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.