a Christian Universalist this past year, I was reluctant to embrace the label. Not because I was ashamed of it, but its easy for people to see "universalist" and equate that with "Unitarian"(which Im not going to get into the difference right now). So before I even get a chance to talk about my beliefs, already people will assume things about me and my beliefs that aren't necessarily true. Though I suppose that will happen no matter what I do or call myself, and even the "Christian" label itself has those general assumptions attached. Anyway, getting back to the point...

I suppose one could say that denominations and sub-groups exist, to keep groups of people happily worshiping God the way they want; which I would say is an important thing in essence. I mean, I wouldn't want to rattle the old folk with our "loud" worship music and make them squint at power point slides if they didnt want to (which is obviously why most churches have contemporary and traditional services). And I wouldn't want to force people to attend services where speaking in tongues and convulsing on the floor are regular activities, if they didn't feel comfortable with that brand of "holy spirit fun".

But the real problem ive begun to see is that denominations, whatever "pros" there may be to them, keep Christians very divided. Every denomination, or sub division we create for ourselves as believers in Christ, only creates more separation in what is supposed to be one body of Christ. And a body not really a fully functioning body the way it was designed to be. Paul talked about the subject a few different times I believe, but I think he really sumed it up in 1 Corinthians 12:17-19

If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the nostrils be? But, as a matter of fact, God has arranged the parts in the body--every one of them--as He has seen fit. If they were all one part, where would the body be?

Every person, no matter what denomination, or how different their beliefs may be...functions in a certain way that another person cannot(or perhaps cannot yet). Each individual "member" has the ability to see and do things that maybe another person with another personality and perception cannot. For example, some people may be more equipped to do prison ministry because their background is that of an ex-felon. Or more related to what I'm talking about, some people may have been shown a side of "truth" that maybe another person isn't yet able to see. Just like the brain is unable to perceive smell without the use of the noise. Nor can it perceive sound, without the use of the ear. Certain body parts do certain things, but they're all pretty much needed to be connected as one, in order to be a healthy, working, full-fledged body.

One line in a lyric by ascitiesburn kindof attests to the absurdity of divided believers,

And if we are the Body, how'd the pretty man get so ugly?
How'd He get all these, spaces between each limb?

Anyway, this is an important reminder to me, because as my beliefs and perceptions drift further away from what I always call "mainstream Christianity", Ive really questioned my place in a system I no longer fully embrace. Ive found it increasingly hard for me to fellowship, participate in church and play the smiling "im okay everybody!" game, when I feel there are many lies about God and His plan being preached and largely unexamined. However, I'm coming to find that I should not let that in anyway hinder my fellowship with believers that ascribe to the mainstream(though many times its actually they who want nothing to do with me). And if anything, that should be all the more reason to participate in the mainstream Christian system(at least from time to time); to help people to think about what I feel God has been showing me, and in turn, learn some things that I don't yet see or understand.

Universalism and all the things Ive learned have been great, and I would love to attend a church(or perhaps even start a small group/house church) that believes in such things at some point. But on the other hand, the body of Christ does not need more division. It needs more unity, to fully function and perform the will of God on Earth. It needs tolerance to accept the fact that not everyone interprets the bible the same, and not everyone has the same perspective on things. Just because someone doesnt believe the same as you, doesnt necessarily mean that they're wrong; it just means that God perhaps has not yet revealed to them what hes revealed to you. Or maybe even Hes revealed some things to them, that you haven't been yet shown (and here you thought you had God all figured out? lol).

I guess I'll close by saying this: If we are supposed to be a body, then we should treat each other as invaluable, and irreplaceable parts of Gods will. That doesn't mean everyone has to believe like you, or you have to believe like them. It doesn't mean even that you have to go to church every Sunday or listen to Christian music or attend the same Christian events. What I think it does mean though, is that we should cast off this "us against them" mentality, and realize that we could learn alot from one another. Most importantly, we should help each other, in reaching the rest of human kind with the love and teachings of Christ and His salvation.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Grace THROUGH faith

What is it that really saves us? My entire life I've been told that we are not saved by anything we do, but by what Jesus has done. The key verse that people back this up with is Ephesians 2:8-9,

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

People use this verse to say that grace is not of ourselves, but yet seem to think that faith is of ourselves entirely. This is perhaps why many Christians "blame" non-believers themselves(rather than God) for not having faith before they died. But if faith is of ourselves entirely, and is not a gift of God, then wouldnt we have something to "boast" in as believers? If us mustering up the faith to believe, is what makes salvation applicable, then we are doing something to save ourselves; we are in effect, saved by a work of ourselves!

That seems to be against everything Paul is saying here though. He says,
for by grace you have been saved through faith. and this...
This what? This grace? No...this grace through faith. And so what about it? It is not of your own doing; it is the gift of God. Grace comes with faith, and vice versa...Paul doesnt seperate the two components to salvation and say that one is of ourselves, and the other is not. So perhaps faith is like the vehicle, by which grace comes to us FROM God to execute salvation within us.


some might object however and say,
Well you have to accept that gift

And I think thats true to an extent, but again if that ability to accept something is entirely of ourselves, it is us that is doing a "work" to be saved...not God and His grace. So I think God has to make someone able to accept grace through faith, if it is truly not of themselves. Simon Peter didnt believe that Jesus was the Son of God all on his own, he believed because God revealed it to him. In Matthew 16:15-17, Jesus says
"But who do you say that I am?"
Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.

If you get nothing else out of this blog, get this: Grace is what enables us TO have faith!

I think this more or less blows a hole in the mainstream christian theology that says that faith is up to us and our "free" will. Because these verses seem to say that it is not up to us to save ourselves or give ourselves faith; it is of God and his dispensation of revelation to people individually. And if that is so, then it is logical to say that if someone dies without having received said grace through faith, that it is not they that are ultimately responsible...but God.

But wait, God cant be to blame for the sinner that rejects Him! you may reply.

Yes, God is totally responsible for our salvation, if it is truly not by our own works. That includes our acceptance and rejection of it. Paul testified to this too in a sense, in Romans 9:18,
So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills

Did you catch that? He wills, not our wills. It is His will that some(probably most) will be hardened from the gospel this side of the grave.
But this is only disturbing though, if we think that Gods title as "Savior of All Men" will never truly be fulfilled. This is only disturbing, if we constantly beat every bible verse and thought against the doctrine of "free" will. We need to realize that God has a plan that wont fail.

The end result of those people that are hardened, will not be eternal separation(which according to what we've examined, would be Gods fault basically). They too will come to God, when He allows them to. Because it is true that no one can come to faith in God, unless God draw him (John 6:44). But it is also true that God will draw all men to himself (John 12:32). What time table God decides to do that under I will not limit him, but I will say that it is not limited merely to this short human existence we have been granted.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

"If everyone goes to heaven, whats the point?"

*(the picture of Bush has nothing to do with anything...I just thought his confused look was hilarious)

This is a question that seems to turn up in every objection to universalism Ive seen thus far, so I thought maybe id blog about it finally

If Hell is not eternal, and everyone eventually gets to be with God...whats the point of doing good or following God? Shouldn't we just do what we want now, since it doesn't matter anyway?

I think people ask this question (as I did too once) because the idea of Ultimate Reconciliation really causes us to reassess the foundations of the Christian faith. And in this case, it reassess our motivation to serve God. That motivation, I think, is often clouded by our evangelical conception; that following God in this life yields the "treat" of heaven, while failing to do so yields the "spanking" of eternal hell. So when universalism takes out eternal hell and replaces it with age-long chastisement, I suppose one could justify that they dont need to serve God, since the punishments are only temporary anyway.

But if a husband continually cheats on his wife, and justifies it by saying,"well, she wont leave me forever, she'll love me no matter what", is it fair to say that that man probably doesnt really love his wife?
In the same way, if the sole reason we serve God is because we are terrified of the idea of eternal punishments, is it fair to say that we dont genuinely love God at all? In that case, we would only be serving God out of fear...fear of punishment or abandonment, not out of love or willful obedience. The same can be said if we serve God only because of the reward of an eternal paradise, except that its not out of fear that we would be serving God, but out of lust for the reward itself. Its kind of like a dog standing on his hind legs at command, simply because he knows his master will give him a doggie treat for it. The dog probably doesnt do it out of love for the master, but rather a love for the taste of bacon-flavored bites.


Because of Jesus, all of the worlds offenses have been forgiven (1 john 2:2) and we are now under grace, not a system of rules in which we have to perform. But just because God loves us no matter what we do, doesn't mean we should just "party it up" and sin our lives away. I have never endorsed that view, nor do the scriptures appear to.
In fact, Paul talked about that very thing in Romans 6:15-17,
What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means![...]
But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed.
Paul makes it a point to say that our obedience is from the heart, thusly I think that is the real underlining reason to serve God...because we want to do so, from the bottom of our hearts.

Another common question along the same lines is,
So whats the point in spreading the gospel, if everyone is just going to be saved anyway?

I think the first point to make here is that Jesus tells us to "go and make disciples of all the nations"(Matthew 28:19), so apparently God wants us to be apart of his truth-revealing process to the world. Secondly, but perhaps of equal importance, is the fact that it doesn't take a PhD to see that we live in a very broken world, in need of the knowledge that God loves them and died for their sins. All throughout the Gospels, Jesus's compassion for the lost was evident, Matthew 9:36-38 is a good example,
When he saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepard. Then He said, "The harvest is truly plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord to send out laborers into His harvest".

Christ made "the harvest" possible through His blood shed, so as followers of Him (of which His spirit lives inside) we should be laboring in His name, and in the same vein of compassion He had for people. We shouldn't let people suffer their whole lifes, and through whatever "hell" is, before having a joyful and fulfilling relationship with Jesus. God revealed His goodness and grace to us, so why wouldn't we want to share that with others so that they too can experience it? The notion of Hell not being eternal, and being for a good and remedial purpose...doesn't discredit our faith, or our reason to share it. If anything, it should allow us to truly lay our hopes in Him...that its not up to us to save people, or always live perfect lives. God loves us no matter what and has a good purpose for us from now, til forever.

That's good news I feel like sharing, how bout you?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Does orthodoxy always = truth?

Many times, people say that I am wrong in my beliefs because they dont strictly adhere to what Christian orthodoxy says(orthodoxy being the long established, and "approved" doctrines). And while I can respect such beliefs and their place in the church, I cant help but wonder why something should be deemed true, simply because it is orthodox or traditional?

After all, many things have been "traditional" or accepted throughout human history, that we now (generally speaking) deem evil or incorrect. Slavery is a good example of something that was accepted and practiced for hundreds of years, but now most would consider vile and disgusting(at least in our European countries). It was once traditional or orthodox to say that the earth was flat, even though we now know it not to be(though I guess thats not a perfect analogy, since thats something a little more observable and thus provable). But maybe on a more related note, many times in church history have we found things to be incorrect or untrue. The most famous of those being in the Reformation, when Martin Luther proposed that salvation comes to us via Gods grace, and not by paying clergy men or any other "work" we could do. If the so called "orthodox" opinion could be rightly challenged back then, why can it not be now? If traditional church opinions were prone to error even in its earliest of days, what makes it free from any error here in more modern times?

The consensus in Christianity seems to be that orthodoxy should be accepted on the merits that those who created it did so with "tried and true methods"(none of which, people seem to elaborate much on). But what began to disturb me about that, is that we are told to accept those orthodox traditions and ideas even when they appear to make the Bible seem contradictory.
If anything is "dangerous" I think it may be this line of thinking; that we cannot scrutinize the theories or interpretations of those who first proposed our core Christian doctrines. Almost as if our allegiance should be to the Church and its doctrines first, and then to God(if He falls in line with the established theology, of course).

But this seems ridiculous to me, first of all because our allegiance should first be to what we feel God is trying to show us personally. And secondly because the church has always had varying doctrines and positions on every conceivable matter since its birth. So just because a certain set of beliefs have been deemed "orthodox", it is only so because of a consensus at some point in history...not necessarily because it is an irrefutable fact. I like the way John Shelby Spong puts it,
"To be called Orthodox Christian does not mean that one's point of view is right. It only means that this point of view won out in the ancient debate."

With that said, our belief in what is true shouldn't be based upon a consensus or tradition, or even what any religious teacher says...but rather on the conviction that God gives us through the Christian scriptures and even just through everyday life. We dont have to have all of our theology spoon-fed to us, we have the ability to discern for ourselves, and I think that is what is meant by 1 John 2:27(WNT),
And as for you, the anointing which you received from Him remains within you, and there is no need for any one to teach you. But since His anointing gives you instruction in all things--and is true and is no falsehood--you are continuing in union with Him even as it has taught you to do

Even Jesus posed the question,
"And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?" Luke 12:57
Jesus wasnt talking to the religious "orthodox" teachers of the day, he was talking to everyday people. So whatever is truly "right", Im not sure that it neccesarily needs to pass through the hands of teachers and orthodox doctrines, to be interpreted as such. We can "judge for ourselves"

This is not to say, that I or anyone, should place ourselves as "wiser" than orthodoxy and its established conclusions. There is alot of value to be had in tradition and its ideas, but that doesnt mean we should negate our own abilities to interpret and study the evidence, Biblical or extra-biblical. We should consider what others have to say on such matters, but the ultimate conclusion, I believe, should be left to the Holy Spirit within...not man and its varying and conflicting doctrines.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Shack

Over the past week, I read the popular(yet controversial) book called The Shack. I had heard a lot about it for a few months now, but after seeing some of the book quotes and pastors on YouTube railing against it being "evil" know I just had to pick it up :).

Its a fictional story about a guy named Mack, whose child is abducted and brutally murdered in an abandoned shack. A few years later, Mack gets a note in the mail from God inviting him back to that very same shack...where Mack spends the weekend asking God all sorts of questions. The Trinity and the way it is presented, is probably one of the most controversial parts of it. Seeing as God the father is portrayed as a big black woman, the holy spirit is an Asian woman, and Jesus is well...a middle eastern carpenter(as you would expect him to be anyway lol). This caught me off guard at first, and sort of weired me out...but then I realized it would have been too cliche and stereotypical for it to be two bearded old men in robes, and a dove/tongue of fire floating around (hence the point was to break stereotypes). Anyway, I wont give all the details since, I think you should read it if you haven't yet. But I just wanted to take a minute to talk about some of my favorite parts out of it:

Before his youngest daughter (Missy) is murdered, Mack tells the story of a Indian princess who had to jump off a cliff, in order to save her people. Missy asks Mack if he would ever ask her to jump off a cliff, he replies,
"No , honey. I will never ask you to jump off a cliff, never, ever, ever"
"then will God ever ask me to jump off a cliff?"
"No, Missy. He would never ask you to do anything like that."
This is the first of many hints at universalism the book provides. Though it always does so in a manner that doesn't totally pin-point and complete the idea. It was also the first part of the book that made me teary eyed, because no loving human father would make their child jump off a cliff. And yet, so many people believe God will make most of His creations jump off a cliff into an everlasting, unpurposed, pit of torment.

God's voice had been reduced to paper, and even that paper had to be moderated and deciphered by the proper authorities and intellects. It seemed that direct communication with God was something exclusively for the ancients and uncivilized, while educated Westerner's access to God was mediated and controlled by the intelligentsia. Nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book. Especially an expensive one bound in leather with gilt edges, or was that guilt edges?
This little bit made me giggle, because it made me think of a lot of fundamentalists I talk to that accuse me of not "properly" interpreting scripture. There seems to be this idea in religion that everything we think about God or the Bible needs to be tested and interpreted by the "proper" spiritual geniuses, whom have been apparently gifted with all the right beliefs. The thing that's funny to me about that though, is that the "proper" authority is apparently never the one that disagrees with your theology, only the one that disagrees with the person you're talking to. So when we throw around terms like right theology and proper interpretation, we're really just trying to prove something as true, according to our biases and personal perspectives...not according to some indisputable fact or method. Which at the end of the day, seems pretty silly.

This is a part where God (or Papa) is talking to Mack, and he says
"but your choices are also not stronger than my purposes, and I will use every choice you make for the ultimate good and most loving outcome".
Then a page later the chapter ends with Mack saying
"I just cant imagine any final outcome that would justify all this"
"Mackenzie." Papa rose out of her chair and walked around the table to give him a big squeeze. "Were not justifying it. We are redeeming it."

I think its easy for us Christians to think that the most loving outcome is 5% of humanity being saved, while most are forever being incinerated, due to their bad choices(because common sense tells us that's what they really want). That God attempts to put out the forest fire that is our sin, and for the most part, fails. Then God sweeps the remains of billions under the rug of Heaven, smiles and shrugs. But perhaps, God is really more purposed and loving then that. Perhaps hes not trying to simply put a band-aid on the human condition, but rather was smart enough from the begining, to know how to ultimately redeem every single one of us despite our bad choices and misunderstandings.

This is a part where Mack is in a room talking with what is supposed to be a projection/embodiement of Gods justice. They go through this whole conversation about judgment and then she tells Mack that he must choose two of his children to go to heaven, and three of them to spend eternity in Hell. He obviously, freaks out.
"Mackenzie, I am only asking you to do something that you believe God does. He knows every person ever concieved, and he knows them so much more deeply than you will ever know your own children. He loves each one according to His knowledge of the being of that son or daughter. You believe He will condemn most to an eternity of torment, away from His presence and apart from His love. Is that not true?"
Anyway, it goes on and Mack decides that he cant possibly decide between his children because,
For him, it wasnt about their performance; it was about his love for them

When I read this, it made me shed a few tears, because it reminded me of how many look at the concept of predestination and judgment in general. Many believe that God created all these people in the world, knowing all the things that entangle them to deception...yet only picked a few of them to be saved from it. No father could possibly pick amoungst his children, for some to be damned and some to be saved...yet we believe a God who is love would do so? More over, we call that perception of God "just" and "holy"? Sometimes, I wonder how I made those concepts work in my mind for all those years without completley shattering eachother in conflict.

Theres a part where Jesus says,
"Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims; some are Democrats, some Republicans and many dont vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions[...] I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa..."
"Does that mean," said Mack, "that all roads will lead to you?"
"Not at all. Most roads dont lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you."

This quote was actually one I was shown before hand, and made me want to read the whole book. And I think this, whether intended or not, sums up the universalistic position. Its not that all religions and beliefs are neccesarily correct, or that they all (in of themselves) lead one to salvation in God. Its simply that God is willing and able to travel any of those roads of belief or lifestyle to find that person and draw Him unto it in this life or afterwards, be it in the Christian religous structure or not. Jesus is not limited to the Christian religion we have created around His teachings, or other scriptures. And His will and unfailing purpose I believe is to find and redeem every person, regardless of the road of life they are on.

Anyway, there is alot more that I highlighted in the book, but this blog is getting long as it is. But Im sure I will bring up other parts of it in other blogs in the near future.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Why I cant be an agnostic...entirely

I had to attend jury duty today, and as I'm sure you can guess, it was terribly thrilling in every way imaginable. I wasn't actually picked to be on the actual jury(thankfully) but I still had to sit around and listen to the prosecutor ask questions that, for the most part, should have been ridiculously obvious. So I spent most of the time reading The Shack, while occasionally listening to the questions he was asking the potential jury.

One of the things the prosecutor asked was whether it was possible to prove something without a "shadow of a doubt". I will attempt to recall how the short conversation went, since it would be hard to follow if I wrote it any other way,

Prosecutor: Lets say I'm trying to prove who I was, if I provided an ID of myself...would this prove that I am that person?

Juror: Probably

Prosecutor: But it could possibly be a fake ID, correct?

Juror: Correct

Prosecutor: So what if I brought in several people to testify to me being this person, stating that they knew me since I was little and that they went to school with me at one time? Would that prove who I was beyond a shadow of a doubt?

Juror: Not beyond a shadow of a doubt, no

Prosecutor: No, because they could be friends of mine, or I could have paid them to say that. No matter what evidence I can bring, there is always another variable that can be brought up. So today we are not here to prove this case without a "shadow of a doubt", but without a "REASONABLE doubt".

Since Ive recently been dealing with re-emerging feelings of agnosticism, this particular idea on how to reach a verdict got me thinking. Its particularly easy for us as humans to say "I know this" or "I know that", in terms of religion or lack there of. And we get so worked up trying to defend what we "know" ...that we never stop to realize that we don't really know much of anything(at least in the sense that we can know that we know, and prove that indisputably). No matter how convincing the evidence for our beliefs may be, no matter how much we may actually feel we know, there is always "another variable" to take into account. There is no way this side of the grave that anyone can prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that their beliefs are correct.

Such a realization seems to lay a great foundation for agnosticism, because if nothing is indisputably knowable or provable in terms of God and truth...whats the point of stressing myself out about it? Why bother myself with something I cant prove? Well, because to claim that I know, that I cant still in fact, claiming that I know something(that I cant know anything for sure lol). In which case, the whole paradigm pretty much fall apart. It makes more sense to me, to not ignore my personal experiences and encounters, but rather use them to draw a close rendering of what absolute truth may be. Though, hopefully more accurately so than this Yoda drawing I did in paint...

As I have said before, combining ones experiences and conclusions on certain evidences, to make the most coherent view of "truth", is honestly the only thing we can do in this short life. While I cant prove what the truth is beyond a shadow of a doubt, I feel should strive to at least prove it beyond "reasonable" doubt(to myself at least)...because it affects how I live my whole life and how I perceive myself and others. I feel this is better than just throwing up my hands in frustration, and closing off the brain to all possibilities... simply because nothing spiritually is knowable to a proveable extent.

Besides all the Biblical and moral evidences, I feel this is perhaps the strongest case for universal reconciliation. Because it is very obvious to me that we are not even meant to know the absolute truth about God and salvation in this life...its simply not possibly to know that we know what that is(and yes I guess I am claiming that I know its not possible, but hence the title of this blog lol).

I still think its important to formulate the best conception I can, because I think our choices in this life do matter to God(and they certainly hold consequences here and now if nothing else). However I simply doubt He's such a big baby as to eternally hold us accountable for not believing that which wasn't possible to know, which He apparently did not make possible in the first place. I believe what God cares more about, is simply guiding us through the mystery of this life...without knowing all the "other variables" and ability to prove anything. I think that is because that by never truly "knowing" in this life, we can begin to simply trust in Him through the good things he is subconsciously and consciously instilling in our hearts. And ultimately, that creates a relationship between us and the Creator.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Limited to the logical

Over the past few weeks, I had the pleasure of debating with a random atheist (something I hardly do anymore) via the "undisputed king" of meaningless, angry controversial debates....YouTube. I really only replied to him to correct his assumption that I believed that God "sent people to be burned for all time", but we ended up messaging back and forth for several days about different things. The main thing came down to the typical "why does God allow suffering" argument that I already refuted here a few weeks back. However, his argument made me think a bit deeper.

He argued that an infinitely powerful and loving God could not exist, because there is suffering in the world. If God was truly both of those things, he'd argue, God could have produced love, appreciation and character in us without the use of suffering whatsoever. And though I tried to find my way around his argument as hard as I could, I realized I was just avoiding a hole in my theology. One that had been engraved in me since as long as I can remember...the idea that God is limitless in power.

After thinking about it for a few days and listening to various opinions, I came to conclude that maybe God is indeed all-powerful, but only within the realm of logic. God can do whatever he pleases, but is limited(by his own choice or what I don't know) to that which, well, makes sense. For example, God could create a triangle as big or as small as he could possibly imagine, but He really cannot make a "4 sided triangle" because, well...that doesn't make any sense. A four sided shape is a square (or a rectangle), saying otherwise defies the definition and is simply illogical.

But then you might say,
Well what 'bout Biblical things like talkin' snakes, parting seas, and water turning to wine? Those things don't sound logical but God did 'em!

Regardless of the fact that such things MAY or may not have been exaggerated or metaphorical (in some cases I assume they were), I think maybe they fall more into the "highly unlikely" category, rather than completely "illogical". For example, snakes have mouths like humans, and the ability to make sounds. So a creator of the universe could easily allow a snake to actually speak a human language, if He so chose. It would be "highly unlikely" but not totally illogical. It would be illogical, simeltaneously deem that snake as a toaster oven; that just makes absolutely no sense. The snake could logically be transformed into a toaster oven via supernatural means, or possibly even a snake shaped toaster oven(how would that work?), but it could not be both things at the same time.
The idea of God having "limits" was uncomfortable to me at first, but now I feel it makes decent sense. God is still far higher than us in all his qualities, but not so high that he is limited by no consistent moral or logical truths. A verse that may attest to Gods higher, yet not necessarily unlimited qualities is 1 Corinthians 1:25,
For the foolishness of God is wiser than mans wisdom, the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength

If God truly had no limits...he could contradict any definition or characteristic of himself, and still be perfect. He could tell the truth, and lie, at the same time. He could love you, and at the same time, hate your guts. He would have no moral limits and thus, it'd be impossible for us to base our life around a being that holds to no absolute, logical definitions on anything. In order to serve God or accept personal revelation from God, there would have to be a plane of morality and logic he was limited to...or he truthfully could change the rules at any moment and still not defy his characteristic of being just and fair. And if that were the case, we might as well all just give up trying to understand what God is saying to us (haha)

So then I wondered if this idea (that God is limited to the logical) punched any holes in relation to my universalistic theology? I wondered if perhaps, it would not be "logically" possible for God to save all people, even though he'd really like to(which is basically the Armenian view)? But then I thought, how would God saving all his children, from that which harms them, be illogical whatsoever? I mean, wouldn't any loving, able parent seeing their kids drowning at sea, do everything in their power to rescue them? Why would God be any different?

What would be more illogical to me, is if God was indeed the example of perfect unconditional love (after all that's what he IS, according to 1 John 4:8), but yet was willing to, at some point, burn his children in torment for all eternity? With not another chance at forgiveness or purpose for the punishment beyond revenge? That would certainly defy any logical definition of love and morality that humans were hardwired with. And I suppose the same would work for the thought that God is "just", yet supposedly requires infinite punishment for finite crimes. Which I think would again, be illogical according to any human definition of justice.

So anyway, back to what the atheist originally was arguing against. Which was, that an all powerful, all loving God would save us from any suffering and still would be able to produce in us love, appreciation of that love, and good character. In which my answer is, is that the ability to choose and experience things outside of God(be them good or bad) is logically necessary, in order for concepts like true love, appreciation, etc to come about within us. Sometimes our experience with those things outside of God are negative, and generate the suffering we see in this world all around us. But what husband could truly say he loved and appreciated his wife, if he had never met another woman, particularly one who treated him poorly? What person could say that they have a wonderful house, if they had never been outside their house and seen a rundown, decaying house? It would be logically impossible. In the same way, in order to truly appreciate the unconditional love, and good things of God, we must be given the chance to experience bad, in order to know and love that which is good. I think this is what is meant by Romans 11:32,
For God has bound all men over to disobedience, so that he may have mercy on them all

Logically speaking, God could not have mercy on anyone, if they were never allowed to fall into disobedience and the sufferings that come from that. So it would logically make sense to me, that this same mercy God wants to have on us will not fail to save one person that he allowed to fall. And while suffering is necessary to produce the good, relational love God wants for will not last for anyone. Mercy will someday find every man, woman and child.

P.S. Thank you to as the cracker head crumbles For mentioning SavageSoto in their "sites to see" blog. Greatley appreciate it.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Is God bound by the Bible?

For some reason, I typically do all my "deep" thinking while Im at my dish washing job. I've never understood why (possibly for the lack of brain power it takes to complete such a monotonous task) but it really feels like the time that God likes to plants seeds in my mind. Tonight I was thinking about something Ive constantly asked myself over the past few God bound strictly to Christianity? More specifically, is He bound by the collection of writings we call, the Bible?

In past years, Ive always looked to the Bible as the only way to find out anything about God and how to live life. If I had any feelings, or thoughts that weren't backed by several passages and verses (and sermons), I would consider it of the devil! While I still hold to the Bible as the backbone to my beliefs and understandings about God, I'm finding it silly how often we Christians confine him to if He is chained between the binding and the cardboard covers of the Good Book. How can a God who is omnipresent and omnipotent, be a concept that we can slam shut in a single religious text and a set of doctrinal ideas?

On the moral, and intuition side of things, I found I could agree with a lot of things that didn't match up with the typical Christian theology. However on the mental side of things, I couldn't make the leap for the sake of that very theology and the Bible. I took things that (I now feel) God was trying to say to me, and disregarded them merely because they didn't line up with what I had been taught about the Bible. But I no longer think that's what God wants...and at the risk of saying something highly heretical(because I haven't done that in the last 20 blogs haha), I'm coming to believe that personal revelation has the ability to be just as divinely inspired and of God, as the words of the Bible.

As shocking as that may sound to some, I think its somewhat easy to see if we are honest about the Bible and its origins. Without completely saturating it with religiosity, the Bible would seem to be a collection of writings, written by people that claimed to be "inspired" by God to write them. While I do not doubt that the writers were, in fact, inspired by God...I don't think its too much of a stretch to say its not the only things God has inspired people to do. For instance, Ive learned certain things about God and His will for me, before ever hearing it in a sermon or reading it in the Bible. I may have read it somewhere else, or heard it in a sermon at a later point...but I think its limiting to say that Gods main force of inspiration went out to the writers of the Bible and then any inspiration we get hereafter has to strictly feed off of that embodiment. I think its also important to note that the collection of writings we call The Bible, was compiled from among many other "inspired" writings. One such book that was almost put in the Bible, for example, was the book of Enoch(research it if interested).

So all the books we have today in the bible, were chosen at the liberty of a church council(or a series of them)...according to their own biases and personal beliefs. Then, centuries later in the protestant movement, we dropped some of those original canonized books (ex Maccabees) because Martin Luther didn't agree with purgatory and the like. And all this, again, has been done by man...and what they decided to be acceptable doctrine. And then besides all that, there is the whole translation upon translation mumbo-jumbo that I'm not even going to bother getting into right now because I'm lazy(which is actually pretty significant when the meaning of one or two words can and HAS changed the meanings of entire passages).

While I can have faith that God brought together the Bible for a purpose, I don't feel so comfortable saying that it is all that God has to say to us about Himself. Even if what we held today was completely scott-free of any error, that still would not change mans ability to misinterpret scripture. I heavily rely on the Bible to understand God and His ways, and that will probably never change. However I dont think its fair to make it my sole means of life/spiritual perception...nor was it probably even intended to be.

I see the Bible in multiple ways, one fun illustration I came up with, is that its like a "Gods greatest hits" album. Or perhaps more accurately...a tribute/cover album by various artists based off of "Gods greatest hits". While you can learn much about a particular artist and their style based off of a greatest hits or tribute does not paint you a full spectrum of their career. Sometimes there are ways artists play or sing certain songs with such feeling, that none or few others can even properly replicate them. Sometimes an artists greatest hits aren't even that great, just what was chosen as a single at the time of its release. So the only way to truly begin to appreciate the original artist for what they are, is to go beyond the greatest hits, to go beyond the tributes and remixes. In a similar way, to truly understand God, I feel you must look beyond the Bible while at the same time, considering it for all that it is.

I think this idea especially works when you think about the gospels as being 4 tribute albums to Jesus's "hit singles" or most notable sayings(which by the way weren't the only gospels written, but I digress). They each have their own perception, writing style, and "hits" that they have included that others may or may not have. But none of them could have ever said, or perceived those "hits" like Jesus did...especially not 30-60 years after they heard him say them. More over, Jesus never even told His disciples to write down what he said into a book (as far as we know). He also didn't appear to say to put said writings into a mass collection of books that would be hand-picked by a council several years off into the future, to be added to the old scriptures, then mass produced at some point to be used as blinders for every person who wished to follow God. And even beyond that, Jesus never gave a method (let alone an inerrant one) on how to go about creating such a book. Jesus never said any of that to our knowledge, and its curious that if He did, He was not recorded as saying that as it would seem to only give credit to the existence of The Bible.

Again, my intent is not to slam the Bible or even those who believe it to be inerrant. I am also not really saying that the Koran, the book of Mormon (or insert religious text here) should have equal spiritual weight. I cant help but to think of the Bible as being more influential and divine, than any other book(regardless of whether its a result of my personal upbringing, my biases, my culture or personal revelation). All I am really saying, is that as time goes by, I realize that its unfair to contain my idea of God and and His will for my life...strictly to the Bible and the mainstream doctrines we've created around it. God is so much bigger than that, and I think he can use any book(be it religious or not) or any thought or really, any medium to convey truth to an individual as He sees fit.