Thursday, April 23, 2009

God's "justice" vs. Man's "justice"

For those of you tired of hearing me rant about topics from a Universalistic point of view, I will apologize in advance. Because I am about to embark on yet another, though, I feel like this is a crucial issue to talk about(as usual but still). And its also nice to have some in depth arguments typed out as I learn these things myself, and try to show others where Im coming from:

An argument I have heard frequently in opposition to the Christian Universalist, is like the one below that I pasted from an actual Christian forum post:

" it's not YOUR heaven, God is not subject to YOUR interpretations or YOUR rules or YOUR fallacious opinions...God is not obligated to let [anyone] into HIS kingdom. If that idea makes you 'boo-hoo,' with all respect, get over it."

While this poster presented the argument in an extremely brief, bogus and heartless way, I will admit that he and others have a point. Because I agree, God is not subject to merely what we think is right and "just" as humans. We are not entitled to anything on our own(why do you think Christ died to begin with?). What God has made He most certainly has the right to do with however He so chooses under whatever conditions he deems. For as I've said before, our finite minds can only grasp so much at that which is God and His ways.

But the argument is still...only half-baked, to say the least. And heres why...

This argument assumes that Gods idea of "justice" must be completely at odds with the typical ideals of human justice, in order for God to be...well...God.
But here's the thing though...if what WE think is Gods "fair and perfect justice" is that people will be tormented infinitely for not understanding the correct views of God by an un-given due date...than what does that say about our own ideals of "justice"? Can we truly call our ideals of right and wrong, fair and unfair, true "justice"...if that perception be true?

Suppose I'm principal of a new elementary school, and I try to establish the ground rules through some brief conversation to the kids in classroom A (lets assume there's 27 classrooms total). The kiddies in classroom A eventually proceed to construct a "rule book" based as closely as they can off what I told them a few weeks earlier and tries to be "good" lil students and follow it. Now the other 26 classrooms have no idea about what I told classroom A, and they are all running around, terrorizing the teachers, having food fights and erecting statues of Bart Simpson. Classroom A then goes out and tries to teach the other classrooms about my rules from their "rule book".

Lets say classrooms B, C, and D accepts the message of the "rule book" as truth because lets say I write them a note and say,
"Yes these are pretty much the school rules"
and thus classrooms A through D tries to follow it and tell other classrooms...but are unable to convince the others that the "rule book' is actually based on what I, the princapal of the school, said. And since the "rule book" following classrooms cannot prove as fact that the rulebook does in fact, contain my rules, the other classrooms refuse to follow. Then one day after a month of this I decide to come down from my office and forever expel from school all the little bad, food fighting terrorist kiddies because they didn't follow the rulebook that classroom A wrote about my rules.

Now, regardless of the fact no school is run like that (though here in America I wouldn't be too surprised), could we honestly say that, I, the Principal, executed "justice" and "fairness" at its finest by forever expelling kids for not following rules that were never proven to all to be mine? Would their parents no less expect that I have mercy and common sense, and make my decisions according to the situations and not merely just the actions? I think its safe to say that, though they need to be punished, a "everlasting" and "unchangeable" expulsion would not only be unfair to the children, but completely ludicrous.

Why then do we assume that God, the pinnacle of all that is "just" and "fair", will execute "justice" towards humanity, in an even more gruesome and unfair way than the principal did to the school children? It cant be only the "Christian Universalist" that sees the injustice presented by mainstream theology. And I feel the only reason that many people (including myself for many years) stomach this contradicting idea is because they've been taught that that is the ONLY conclusion one can draw from the Bible. Therefore the typical Christian allows this moral piracy to invade their beliefs because they feel to question this particular interpretation of the Bible, is to question the Bible and/or the motives of God himself...but I would argue that it is not. I would argue we owe it to God to test and refine our understanding of Him and His ways the best we can in this life. And I feel it is unfair to hardheadedly presume that God's perception of justice is somehow less merciful and fair than our own gut feelings, and then scapegoat it as just some weird "mystery of God!"that for some reason...cant be examined or investigated without God frowning down at us. God should not be below or matching our ideal judge, but be far greater.

So then what would we as humans generally conceive as (at least ideally) a"just" or "fair" judge? Consider the following:
-A just human judge would first of all, have to be unbiased and impartial.
The Bible says that God does not show partiality (Col. 3:25).

-A just human judge would not let crime "off the hook" without punishment, but would propose a fair punishment to fit the crime. The Bible tells us that God renders to EACH according to his deeds (Ro. 2:5-6), therefore a generic "infinite" punishment would make no sense because the measure by which God would punish us would be the same for everyone regardless, and not tailored to the "crimes" themselves.

-A just human judge would do what he could to seek the correction of the culprit, to show them right from wrong and what wrong gets you. Not just to "avenge" those that were wronged to begin with. The Bible tells us that people will learn "righteousness" from Gods judgments(Is. 26:9), but how would they learn or benefit from the learning of what is right, if all they're doing is being BBQ'd for all eternity in Hell? How does that add up to God's purposes for judgment?

-A just human judge would consider all the variables involved in what caused the criminal to act as they did(if they indeed did), including their mental health and age. Most Christians do not believe that the mentally handicapped or small children undergo infinite punishment in Hell, because the state of their mind keeps them from being capable of fully comprehending right from wrong and what Jesus did for them...but doesn't every person have something(s) that keep them from understanding those things with absolute clarity? Hasn't God allowed us all to be afflicted with sin, the very thing that pulls us from His truth? Did God merely allow man to fall into sin, with no intention to take such a "disease" and "mental insanity" into account on the day of judgment? The Bible tells us that God has more compassion and mercy than that, for what He allowed knowingly(La 3:31-33). I don't believe God will merely turn a "blind-eye" to that which caused us(the "sane")to make our flaws in belief and action, because we too posses a type of "insanity" of the soul, and a blindness of the heart and mind that only Jesus Christ can clean away from us at His appointed times.

Looking at these verses, can we AT LEAST agree that God could be no less a judge than any good human judge or authority? So back on point...would His justice then really be at such complete odds with our own, as mainstream Christianity subtly suggests? You may say
"Well Gods ways are not our own!"
And that is true, but looking at the above statements and verses, I think its safe to say His idea of justice is NOT so far removed from ours, as is taught in the mainstream. It appears instead to me that while the "justice" of God should not be directly proportional to man's, it is a perfect and unfailing projection of that which we idealize as true "justice". God is transcendent and greater,wiser and more loving and forgiving than us in every respect. But at the same time, He made us in His "likeness and image"(Gen. 1:26), so we can expect that the things He essentially instilled in us as "justice", "love" and "mercy" are spitting images of Gods own concepts of them...not completely different(and conflicting) ideas all together. He is the very source of these we can only belittle them, not amplify them beyond God's own versions.

So lets go back to the school/principal analogy, and lets say I, the Principal, come to a different verdict. Lets say I don't FOREVER expel the bad kiddies for not understanding the unproven rules, but instead allow them their due punishments, while taking into account what they did not understand and why. And once their punishment runs its course and they understand with absolute clarity what they did wrong and why its bad, allow them to come back to school. Could we agree that this is overall pretty just? Could we agree that the whole reason that I implemented the rules to begin with was to show them what is the good and proper way to act? And wouldn't the punishments not be so much about "getting back at them" or "avenging the teachers that had to put up with them" as much as it was hoping for their overall betterment, in hopes that they one day become very successful and productive members of society? (Okay so maybe I'm romanticizing the principals intentions a wee bit too much, but I think you get the point).

The idea above is called "rehabilitative" justice. It is punishment that seeks the overall improvement of the individual, to aid in turning a "doer of evil" into a "doer of good". And based on what we can generally conceive as justice, and the above scenario...would we expect God to act any less "just" and "purpose-driven" with His own creations? Could His ultimate judgments be not so much the supposed "retained wrath of God now unleashed!" and more so Gods "cleaning up" method of the messes Satan has caused humans to make, and getting the rest of His kids back on track? Wouldn't that be what not only a good, just judge would do, but a loving God is both of those things in their perfection? I propose Gods judgments are not at such great odds with ours, but is rather more analogous and to the very ideas own "perfection" beyond which we can even comprehend. And rather than subjecting us to eternal, un-purposed, punishment...will instead direct correction upon us until the point at which justice is satisfied and we ALL feel the need to turn our whole hearts to Him. For He is not angry forever...but instead wants to gladly give us all mercy(Mic. 7:18)! And I believe He will in due time.

I will let you draw your own conclusion here, but hopefully even if you disagree or find fault with my argument, you can at least better understand what it is your disagreeing with...which is really my ultimate intent with any of these "religious themed" blogs. You cant really understand what you don't agree with if you don't understand whats truly being argued in the first place.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Christs death, election, and the problem of "subconscious superiority"

The cross was the means by which God would reconcile his creation to save it(2 Corinthians 5:19). It cost Jesus his dignity and His life. And though he did it for "all" and the "world", somehow people seem to believe that most of humanity wont be saved from it. That somehow, the cross failed to accomplish its mission(though they would argue that it didnt fail, but it was simply us that failed to accept it, or some complex "God vs Man" rationalization).

But why cant Christ get all that he suffered and died for? Cant it be logical to say that God will not give up until everyone comes under that repentance, that love and salvation in Him?

The sad argument I hear against this often is:
"If all will be saved, then that cheapens Christs death on the cross"

Im sorry, but how on earth does someone dare to say that Christs death and payment on Calvary was somehow "cheap" if he reconciles not a few sinners, but all that God created and loves?
Thats like Jesus spending all His money to buy a mansion that he had his eyes set on His whole life(the guy was homeless His whole ministry maybe he wants His own pad for a change, eh?). But soon afterwards, as Jesus is about to enter the mansion, Satan hops out from the bushes and goes,
"HA HAAA! You have the keys to the mansion, but all Ill allow you to have is the tiny bathroom! I still own all the rest of the property that you paid for! HA HAAA". And Jesus replies.
"Awwww...shucks! Oh well, I like bathrooms!"
...but how does that even remotely make sense?

So people seem to rationalize this limited line of thought, by suggesting that God only meant to pay for "the tiny bathroom" of humanity, otherwise known as "the elect"(this is more the Calvinist view). That Biblical passages like:
"For God so loved the WORLD that he gave His only begotten son"(John 3:16) and
"[Jesus] is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and NOT ONLY for ours but also for the sins of the WHOLE WORLD"(1 John 2:2)
...were only a figurative round-about way of saying the fraction of humanity that is called the "elect" of God.

And here we find a grave problem. Because if Jesus only died to save a few select sinners(us Christians in this life) than that means God chose us over the BILLIONS of unsaved, depraved people. He reached His hand down from heaven to save us from the fiery pit of destruction, but only gave sight to a select few to see that hand at all. Then He goes on to punish for all eternity those whom he didn't allow to have sight. And sadly enough, this view makes God out to be the worst villain ever to exist. This view states that though he allowed humanity to drown in a pool of sin, he only chose to rescue a few...even though He has the power and DESIRE(2 Peter 3:9) to save all. Consider this little cartoon:


Could God REALLY be like that? Mainstream Christian theology seems to think so. And this understanding sets in peoples minds...until they view the unsaved like this:
"God was gracious enough to save me, but not you! Oh well, you made your choice!"

We then as Christians, unknowingly, find ourselves more loved and cherished by God, because we are his "elect". We come to understand that God saved us Christians exclusively. This creates in us what I like to call "subconscious superiority". Its the same sort of "subconscious superiority" that Israel had because they were the "chosen people of God".
This subconscious superiority does not mean that you don't have "a heart for the unsaved" or that you automatically strut around thinking your better than anyone who is not Gods "elect". But at the same creates that knee jerk reaction that goes,
"NO! Christ cant die for all, he died for me, he picked me, not you! His sacrifce would be meaningless if he REALLY died for EVERYONE!"

because the line of thought is (at least in the Armenian view) is that while God loves and died for everyone, He doesnt love them enough to save them and lets their clouded minds of "free will" override Gods ultimate purposes.(Calvinists would simply say Christ only died for the elect and thats all, but I digress). So the concept of us being the "elect" becomes subliminally etched in our minds and hearts as the pristine, "cream of the crop" batch of humans that God decided to REALLY die for over everyone else...because everyone else hates God and just wants to sin against Him! Rawr! (You like the rawr? I like the rawr. Im getting way off topic)

But in either case...the question can the scope of Adam's power to damn us be greater than the scope of Christs power to redeem us? Most would argue that it is not. But if we are honest with ourselves we can admit that according to both the Armenian and Calvinist schools of thought...the destruction of Adam will FOREVER claim the majority and will belittle the portion of souls redeemed through Christ. But how can that be so? How can that be Gods "perfect plan". Quite cannot be.

My honest question to you is, did He really die for you, more than He died for someone else? Did He die for the rich televangelist more than He died for the homeless drug addict? What makes us (Christians, the first fruits of Christ) any less of a sinner in need of grace than the next person who is never unveiled to His truth in this life? How can we truly believe that WE CHRISTIANS are all Christ came to save?

Israel certainty wasn't the only peoples to which God wanted to extend grace and love to, and later revealed that it was to the Gentiles too(Gen. 22:17-19).Was that not God's plan all along?:

John 14:47
"...For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it"

Luke 15:4-6
"4"Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6and goes home."

John 17:21-23
"that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."

1 Corinthians 15:22
"22For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive."

1 Timothy 4:10
"that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe. "

These are just a few of HUNDREDS of verses that hint at Gods awesome plan to reconcile all of man-kind to himself. So I ask you again...why cant God get all he really paid for? Will he only be partial to a portion of humanity? Or will He be the savior of all humanity...ESPECIALLY of the the "elect" who believe in this life, like it says above in 1 Timothy? I believe we Christians are not superior, but equals to the non-Christians...of which God loves JUST as much and WILL bring to salvation and repentance as He has desired from the beginning. Christs death is therefore not "cheapened" or "meaningless" was the very high price God paid to save us from our depravity. To show His love for us as a people...not just for the "elect". It was the only means by which ALL humankind could and SHALL be saved by.

I pray God opens your mind, and your heart.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Free will?

In Christianity one of the things we're first taught is that God loves us "all", but that he allowed man to be "free agents" of choice, to choose God or to reject Him. This seems like a reasonable and fair thing to accept (at least it was to me for many years) since the idea of a tyrannical dictator God forcing us to love Him just seemed preposterous. How could God ever expect us to love Him if he didnt give us the free choice to choose so? And I think the average human is already under this assumption that they have "free will" to do and choose as they please(consequences abiding of course).

But do we truly have this thing called "free will?" Did God create the world in such a way in which he has control over everything, except our hearts? Does God want all of us to be saved but is simply unwilling to infringe upon our human right to choose eternal damnation over eternal life?

I think the short, non-philosophical answer is: Yes...and no. Consider the following verses:

Romains 8:29
"For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers."

and a verse from last week
Ephisians 1:11
"In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will,"

The greek word thats translated "predestined" is the word "proorizo", which means "to determine before" according to Strong's Hebrew and Greek dictionaries. And according to the modern day Church, these verses mean that those who come to Christ are those that God determined before hand...since the beginning of time. So already we see our "free choice" being infringed upon by God "hand-picking a few lucky bums to get the grand prize of infinity nights in Gods sky hotel". But wait...I thought we had a "choice"? How can humans truly have a choice to become saved if God decided who would be saved from the dawn of time? Doesnt make any sense huh?

For so many years I looked at things, as many Christians do. Like humanity is a huge mob of hampsters that God bought one day, and sat down in a cage and said "now be good little pets!". He didnt give them shots so they all got rabies and he knew this, but he hid the vaccination amoungst his appartment hoping all the hampsters would find it. But they immediatley started rioting and tearing up His house while he was gone at the store because they just wanted to be evil hampsters. And then God came home and he was like
"I TOLD YOU HAMPSTERS TO BE GOOD, BUT YOU DISOBEYED ME!" and then God had to shoot all the little hampsters with a shotgun except for a couple fearful good hamsters that found the cure, and so they hid in the corner.

But then I realized that God wasnt like that, and nor was life that black and white (nor were their hampsters, but beside the point). He was the mass orchestrator of it all, and he wasnt just going to shoot the majority of His holy hampsters that he loves and sold His son for!!! He may punish the naughty hampsters, but he has bigger things in store than dead hampsters that didnt choose to love and obey him, or find the cure in time.

Though some would argue
"well, he reveals himself to everyone and they have a choice to choose Him or not"

But is that really the case? Lets look at what Jesus said:

Matthew 11:27
27"All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him." (also look at Matthew 16:16-17)

So right here we are told that it is actually God that chooses to reveal himself to us. We may have a measure of free will to choose him once hes revealed himself to us...but without that revealing of Gods choosing there is simply no way for us to choose Him.

Another thing I would like to point out is its not really us that choose the circumstances we are born into, that ultimately shape every choice and road we take in life. God allows them for whatever reasons he feels best. So to say that a man who grows up in Muslim saturated culture his entire life, is expected by God to somehow drop all his beliefs at the name of Jesus is simply unrealistic. Is that beyond Gods power? Definitly not. But the point is, is that our attitudes and choices are based on the very things that God placed us in, and our selection of Him as Lord and savior is dependent on that...and even more so on Gods choosing to reveal himself to us.

With that said...I think its fair to say that God has only chose to reveal himself(to the degree that we can "choose" him) to a small percentage of humanity. So is God merely impartial to the rest of humanity? How can God "so love the world that he gave His only begotten Son" if he only chooses to reveal himself to a fraction of us in this life? Could the answer be that his love and revelation extend beyond the grave enough so that every human to ever exsist truly has a clear "choice" to accept him as is in our very design to be complete?

I think we have free will...the ability to choose...but its firmly guided, pre-planned and placed in the enviroment that God ordains. And since He does all he wills and desires, He will lead us all to our intended destiny eventually, even through death and judgement.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Stop praying and start listening

(*photo taken by Dennis Rassing, photoshoped by me, Eric Soto)

I felt like just keeping the topic a little lighter this week, in hopes I get more of you to discuss:

I've always found prayer to God a very important, and daily part of my life. Even before I was "saved" it was always just one of those things I did. I'd tend to pray for things that I "needed". Or at least thought that I did.
"God I need this girl, shes like the coolest girl ever, and shes freaking hot. Yeah. I just want to get to know her. Please God!"
Or sometimes(I think I still do this unintentionally) I bargain with God.
"God if you just please change this, and fix this, Ill be a better christian and read my bible way more...". I think a lot of people bargain with God, even people that don't believe in Him.

As time goes on though, I wonder what the purpose of prayer actually is? I think most people (including me) look at praying as "opening Gods blessings on us" as if hes a cosmic vending machine filled with divine goodies. Maybe even a lovable bearded pinata in the sky that if we hit with our Bibles enough times he'll dispense some candies entitled "Gods sweet strength" so that we can make it through the day. Then when God "doesn't answer prayer" we say something like-
"Well it just wasn't Gods will, he has a better plan".

But wait...if he has a "better" plan, wouldn't he just do it regardless of what we pray, if we pray anything at all? Does God need human permission or persuasion to act within the best interests of His Almighty purpose? Consider the following verses...

Job 23:13
"But he stands alone, and who can oppose him?
He does whatever He pleases.

Ephesians 1:11
11"In him we were also chosen,a]">[a] having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will,"

I tried talking about this with someone today and he said-
"[God] has a plan for everyone, but we are free souls to make our decisions ourselves. If you know the Bible, you line your prayers up with Scripture, and you'll be praying God's will."

And I can agree with this in part...our hearts should and technically will be more aligned to God and His "will" and purposes as time goes on so well pray for the "right" things. The assumption this guy is making though is that even though God has a purpose, we can just stray away from the purpose by not praying the right things into effect. Meanwhile God is up in the clouds with his hands over His head like
But is God thrwarted that easily? Does he not expect us to do what we do thousands of years before we even do it? As the verses above show(and there are many many more) God has a purpose, a will, a desire...and he is seeking to do exactly that and WILL. God rigged the election long ago, so this whole idea of "free will"(a can of worms we can talk about later lol) is kind of a joke in regards to thinking that whatever we say will encourage God to do something within his will, as if he wasn't planning on it anyway.

Whats honestly the point in that?

I'm certainly not saying prayer isn't a good thing, I think prayer has always been important throughout the Bible...and it was obviously important to Jesus enough to give us the "Lords Prayer".

But I'm beginning to look at prayer as less of a method by which we obtain Gods purpose/gifts and more as just a key communication of the heart. I mean I can lay down at night and say all these different things about "God help me, why wont you help me, give me this give me that" but Ive begun to realize how selfish and pointless that is. Maybe by praying for that "new Dodge Viper" or that "hot christian chick" God will show us that we really don't need them, and instead show us what we really need and how to go about that.

So I guess in conclusion, I think the purpose of prayer is not to try to "help along Gods will" but more about coming to grips with God in communication about what IS on OUR hearts. And just letting God know(as if he already doesn't) that we want HIS will to be done and in that do a lot less talking and a lot more listening to what Gods heart is...rather than just praying for what we think is/should be Gods Will. We cant truly "alter" Gods will...I would beg we really cant even stray from it(again, thats for another time). He knows what His purpose for everything is and I don't think He's just waiting around for us to pray it into effect.

As always, would love to hear your thoughts. :)