Conversations with a young medical student friend of mine in the New England Area. We have spoken several times over the past several years, and corresponded some, so there is a good bit of history between us.
Loose Table of Topics (but the rambling is legendary...):
Intro & Discouragement issues
Emotionally disturbing passages (“I never knew you”, “bring my enemies and slay in front of me”, Wicked Tenants, Moral Governance)
Disparity between God's ethics and ours: Does “Higher” mean “alien”?
Emotional disturbing passages revisited (“I never knew you—depart from me”)
Heaven & Hell—the only two options for these people?
Emotional disturbing passages revisited (“slay my enemies before me”)
Further Emotional issues about eternal destiny of the evil
Are Passages “Guilty until proven innocent?”--the issue of approach and expectation
List of Emotionally Embarrassing Passages (Paul/women, Paul's contempt for humans, NT disgust toward unbelievers, punitive view of doubt, Jesus' contempt for people)
How important is Scripture to my theology?
Emotional problems with the “silence” of God, and evidence from ex-Christians
More Problem Passages and Problems with Jesus' tone of voice
Approaching Difficult Passages (Guilty until Innocent?) with the method of the Problem of Evil
[His comments in BLUE]
Hey, Glenn. I hope this finds you doing well. I thought I'd update you. You know I don't hold you responsible for making this make sense in any way. I'm just grateful as always for your kind ear listening to what must seem to you like a bottomless pit of issues. I hope some day we'll be able to talk and have it not be about a crisis of mine, but I thank you for hanging in.
My friend and I called off our negotiations last night when it became - it seemed to us, at least - clear we weren't getting anywhere. She couldn't see, and I couldn't defend to her, how a relationship with Christ could add anything to a life already as wonderful as she could imagine even in theory, being full of beautiful relationships with other people and of the wonders of the natural world. And the claim that "it's important because it's true" didn't impress her because she felt philosophically that history is incomplete and can't demonstrate the truth of something like the resurrection. I don't think I can fault her reasoning given her premises; I can't imagine what, besides the direct touch of God, could give her good reason to doubt the premises. So we talked about how sorry we were, and comforted each other for a while, and said good night.
I'm deeply relieved that we managed to keep the whole thing pure and that we didn't drag it out. I don't really know what to with myself now. I have about twenty books checked out right now on worldviews, creation myths and other things, spouting twenty different opinions that all have elements of truth in them, and I am less and less optimistic about my ability to 'look at all the relevant evidence and come to the most likely conclusion' the way you somehow manage to. That seems to require knowing everything about everything and having a mind not poisoned by six years' self-manipulation and the desperate hopes and fears of the present. When will I have read enough books? In the book of John, Jesus asked people to believe in him based on the miracles, the fulfilled prophecies, and the witness of His character. We can't see the miracles, I agree Isaiah 53 is pretty strong, and while there are beautiful things in His character, He made statements and threats about hell that are heartbreaking. (and I know your replies to my replies to your replies, but...)
It's not that I really think the witness of the gospels is weak...clearly something very strange happened in 1st-century Palestine...but i am coming to resent their trapping me in a system that, partly because of their own gut-ripping 'minority data', has taken me in six years from being a normal sinner to being manic-depressive, pessimistic, secretive, incapable of judging my own honesty, and increasingly unstable. When this girl and I began these talks, I told God that I knew it was me getting myself into this and I wouldn't be bitter at Him if it didn't work out. Easier said than done, of course, but there is also the fact that this is just the latest in the chain of things that could have been a witness of His glory but just fizzled. If the evidence is strong enough that I can't simply walk away, but the work in my life is dark enough that I have almost no hope for ever having a life of joy in Christ, what hope do I have in this life except to die and then have everything explained to me? (I'm being melodramatic but not suicidal.) The things that keep me from walking away right now are the people (Christian and nonChristian) that I think it would betray (good God, I was the XYZ Christian med/dental ass'n president! what right do I have, when I'm clearly not seeing the gospel right, to make them doubt it?), the threat of hell, and the confidence that even if I never get it right, at least right now I'm getting it wrong.
Given the truth of the faith, I almost wonder if God in His love wouldn't rather I did walk away for a decade or so, self-contradictory as that is. But to what? The best thing I have in life right now is this girl's love, and what kind of weird spiritual exploitation and treachery to her would it be, to walk off into her arms not knowing if I was confirming her forever in opposition to the gospel ('and look what my husband went through because of that crap!') What kind of responsibilities to whom do I have in such a situation?
Hey, Glenn. I hope this finds you doing well.
[doing okay, i guess...a little fragmented from all my wonderful visitors...my oldest daughter and my son derek, are here with me for another couple of days. but at least i dont have to travel this next week...but overall, more or less okay...some challenges, but nothing big enough to 'glory in' yet (smile)...]
I thought I'd update you. You know I don't hold you responsible for making this make sense in any way. I'm just grateful as always for your kind ear listening to what must seem to you like a bottomless pit of issues. I hope some day we'll be able to talk and have it not be about a crisis of mine, but I thank you for hanging in.
[i have every confidence that we will get there... my experience has been that the "depth of distress" is directly proportional to (a) the depth of character /wisdom grown thereby; and (b) the height of appreciation grown when the 'deliverance' is realized, is seen, and is understood in the awesomeness of the design/timing...
My friend and I called off our negotiations last night when it became - it seemed to us, at least - clear we weren't getting anywhere. She couldn't see, and I couldn't defend to her, how a relationship with Christ could add anything to a life already as wonderful as she could imagine even in theory, being full of beautiful relationships with other people and of the wonders of the natural world.
[hmmm...much could be said here, especially in the areas of 'soma' self-delusion, and accounting for the origin of those wonders, and for a clear understanding of the depth of human treachery, exploitation, callousness, and self-interest in human history...but dont get me started...sigh...but let's leave this for now...]
And the claim that "it's important because it's true" didn't impress her because she felt philosophically that history is incomplete and can't demonstrate the truth of something like the resurrection. I don't think I can fault her reasoning given her premises; I can't imagine what, besides the direct touch of God, could give her good reason to doubt the premises.
[again, much to discuss here later...human history ALONE has been enough to drive people to cry out for God, if only for the others in one's life...but anyway....]
So we talked about how sorry we were, and comforted each other for a while, and said good night. I'm deeply relieved that we managed to keep the whole thing pure and that we didn't drag it out.
[that is amazing! and i truly honor you for that, friend! what a grace-gift in itself...to BOTH of you]
I don't really know what to with myself now. I have about twenty books checked out right now on worldviews, creation myths and other things, spouting twenty different opinions that all have elements of truth in them, and I am less and less optimistic about my ability to 'look at all the relevant evidence and come to the most likely conclusion' the way you somehow manage to.
[actually, i dont think that level of effort is truly required...its more of finding a couple of non-negotiables in history and finding ways to fit the OTHER side into views 'configured' by those...
[if the Cross/Tomb thing really occurred--and one is convinced that that is the most likely explanation for the data from the early church history--then this event radically constrains the interpretation of other more-ambiguous phenomena (e.g. introspection, NDE's, evidence for reincarnation, creation account commonalities, etc).
[in theory construction, one always weights each data point on the basis of its clarity, force, and relative 'stubbornness to reinterpretation'...facts always reside in a landscape, with relative proportions...
That seems to require knowing everything about everything and having a mind not poisoned by six years' self-manipulation and the desperate hopes and fears of the present.
[take it from an EXPERT (maybe even world class) self-manipulator: Self-manipulation never occurs in a vacuum, in the life of a believer...the Spirit, providence, the Word, and the ever-developing conscience 'conspire' against such a filibuster...(smile)... i have discovered, personally, that my rationalization/maniplx efforts have gotten more effective over time (sad grin), but SO HAS my ability to detect it, discount it, (sometimes preclude it), and bemoan it... the swirl of 'mental processes' is another of those HUGELY non-monolithic things...
When will I have read enough books? In the book of John, Jesus asked people to believe in him based on the miracles, the fulfilled prophecies, and the witness of His character. We can't see the miracles, I agree Isaiah 53 is pretty strong, and while there are beautiful things in His character, He made statements and threats about hell that are heartbreaking. (and I know your replies to my replies to your replies, but...)
[okay, I'll be quiet for a while now...(okay, 'quite period over'...grin) but remember, we don't need a rash of identical miracles every generation--we just need adequate reason to believe the honest-heart stories of those original witnesses...just like we do in every other area of life...its supposed to be easy enough for a little child to do this...its only the experience of deceit and subterfuge that makes one more 'cautious' about all this...
It's not that I really think the witness of the gospels is weak...clearly something very strange happened in 1st-century Palestine...but i am coming to resent their trapping me in a system that, partly because of their own gut-ripping 'minority data',
[sorry, but i don't understand the phrase 'minority data' there--is this referring to (a) areas we have very little data about; or (b) teachings around social minorities (e.g., women, poor, slaves, etc); or (c) something else...?]
has taken me in six years from being a normal sinner to being manic-depressive, pessimistic, secretive, incapable of judging my own honesty, and increasingly unstable. When this girl and I began these talks, I told God that I knew it was me getting myself into this and I wouldn't be bitter at Him if it didn't work out. Easier said than done, of course,
[i must say i had a small chuckle at this--i have been there SO MANY TIMES myself... my altruistic and noble theories were great for singing and dancing with, but hard to wake up with in the morning... i am still having to struggle with this LATI thing--and I don't know how long it will take for that sore spot to melt...
[and i do/did the same thing about many 'mistakes' in my past... when God stops me from something, i complain about THAT--but, when He lets me go ahead with something, though (generally via self-manipulation), then I complain 'why didn't you stop me, if you really are guiding/protecting me?!'...God cannot win this with me, obviously...
but there is also the fact that this is just the latest in the chain of things that could have been a witness of His glory but just fizzled.
[same here, of course... when i made a similar complaint to a pastor years ago, he told me my expectations were unrealistically too high...big league baseball players are judged to be HUGELY successful with batting averages of only .300 ]that's 3 hits (not even home runs) out of 10 at-batts].
[not that this helps any when i strike out, of course...smile]
If the evidence is strong enough that I can't simply walk away, but the work in my life is dark enough that I have almost no hope for ever having a life of joy in Christ, what hope do I have in this life except to die and then have everything explained to me? (I'm being melodramatic but not suicidal.)
[i understand this last remark--and it 'takes one to know one' of course...(big grin)]
The things that keep me from walking away right now are the people (Christian and nonChristian) that I think it would betray (good God, I was the XYZ Christian med/dental ass'n president! what right do I have, when I'm clearly not seeing the gospel right, to make them doubt it?), the threat of hell, and the confidence that even if I never get it right, at least right now I'm getting it wrong.
[not to in anyway minimize the anguish of your heart right now friend, but i have to point out that this has been a frequent and recurring experience in my life for 30 years... some events which pushed me to your point were more severe than others [E.g., my giving away all my Christian books to my pastor, upon my divorce. I told him over lunch that though i was as convinced of the truth of the gospel and the Word as i was of my own existence, it was VERY CLEAR TO ME that i had NO IDEA how it was supposed to be applied, to work, to be taught...God had not answered my anguished, heart-felt, incessant prayer for healing in the marriage... what as i ever going to say to people about the 'promises of God'?! although my experience of Christ was very, very deep at the time, the frustration/hopelessness/befuddlement of the situation was so overwhelming... i couldn't deny what i was convinced of was true, but i couldn't TEACH or ShARE or PROCLAIM it with anything more certain than "its absolutely true historically, but i cannot fathom how its supposed to impact your life"!!! (I still actually have issues in the application area--its often glossed over in evangelicalism, and i have been pondering this in my post-Slogan decades...]
[i had settled to simply 'hide' from the Christian groups...not be an ex-Tian, but simply not to 'engage' in the dialogue, until i got further along somehow...
Given the truth of the faith, I almost wonder if God in His love wouldn't rather I did walk away for a decade or so, self-contradictory as that is. But to what?
[one rule of thumb i use in my personal experience: when it gets this confusing, this bad, this dark, i work through an argument that runs like this:
1. Jesus said his burden was light and that i would find rest for my soul by carrying it
2. i am currently experiencing a HEAVY burden and am finding massive anti-rest;
3. ergo, i am carrying an altogether different load than that of Jesus...
[So, i try to slow down, drop some of the tasks/quests i am currently 'working on', and try to focus more on the celebratory, meditative, and social outreach tasks--'learn of me' it said in that passage.
[So, its not at all implausible that God wants you to walk away from SOMETHING, but i doubt that means walking away from the best source of healing and renewal...my 'somethings' are generally self-appointed 'missions' to do something, to be something, and assuming more 'Shepard role' than 'sheep role' (smile)... i actually have been doing better in this area the last two years--when i start feeling 'burdened' or heavy, i go back to the 'sheep' metaphor...and remind the Shepherd that i will (temporarily) "not concern myself with matters too high for me" or some-such...i make a volitional commitment to trust-without-much-understanding (i visualize the little sheep looking up at Jesus, with the same relative level of non-comprehension), banking on the 'clear' data of His love manifested at the Cross...THAT data point is the strongest, most stubborn fact i can find in religious history...
[and plenty of people know to 'walk away' to years of brooding, to quiet reflection, to 'Arabia', to monasteries, to caves of meditation, etc...to withdraw a little from the flurry (whether physical or not is not the issue). But walking away from 'holding the Rock up' makes perfect sense, at a minimum...
The best thing I have in life right now is this girl's love, and what kind of weird spiritual exploitation and treachery to her would it be, to walk off into her arms not knowing if I was confirming her forever in opposition to the gospel ('and look what my husband went through because of that crap!') What kind of responsibilities to whom do I have in such a situation?
[your insight here is amazing, friend...very incisive...you are absolutely right: it would be almost anti-love or anti-friendship to do such a thing...
[but i have to add again something from my experience have 'tried' such relationships, and discovered the pain associated with sharing a life/relationship with someone who could not share the most important thing of your life with you! Even in those days, my relationship with Jesus was my life--my first experience of peace, acceptance, and welcome I found in Him... i was still a little young in the faith, and without the extended audit trial of His grace i have now, but what i wanted to talk about MOST were the things of Jesus, His work in my life, and my wishes/hopes/plans to serve Him in love. When my HIGHEST, most CORE aspect of my life was something my companion had NO APPRECIATION FOR, and merely 'condescendingly listened to me' about, it was a corrosive load i would not wish on anyone...
I'm sorry, Glenn. I feel like I must be a disappointment of some size to you
[hardly, my friend--its just that your experience is so 'familiar to me'..."Ralph-ogeny recapitulates Glenn-ogeny"...smile... and, in a bizarre way, that actually encourages me...i have lived through similar periods of abject despondence and frustration (ESPECIALLY epistemic despair), and will yet again, but somehow He brought me through to where i am today...my frustration is still a 'visitor', but he comes less and less frequently...(although after a great big high-stress project, (read: "norepinephrine to minus 25" levels), it moves into my home for several days...(self-sneer)...so, i have an odd 'audit trail' (from my experience) that suggests that our wise and gentle Jesus will do the same for you...
but I'm not sure what I could be doing differently.
[that's the frustration of it all--since it is a failure of execution, and we THOUGHT the execution was 'deduced exclusively' from the theology, we are stuck! without a different way to draw life-implications from the NT stories, our theology, etc, we seem paralyzed.
I have felt the comfort of God sometimes in the past, and I won't say I was hallucinating. But it hasn't been enough to make me expect it confidently
[He doesn't let us 'use' personal experiences like those as a major buttress for our faith, until such buttressing is unnecessary. Our faith is grounded (at first) in our sense of truth, and in our sense that the witnesses to Christ are 'reliable enough' to trust, in their portrayal of His heart, His work, His offer of help/grace, and His desire/design for our peace of heart and peace of mind. Later, after we are sufficiently trapped by the avalanche of personal data, personal 'non-numinous' experience, and answered prayer, these moments of special comfort are seen as gifts and glimpses of the New Future.
[But our expectation of comfort has to recognize also the expectation of grief (over loss of a dream) and the expectation of the emotional results of confusion. Comfort MIGHT come, but INSIGHT certainly will. Some wisdom carries a memory of pain, instead of a memory of pleasure...but they are both wisdom and depth and both lead to peacefulness.
and I certainly don't feel it now. I don't know whether to walk away and I don't know what to do with my daily life if I don't, and I don't expect you to have any answers for me. I'm so sorry. This is not what I ever wanted.
[i know you don't expect any answers from me (chuckle), but that didn't stop me for offering my warmest affection as your friend, did it? (Smile)... my verbiage above is probably useless, but you MIGHT be helped by knowing how frequent, how intense, how demoralizing my OWN (similar) experiences have been...i learned the hard way that it is the silent griever, sitting beside you in silence and in tears on the Mourner's Bench with you that made the difference--it was NOT the people who tried to 'explain' her death, or those who exhorted me to 'trust the Lord', or those who offered practical advice...it was the co-sufferers with me that were the truest manifestation of the comfort of God to me...
[of course, i have done here ALL THREE of the 'useless' approaches I mention above (embarrassed smile)--in my 'just wanting to help'--but you KNOW the motivation is a God-given love (remember, the love between non-kinship, not-in-the-same-community, true-believers was to be the REAL PROOF of the presence of God--Romans 5.5), and you KNOW that i don't expect this stuff to 'work' for you...so, I'll shut up now and stand with you wordlessly in the Slough of Despond...
He wrote back:
I'd planned to talk with my Sunday-school teacher (neat guy - a messianic Jew, an organic chemistry prof at XYZ, and definitely a hard-liner but/therefore he won't 'spare my feelings'.). And one of my college fellowship leaders (a really gentle guy,) who might could in turn put me in touch with some of the big guns he knows at XYZ Seminary. I might as well try to do this right. I guess I'm seeking out the people whose positions I'm afraid of.
You know I'm always delighted above all to hear what you have to say, if you wanted to write something. It's just that I like to use you as a last resort :) and it's not fair or needful to bring you things all the time that i CAN handle elsewhere, or before I've done my best alone.
The general issue I'm trying to deal with is the question of what TYPE of evidence trumps the others...is it historical, as you suggest (though like you said, even that is ultimately based on character judgments), or is it internal (conscience) or is it experiential? If someone does miracles that I witness, commands me to hate my neighbor, and assures me that in the end it's all for good, am I 'obligated' to weight the miracles (i can't deny that they happened!) and say my conscience must be misdirected for lack of info?
More realistically, if someone demonstrates amazing compassion in some cases but troubling actions in others, and then tells me the fundamental dichotomy in life is between those who believe and those who don't, not between those who love and those who don't (OR leaves the issue unclear, teaching apparently different things in different places), and if the world seems to me to be a place that needs love much more than it needs evangelism, but I BELIEVE this person worked miracles...where does that net out? How can it be right that the core moral issue in a man's life is whether he can manage to see a perfect God in a confusing scripture, rather than whether serves the good he knows? even if it's not a requirement for basic kingdom membership, how can it be worthy of so much blood and suffering? let alone of Ralph having to restrict his social life!
so, that's what I'm trying to work on, but as above, i can see how far I can take it before asking you to weigh in yet again. :)
Anyway, I'll surely look forward to whatever you write/post. I hope your week on the road has been a good one. thanks for everything.
okay, I'll wait (chuckle)--too many questions packed into this one (LOL)...
one comment tho: the "does miracles, teaches hate" scenario reminded me of the issue of a false miracle worker in the OT. If someone DID miracles but CONTRADICTED the general core of the Lord's instructions/torah for community health/growth/etc, the miracles were actually accorded 'opposite' weight (evidence of malignance). (maybe like Paul's portrayal of the 'beautiful ministers of Satan' in 2 Cor).
anyway, thanks for the update and I am DYING to see how well the more 'traditional' Christian infrastructure might work in questions like these. [I have way too many tank readers who have experienced 'deep marginalization' at the hands of traditional Christian leadership (albeit not as educated as those in YOUR list), in cases in which honest questions of doubt, evidence, tradeoffs, etc were made 'public'...I will certainly be praying for you in THAT area!]
traveling weeks are always tuff (and i travel virtually every week), but i have a week (maybe even 2!) at home next month. I am hoping to get some stuff done (for the Tank and for the BluesPipeline--which i HOPE will eventually fund LATI). Anyway, enough blathering for now...
as a living consequence of grace in history,
[We had a couple of discussions over the phone, about problem passages, about trusting God's goodness, etc...I 'ruminated' on those and wrote this later:
had to write some stuff down on this...been buzzzzzzing in my head for about 24 hours now...
(Random assortment, hastily written, of course)
1. it dawned on me after (one of) our visits last week that i really HAVENT had an on-going agony experience. That most of the really soul-tearing questions (cognitive questions, that is--not life experiences per se) came up in the 93-97 time frame. [I wanted to tell you this so you didn't think you have a LIFETIME of such agony ahead of you--you mentioned that last week, so i wanted to at least ENCOURAGE YOU that its not necessarily gonna be that way--smile.] But once the audit trail of calming-resolutions was behind me, then the 'surface presentation' of each succeeding question didn't create the same level of concern. The audit trail of peace-engendering resolutions provides/d me with a reasonable warrant for trusting God (i.e., assuming a resolution) in subsequent questions. Of course, i HAVE this audit trail, and you do NOT at this stage of the journey. For you, your assessment of God's goodness (and interest in progressive revelation of that goodness to you) has yet to reach some 'critical mass' of evidence in FAVOR OF a 'favorable judgment'. You see SOME data in scripture in support of His goodness (e.g., the Cross, the moral injunctions given to us, the egalitarian ethos of the Covenant community), but you see other data in scripture as being either contradictory to that, or even supplanting of that.
2. i also noticed that some of the problem passages which deeply troubled you, I had no real negative emotional response to. I can remember having some earlier, but at this point even the stronger/harsher statements make a good deal of sense to me.
There were two or three examples that I keep thinking about, two of which were obvious points of EXTREME heart-rending anxiety for you. The two that stood out in my mind were the (a) "I never knew you"; and (b) "bring those enemies that didn't want me to rule over them and slay them before my eyes.".
The first of these (a) I actually have NEVER had a problem with, due to my association of this passage with [some of] the miracle-claiming, money-bilking, gullible-exploiting, unscrupulous TV 'healers'. They do all this stuff 'in the name of the Lord', and--like the magicians and 'for hire' exorcists at the time of Jesus--prey upon the trusting. They disgrace the name of Jesus, they make it IMPOSSIBLE for us to claim to be followers of the Lord without some raised eyebrows (in many circles), and they GREATLY hinder the quiet work of God to the needy of heart. So, the values implicit in Jesus' judgment of them I fully support. [One should also note that this was NOT the uniform judgment of Jesus/God/Bible on such folks. Jesus told the disciples once not to stop someone like that, because they at least wouldn't BLASPHEME Jesus QUICKLY after it! (Mark 9.39).]
I can remember having a problem with the second one of these (b) back in Grad School, but hadn't thought more about it until a couple of years ago when I started studying moral governance and community peace. In the scripture--and this was the uniform message of especially the Old Testament--the rule of God was one in which Shalom was pervasive. All nations were at peace, and all individuals within a community were constructive. There might have been an occasional calamity or misfortune, but the community would NOT experience treachery from other community members and would not experience exploitation by community leaders. It would be a place in which it was SAFE TO TRUST AGAIN. This was the reign of God. If someone decided on a higher self-evaluation (leading to elitism and/or greed and/or egotism), then the community and the leadership would patiently warn and try to educate such individual otherwise. If the person became intractable/incorrigible and stayed OVERTLY COMMITTED to anti-community values (i.e., self at the expense of others), then leadership had a moral governance responsibility to the 'trusting majority' to excise such a malignancy from the group. In some situations this would be expulsion/exile, but in others it might be capital punishment. But these were last resorts--the community always needed 'numbers' to survive/thrive, so correction, punishment, pedagogy, peer pressure, 'shame and guilt--in short everything WE USE to try to enforce community cooperation and alignment--was used FIRST.
So, the target group of 'those who don't want Me to rule over them' LOOKS TO ME (now) like a group that NEEDS isolation/elimination (in some form) from the community-of-those-who-seek-good-for-all. So, to me at least, this makes sense--when seen in the context of the CHARACTER of the rule of God.
3. I think a decent example of how the community (and God) tries to 'forbear' and 'forestall' judgment as long as it can, can even be seen in that same parable. The Wicked Tenants are given opportunity after opportunity to 'get with the program'--which would have secured their position of authority much better than their own method(!)--before judgment fell. And, interestingly, that position of privilege would have been assumed by someone else--God was willing to 'try again' with OTHER tenants, to share the benefits of the vineyard.
4. This kind of thinking always leads me back to one fundamental difference between us and God. Only HE has the responsibility for moral governance (so far). We are enjoined--at an individual level--to forgive (a) as long as it is requested; and (b) even proactively, in hopes of 'inciting' a change of perspective (e.g., 'coals upon their head'). We are enjoined--on an individual level--to 'judge nothing before the time'. Yet, once we begin to become a 'community--as in the church--the leadership IS SUPPOSED to make moral governance type of judgments and take appropriately entailed actions. The leadership is SUPPOSED to exile (excommunicate) professing believers that have affairs with step-mothers (for example). They are supposed to 'test' would-be leaders, and decide on their maturity before ordaining them. They are supposed to 'shame' busybodies, meddlers, and are NOT supposed to support 'freeloaders'. Community health requires some level of judgment, according to scripture, human experience, and common sense.
5. This moral governance issue is largely a 'future' one for God, and this is reflected in the prophetic nature of much of this biblical material. In the present, of course, God 'puts up with' all kinds of failure, treachery, abuse--trying to balance out 'time for reform' for the perp, and the need to protect the innocent. The fact that patience generally seems to win over protection creates PART OF the problem with the 'non-vacuous contrast': there IS NO KIND of in-time evil that has not happened to AT LEAST ONE of His loved ones. Does that mean that ANY state of affairs (or configuration of history) is COMPATIBLE with God's love/character? Absolutely not. If my 'more good than bad' gutripper defense is correct, then there are MANY, MANY 'configurations' of human experience and human history which WOULD BE incompatible with God--but in any particular 5 minutes of evil, this judgment is simply impossible to make with even a taint of 'statistical credibility'. Those who platitude at you (hey, i like that as a verb--!) about the 'Gods ways are higher than our ways' or other such 'inscrutability defenses' are correct ONLY in the 'inscrutability' area, and NOT in the 'different ways' area.
6. In other words, if God's 'moral' judgments are higher ONLY IN COMPLEXITY and NOT in the moral RULES themselves, then I can breathe easier. If i have reason to believe that--given access to all the data and given great integrity of ethics personally and given greater consistently of reason-I WOULD HAVE MADE THE SAME CHOICE (without somehow 'adding new morals into the rules'), this is something I can live with. But i would have a problem if, instead, God's judgment was based on additional-rules-that-CONTRADICT-my-rules, and that His ethical system is 'higher' in the sense of 'different' (and therefore incompatible with mine). In that case the problem would be much more difficult.
7. The sorta-scary scenario is that we are likely going to be placed in that kind of judgment role. The passage that says 'we will judge angels', along with the numerous passages in which humans testify against humans at the Last Judgment, indicates that some level of internal-ethics-external-manifestation will have been completed at the Eschaton. The judgment by words and works will be--in the presence of those who did/lived otherwise--IDENTICAL with a judgment of heart and head. Even we epistemically-challenged, mixed-nature, befuddled creatures will be able to see with fully-purified hearts of PERFECT Love, perfect grace, and perfect knowledge of what MUST BE EXCLUDED from the New Community of Peace and Trust. (The 'wicked' cannot enter the New Jerusalem of Revelation--the introduction of treachery, self-interest, apathy, etc cannot be allowed then--the world and God endured such viral activity since the Garden. And some of us long for the "New Heavens and the New Earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness"--just so we can relax and trust FULLY our neighbor, our wives, our leaders again...
8. So, as long as i have reason to believe that the principles/ethical rules God will apply when He actually 'follows through on His threats' in the judgment prophecies and oracles, are EXACTLY THE SAME AS mine (or at least my better, non-glenn-favoring ones--smile), then I have plenty (if not 'every') reason to relax and not question His moral goodness. So, YOUR study task (i would think) would be to examine those judgment passages--at least those which look like moral governance ones-- which bother you the MOST (start with those), and dig in to see if the criteria used in judgment are somehow inconsistent with ANY criteria which YOU would consider "fair, grace-ful, but community-valuing".
9. One more comment before I try to state your question as precisely as I can: I have noticed, going back over some of the other non-governance looking parables, that there seems to be data in those which suggest that the 'harsh treatment' of some individual/group in it IS NO WAY 'normal' or 'business as usual'. I realized that in the case of the Wedding Garments, that the Banquet Hall was already FULL of people from the 'highways/hedges' who DID accept the offered/provided wedding garment. This one guy's actions were therefore NOT representative of what 'generally' happened. It was pedagogy--of course--but that parable suggested that if one didn't get in, it was their own WILFUL fault--given that everybody else had no problem with accepting the clothes, and given that the guy didn't even advance the 'i didn't know i HAD to do this' excuse. As I reflected on the 7 Virgins story, i realized a similar thing--there were 7 WISE VIRGINS who knew exactly what to do. It wasn't a matter of being 'judged for being ignorant of the Way' (or of 'not hearing the instructions/message')--they just chose not to 'go their own way'--contrary to the wisdom and advice of the 7 Wise Virgins. [I think i want to go through the others and see if there are also always 'foils' in them as well. In Dives and Lazarus, we obviously have Dives. In the two Foundations we have both, etc. But it might not always be the case, but it MIGHT generally be the case in the 'troubling one'...worth a check.]
10. One of the challenges in these heart-renders, i have noticed, is the amount of 'vagueness' that sometimes is hiding in there. At least, i have noticed them in MY struggles/questions. When I asked you, for example, what EXACTLY do you think Jesus SHOULD HAVE SAID/DONE in that situation, that's the kind of thing i am getting at. What exactly SHOULD GOD do with the intractably treacherous/divisive at the creation of the New Community/Universe? Forcibly 'convert' them? Annihilate them? Consign them to their own 'universe' (i.e., 'hell')? Turn them into butterflies? What exactly SHOULD a social prophet say about corrupt leadership? What 'threat' can a social prophet make to hypocritical leaders, operating under the guise of religious authority? What SPECIFIC moral injunctions upon us--ordered by God--is/are He guilty of breaking/violating/disobeying HIMSELF? Where SPECIFICALLY is the contradiction between the 'What He said to do' versus 'what HE does HIMSELF'? [Apart from the obvious ones that are related to moral governance--"you don't judge, but I will have to"--although we DO have to do smaller versions of those now, and maybe 'fuller versions' of that in the future ourselves.]
11. So, i though this morning about how i would word your question/problem PRECISELY (with also an eye upon possibly trying to use it on the Tank), and here's where the thinking process went:
a. The ethical system enjoined upon humans by the God of the Judeo-Christian Bible is overwhelmingly good (by human moral standards). Some might argue it's too strict, and some might argue that it's too loose, but it has become the foundation of the entire 'social compassion' and benevolence movements of the Western world. Relief agencies, care for the poor, and even education are direct results of the CLEAR ethics of the bible. [Abuses by the leadership notwithstanding--a separate problem]
b. If God were judged on the basis of His overt revelation and statements as to what was good (e.g, beauty, trust, generosity, compassion), what He cared about (e.g., the poor, the hurting, the disadvantaged, the marginalized, the honest), and what He intends to reward (in the way of behavior and attitudes), God would be judged to be a good-hearted God.
c. But...there are many apparent-to-you passages (i.e. 'critical mass') which portray God as either (1) acting in overt and clear disregard to these revealed ethics--reflecting other, 'unknown' rules--; or (2) acting in overt and clear contradiction to these revealed ethics.
d. If we accept the truthfulness of (c), then one of the following entails:
1. God's morality is so different than ours as to be ALIEN. It's not 'good' or 'bad'--its just 'other' [or 'both', as in Eastern, Dualistic religions]. But this means that we cannot actually use the term 'good' of God, and this subverts all passages in which we are told to emulate God's heart (e.g. "forgive one another from the heart, as God has forgiven you in Christ" , "be imitators of God..and walk in love"). This might also subvert the view of the New Future as a place of 'total goodness'. [This also might render the Cross and aspects of the Word inexplicable, but this is a separate issue--how would we explain the 'surface texture' of Scripture under this theory, except by some appeal to schizoid behavior?]
2. God's morality is actually LOWER than ours. Somehow our morality has evolved BEYOND God's own (and expressed in the NT), and our superior morality can legitimately pronounce God to be inferior to us (in terms of compassion, love, fairness, grace, patience, etc). This is especially acute if God grows the Christian in sanctification in the direction of greater 'dissonance' between the two. [Could God actually DO such a thing? Can He lift us up higher than Himself, like a parent hopes and educates their kids to exceed them? This would, of course, be a very 'limited view' of deity, lower than even the Greeco-Roman gods.]
3. The whole system (and related theistic systems) must be a crock. The 'schizoid scripture' of Judeo-Christianity must be a product of purely humanistic forces, as the universe and order must be the product of 'disorderly forces' (an oxymoron, IMHO). We must be constructing 'good' ethics for us from some kind of evolutionary, DNA-based forces (a la socio-biology or the 'selfish gene'), and we must be projecting our bad desires (or our parents?) onto some god-figure [but why would we do this, except to exonerate ourselves like we do in psychological projection? not sure how to 'sell' this idea, actually...]
12. Now, assuming i have stated that fairly, here's an INITIAL assessment of that:
a. I find #3 above to be the least plausible of the three scenarios, actually. The something-from-nothing, the order-from-disorder, the life-from-nonlife, conscious-from-nonconscious barriers are just WAY TOO high to get across (IMO). I have thought about those for DECADES and just cannot find ANY evidence to support those 4 foundational building blocks, required for ANY basic positive atheism to work. and beyond that--accepting, rather, SOME kind of deity, explaining the texture of the New Testament is simply IMPOSSIBLE, if a historical core of the miracles and uniqueness and exalted claims of Jesus are not actually true. I just cannot find an alternate way to explain the surface data in that book, under an atheist/humanist/other perspective. The 'pat answers' given by some--fabrication, delusion, collusion, etc--have been shown in my studies to be less cohesive and plausible that the traditional understanding. Many, many more problems can be surfaced here.
b. # two is only slightly better--even given a HUGELY 'Open' view of God--it is difficult to 'comfortably' conceive of a metaphysical being so advanced as to be able to create a universe so filled with beauty, but who was also so limited in ethics (and aesthetics and ethics are related, IMO). I know that I can grow my kids to be ethically better than I by showing them my mistakes and saying 'learn from these', but that kind of argument certainly doesn't show up in Scripture! God never seems to suggest that we wants us to 'exceed Him' in moral development. He wants us to aspire to BE LIKE HIM, and to LOVE LIKE HE DOES, and to FORGIVE LIKE HE Does, but this scenario would almost require us to find such verbiage/disclosure in Holy Writ...and, on the contrary, we find the expectation that we will NOT be able to--and the provisions of forgiveness, reconciliation, etc are specifically architected to remedy our expected-failures in 'emulation'.
c. #1 is the one the 'higher ways than our ways' folks sometimes 'stumble into', I think. I KNOW this is the one I have personally fallen into more than once in my walk with God. Over the years I have come to know God's beautiful heart with increasing clarity (from Scripture and experience), but the number of times I have cried out "how could you POSSIBILY have let THAT happen, with a heart like YOURS?!" --in frustration and confusion--is 'considerable'...At first, this had an effect on me that I would guess is also part of your PRESENT perspective--that of pushing me toward a 'Wholly Other' view of God (as the only explanation). If God were a force or a cat or simply anything non-human, then it would explain this 'how could you...' experience a little. And those moments, for me, were so very very difficult.
13. let me explain that last point a bit. I have been a lone wolf all my life. Early/many experiences in my life have created a character in me that have never been able to depend completely on anyone (beyond a sliver). Everybody 'meant well', but I have experience various levels of betrayal at every turn of life (or at least those are the most vivid memories)...I found it difficult to 'trust God', but found His acceptance of me to be transforming. I somehow could see by the Cross, and by my 'favorite passages' ("Come onto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden"...because not allowing anyone to help you--because there was always a hidden agenda--makes one very, very tired...) that He had no agenda but giving me freedom, allowing me learn to trust Someone (and the freedom that gives--i am weeping as I write this, my young friend, over the experience of this grace), for letting Him share some of my load...such a One, i could trust...and the only friend, up to that point in my life, who had never hurt me...My whole subsequent life grew up around knowing Him, after He came looking for me (for ME! little ME!)...He is/was my whole life, the center of my conscious existence, my safe place, my sanctuary, my strength, my Friend...and when confronted with the temptation to conclude that "He's not really who I thought He was..." was agony beyond words...even writing this renders me wracking with great sobs at the thought..."alone again, naturally..."...
But this periodic agony was (a) not really related to specific scriptures [as in your case]; and (b) was ameliorated by 3 factors:
1. the experiences 'wrapped' around, and consequent to, said 'inscrutable' events were revelatory of His goodness. There was comfort. There was closure. There were side effects that WERE in keeping with my view of His heart; and
2. sometimes the experiences became explicable ("capable of being scruted"...smile), creating an ever-growing warrant to 'give Him the benefit of the doubt'.;
3. the increasing study of His character IN SCRIPTURE (on the Tough questions SPECIFICALLY) revealed a heart which would be likely to be MUCH MORE DISTURBED about the atrocity THAN my own heart would be. I probably (depending on the day and mood, of course) would have been 'smug', 'encouraged', and 'self-righteous' over a coming judgment on Moab-the-Bully, but God (the pronouncer and executor of said judgment) wept/lamented that they wouldn't be singing and dancing at the upcoming harvest festival...and i began more and more to appreciate the 'cardiac distance' in God between that "hated-by-His-heart permissive will" and the "passion-of-His-heart declared will"...and every day i am more and more thankful that i personally do not have His job--the responsibility of moral governance, of having to make judgment calls of how much 'God being patient with the wicked' can the community of 'little people like me' WITHSTAND/absorb, is one that makes my heart shudder when thinking about..."a Man of Sorrows, and acquainted with Grief...and it pained God in His heart that He had made man upon the earth"--what an understatement for the God of human history!
14. I seem to always end back up at the knowledge/belief that the continuity between His morality/heart and MY morality/heart is substantial, radical, and increasing. I cannot maintain the ALIEN position almost at all anymore, and for me, this warrants me toward 'inscrutable' but not "different" Ways. And actually, its only partially 'inscrutable' at that...
15. Now, I've been writing on this at least 4 hours and not sure i said much of relevance to your question...but to my own way of thinking (at least at THIS point of experience of God), i honestly am convinced that I have a warrant for rejecting the IMPLICATION of Premises C and D. I have a warrant for believing that the passages depicting divine duplicity MIGHT NOT ACTUALLY DO THAT. That they are somehow reflective of MY MORALITY (on a good day), and are somehow reflective of what a good-hearted person SHOULD DO in those situations (given cultural continuity, etc). I have enough data/experience and confidence in my understanding of select biblical passages/themes/events to BEGIN with denying the conclusion of the argument (i.e., Alien/Inferior/Crock), and then working backward to find the erroneous premise. But you might NOT have that extensive of an audit trail/'successful resolution experiences' available to you (yet), and so it might not be appropriate [or 'as appropriate'] for YOU to begin there. [Although it would perhaps be more appropriate to say rather "to what EXTENT your experience base/exegetical understanding so far supports a 'good hearted God' position...more of a spectral sizing statement.]
16. BTW, i don't have the SLIGHTEST problem anymore with trusting God with the 'fate of those who haven't heard'. After i wrote my piece on that years ago, and as i ponder more and more (a) the experience of Naaman/Elisha; (b) the solidarity/identification of God with the 'needy'; and (c) the theme of recompense to the 'victims' and the 'misled', i find WAY TOO MANY 'loopholes' for a gracious-hearted God to apply in individual cases throughout time and space...The Father has just too many 'justifications' to draw upon, in deciding where/when to apply the benefits of the Cross to the situations of those who never will get a human missionary in front of them...some of these thoughts are not original with me, of course, and many can be found in modern evangelical treatments of the subject.]
17. There are, of course, themes in Holy Writ which i still have to work through. The problem Habbakkuk had--"how can You use the more-evil (Assyrians) to punish the less-evil (Israel)?"--still puzzles me a little (although the principle of 'causal consequence' explains most of it. And this complex of punishing outbound-evil with inbound-evil shows up frequently. But its not an agony issue, because i can see the 'seeds of a resolution' in it. Related to this is the oddity where God has to get someone evil-in-heart to do something evil-in-history BEFORE He can remove them from the scene. Its like He has to defend expulsion from the community BEFORE some angelic group (or before Himself? or before when WE are in that judgment position?), and cannot act 'pre-emptively' (e.g., I know you are going to do something bad, and i will act/remove you BEFORE you do'--He doesn't seem to be able to do this, for reasons of justice?). Its almost like He's "self-restricted" to channeling the bad into some kind of 'at least SLIGHTLY contributory' direction--so ALL is not lost in such an act? Channeling the evil of Assyria to chastise Israel; channellings the evil of the Amorites to be able to get Israel a land; directing the betrayal of Judas into providing the Lamb of God for the sins of the world...? But these don't eat at me...and so i continue to pray for you, and hurt WITH you, friend...
Anyway, that's my blathering for the day...gotta get to work now...i hope SOME of this provides some additional data for you to work with in struggling through this...
(I'm too tired to even edit this--forgive me, and ask me if i typed something illegibly...as opposed to said something stupidly...smile),
He wrote back, and I responded:
okay...just back from Tampa (last night), i THOUGHT i was gonna be able to write/think some on the trip, but the prep work was too exhausting...
you have sent two of these since I last replied, and i haven't read them (except the note at the end of this about it being a 'scream'--so I'll set my expectations accordingly...smile) and i read the note at the end of the second--to see if it said SCREAM2, or something--to see if i needed a Flak Jacket for both (smile)...I'll try to get through one of these tonight (i still have to get some work done later, but this will be a closer-to-heart break from Wireless Technology Trends... sigh/smile)...and then the other tomorrow...
anyway, let's see "what lies below..." (smile):
To: Glenn Miller
You have poured and do pour so much time into me. Time’s the most precious resource in my life, and as far as I can tell it’s up there on the list in yours too, and I’m so touched by how you don’t even seem to count it…
[strictly speaking, every time i START to 'count it', I remember its not mine anyway...i gave it all to Him, thirty-odd years ago...in exchange for this life charged with meaning, authenticity, sweet-searching souls like you, moral depth only created in this Vale of Tears, joys so simply and so sublime, and a never-ending stream of comfort, challenge, and novelty...not a dull moment this walk of discipleship!
I will try not to waste it…but thank you….and thank you even more for not leaving me alone in this.
[there's at least THREE of us that I know involved in this...(sly smile)...]
[and i think i told the story about my first pastor, back in college, who told me to call him DAY OR NIGHT--anytime--with my bible questions...he was convinced that whatever he passed on to me, I would pass on to even more than that...In YOUR CASE, i suspect--from the sheer intensity of your struggle with this--that this might be a case like that...I know "most" believers do not have deep problems with some/many of the passages you mention (even good-hearted evangelical scholars who specialize in the words of Jesus), so I suspect that has a decidedly 'spiritual warfare' dimension to it for you... the height of agony will likely be linked to depth of character/empathy to those YOU will try to help in the future...
[and, also like the case of MY pastor, i recognize that MY 'answers' to you will not suffice, but rather that they will be components, directions, suggestions which you sift, sort, fuse, refine, etc into YOUR personal response to the Jesus of the Gospels and the God of the Bible...
Sometimes when thinking about this stuff, I think “Glenn went through all of this, and he had NO one,”
[but i CONSTANTLY wonder how much of that was self-induced...i didn't even THINK to ask for 'help'...I asked, begged, pleaded for ANSWERS and DELIVERANCE, but never for help...but that's another story for another time...]
and I think about the treacheries you’ve suffered (…and that’s all just the ones I know about) and don’t understand how you still function, much less love.
[sure you do...my experience of the love of Jesus, the Father, and the Spirit has overshadowed and even transformed my experiences of hurt, abandonment, betrayal, and failure...my "net" experience of life during the last 30+ years has been 'positive' (clearly)...i function (and my counselor asked me how i did it all those years ago, remember the story?) by spending 60-90 minutes each morning with my Lord...my rock, my strength, my solace, my life...and my hope for healing on the other side (yes!)...
This won’t be comprehensive but may save us some time when we talk, if you’re still able to.
I take your point about the “I never knew you” to the hucksters. I can agree that it DOES seem to refer to deliberate hypocrites, and that its point is “this is what I think of hypocrisy”. But there is also the content that these people are asking for admission to the kingdom, and he is expressing disgust and turning them away. You and I can theorize about heaven being such a thing that your own character’s an integral part of your ability to enter, and put the responsibility back on their shoulders – and really, intuitively, that DOES make sense to me - but in the parable itself Jesus portrays himself as capable of letting them enter and as refusing. I guess the question is less “why don’t they go to heaven?” as “why would He portray Himself as having that attitude toward them?”
[The context of this passage in Matthew 7 CLEARLY indicates that these folks were 'ferocious wolves', not even simple hucksters...look at the passage on either side of it:
MT 7:15 "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
"Not everyone who says to me, `Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' 23 Then I will tell them plainly, `I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'
"Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash."
[They knew his words, bear evil fruit, etc...nothing 'innocent' about these at all...
[And, if you compare the passage AFTER it in a Lukan parallel, you see that the reference is to the leadership--and that it is the simple, from the east and west who are admitted:
LK 13:27 "But he will reply, `I don't know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!'
LK 13:28 "There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. 29 People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. 30 Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last."
[SNIP: a passage about Herod the Fox]
LK 13:34 "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! 35 Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, `Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.' "
[Here it is the leadership of Jerusalem who is excluded, on the basis of 'fighting God'--God, under the image of a mother hen, wanted to gather all the 'little ones'--but the leadership stood in the way, and thwarted(?) God's outreach to the children...
[These leaders think they DESERVE the feast, on their own elitist terms, expecting God to bow to their 'majesty' and 'superiority'...They want to eat the treasures of the Feast (the "choicest of meats and the most aged of wines"--Is 25), without abiding by the foundational charter and character of the New Community. Privileges without responsibility; blessings without humility; community benefits without compromise...
[of COURSE they expect to get in! of COURSE they want the Feast blessings and not the outside darkness...but they want the seats of 'better-than-thou' honor, and want to be 'exalted' by those they look down on...they just don't belong in that world at all...
[COULD/DID Jesus REALLY have the option to let them in, though? You seem to assume He does, but I don't think so... at that point in the Eschaton, the righteous have suffered enough at the hands of wolves, they have borne wounds long enough from 'the problem of innocent suffering', and they have been subjugated, humiliated, shamed, abused, marginalized ENOUGH by these would-be-fellow-feasters! At some point, God HAS TO deliver the 'meek of the earth'--He has to say 'you have suffered enough--behold your reward'; He has to wipe every tear and preclude such tears in the future...I do NOT think God can exercise His incredible patience FOREVER--moral justice and His commitment to those who sought His protection, comfort, solace MUST EVENTUALLY exclude those sources of 'willful pain'...
[And, I suspect that overt lawless evil-seekers will/might PREFER the darkness to the Feast, but the self-righteous evil-doers will attempt to pollute even THAT beauty (as they did the beauty of the Law)...they want the Feast of the Lord, WITHOUT the 'reign of righteousness'...]
I agree that the concept of heaven as a community, where everyone influences everyone else, seems to ‘tie God’s hands’ a bit re who he can let in.
[oh, i guess i just said the same thing above...]
There seems to be Scriptural support for that too.
[tons and tons]
But how much sense does it REALLY make? Should we really think God has only two options for where he can put people, and in heaven he’d HAVE to give them complete access to the community, so He’s forced to send them to hell?
[Couple of points here:
[1. When we get into the geography/metaphysics of the 'eternal state' (or whatever), I have almost ZERO confidence in human ability to work in that space...we are TOTALLY dependent on 'outside information' on that one...and most of the disclosures about that state by God are stating in strong polar, dichotomies. Taken at face value, we DO end up with only heaven and hell...
[2. that being said, there are two OTHER themes of scripture that could lead one to believe that this harsh-dichotomy is in standard prophetic hyperbole: (a) the principle of judgment EXACTLY according to works; and (b) the notion of [at least SOME] death as cessation/annihilation. REAL 'faith' has an inevitable consequence of INTERNAL 'spiritual' response to moral situations...one might not act on the basis of compassion or moral outrage, but a believer will have at least a TINY impulse to do so..."deeds" (for God) are judged on that internal basis...Matt 25--the 'unknowing benefactors of Jesus'--are a good example.
['deeds' of course, as a basis of judgment, opens up a HUGE possible spectrum, and all the indications are that judgment IS on a spectrum--as I indicated in the Gutripper series...
[The death-as-cessation situation is a bit more complex, but non-existence (as either a judgment or simple consequence of mortality-not-swallowed-up-by-immortality) is at least a third 'where'...
[3. but, again, i cannot make much sense of the metaphysics of Heaven AT ALL...i get tripped up WAY TOO QUICKLY to invest much time in it...i have to rely explicitly and totally on knowledge coming from an epistemically-privileged position...and i have to work within those vague images and analogies as best i can...
I can see why the Catholics came up with purgatory…it just doesn’t jibe with me that individual eternal fates would be dictated by their potential influence on the saved community.
[Actually, the Catholics use a different basis to come up with that...its a bit complicated (so i don't want to get too far off track), but eventually, EVERYBODY in purgatory is released (after they have paid for their sins), so you are back to two endplaces ANYWAY (heaven and hell)...although, i should mention that traditional Catholicism has a place called 'Limbo'--if you remember--for all the babies who die without being baptized into the Catholic church...they go to 'limbo', a place of 'complete natural happiness surpassing any on earth'--but which 'cannot compare with the bliss of heaven...supernatural joy' (from my old Catholic Catechism--I KNEW it would come in handy some day!)...Limbo can easily be 'extended' to encompass VAST MASSES of folks, of course, but its just as theologically 'difficult to visualize' as is the few topographies we have of heaven (e.g., the New Jerusalem has the evildoers camped outside the gates???)
[as for the jibe-ing: i am not sure i can agree with you here...to me the very history of the world would SEEM (to me) to argue the contrary...that those whose 'totally unleashed/unrestrained/internally-architected' characters ended up 'virally' and 'parasitically' malignant should unquestionably be excluded from those who characters ended up trusting and open ('perfect hosts')...This is 'interactional' distance (of course) and not some 'geographical' distance...the nature of the argument could have Lewis' hell co-located with heaven, as long as the two could not 'see' or interoperate with one another...another metaphysical 'boggle' about the future...
[but the biblical data, btw, is very consistent and insistent in its portrayal of the future as a place of peace, of trust, of safety...and place in which the treacherous have no place...the community aspect is probably the dominant one...e.g., one's spiritual choices and responses to other God-imaged humans create character that either 'qualifies' one as being a person who would 'fit in' in a perfect place (once the internal righteous heart is fully freed from the constraints of a fallen nature, etc) or as one who would be destructive of such a place/state. From Psalms to the Prophets to the Epistles--this is very persistent and indeed, the hope of the 'meek of the earth'...]
The other example you addressed – the ‘kill those enemies of mine in front of me’ one – well, I guess the general problem is what you use as data to set the context for it. It COULD certainly be interpreted the way you see it, if you import the concept of community good. (I’m sorry, I think it was confusing – I was actually taking the example from one version of the parable of the talents, where there was a subplot about the master’s enemies sending a delegation after him to object to his being crowned king.) But in the story itself, the thing he actually SAYS is “Those enemies of mine who did not want me to be crowned king – bring them over here and kill them in front of me.” ESPECIALLY the “in front of me” part sounds to me a lot more like basic vengeance. I can see how the question becomes what fits in best with the general pattern of scripture, but to me these examples are numerous enough to AFFECT the general pattern of scripture. And that’s the problem in a nutshell, right?
[well, i sorta agree with you here--it IS the 'general pattern' of scripture--but I don't see that pattern as anything negative yet (as I understand it, but i don't see it as 'personal vengeance' at all). The general pattern is 'judgment upon assertion of the final kingdom','freedom/recompense/safety for the oppressed', 'removal of enemies', and these are done SPECIFICALLY by the King and his delegates ('in front of me'). I can see that the King/Jesus would take pleasure in the overall 'result' of the executions (i.e., a safe community for the normal folk), and the image obviously gives the evildoers no reason to suspect they will escape justice, but i don't see any real 'personal gratification dimension' present in the text.
[But after your comment here, i decided to check out some commentaries to see what they 'saw' there. Many didn't see any problem there, pointing to the fact that this was actually a royal 'responsibility' upon accession. Some commented that it was 'barbarous' or 'strange' by Western standards, but NOT by Eastern standards. Here is a couple of the entries (forgive typos):
["The nobleman's anger (vv. 26-27) is not intended to attribute such behavior to Jesus himself. Rather, it does picture the kind of response one might have expected in Jesus' day, especially from the Herodians. It also reveals the seriousness of flouting the orders of the King whom God has appointed Judge." [NIV Bib Commentary--BUT NOTICE that this is somewhat speculative: there is not the slightest hint of 'anger' in this statement. One might compare the accession of Solomon, in which he executed several enemies of the kingdom--but from WISDOM, and not from ANGER or personal vendetta...]
["...barbarous, but true to Eastern life; the new king cannot afford to let them live. In the spiritual sphere the slaying will be done by the moral order of the world (destruction of Jerusalem), King Jesus weeping over their fate" [Expositors' Greek NT...note that this ties the immediately following passage (weeping over Jerusalem) and the "I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked" with this act of royal accession.]
["Luke concludes by returning to the royal parable. The action here is a natural part of the consolidation of power of the newly instated monarch. This sort of behavior had been part of Archelaus’ strategy on gaining possession of his ethnarchy (Josephus, War 2.111) and was a notable feature of Herod the Great’s accession to power (War 1.351–58). It also has its counterpart in OT victory scenes (1 Sam 15:33). In the Lukan use, this will be a picture of eschatological judgment, but since, for Luke, the destruction of Jerusalem is already the first installment of that judgment (see at 17:31 and esp. at chap. 21), the quasi-military imagery here is appropriately to be linked with what is anticipated in chap. 21. The link with chap. 21 is strengthened by the presence in this section of 19:41–44. On the three horizons of judgment with which Luke works, see at 12:5; 13:3. katasfavzein, “to slay,” is found only here in the NT" [WBC...notice "a natural part of the consolidation of power"--NOT a personal matter per se.]
["they suffer the typical fate of ancient rebels..it was not uncommon for such massacres to take place before the ruler's presence (1 Sam 15.33; Rev 14.10; frequent examples in ancient history, e.g. Jos Ant 13.380)...What is difficult is the use of this imagery with regard to the judgment of the Son of man on unfaithful people who reject his rule over them; but the language, although strange to us, is such as would make sense to jesus' hearers and convey to them the seriousness of their position." [NIGTC]
I have gotten together a list of the things in Matthew that seem troublesome along this line, and of course it’s too long for us to plow through on the phone…I guess I’m hoping we can just talk out some patterns that will help…maybe part of this is what happens when you let problems accumulate for too long without actually solving any of them. I don’t know.
[hmmm...any chance you could just list the offending PHRASE and the verse reference, and let me see if i can figure out the difficulty? maybe i can see a pattern that way?
You wrote: “So, YOUR study task (i would think) would be to examine those judgment passages--at least those which look like moral governance ones-- which bother you the MOST (start with those), and dig in to see if the criteria used in judgment are somehow inconsistent with ANY criteria which YOU would consider "fair, grace-ful, but community-valuing". That’s fair enough…I’ll give that some thought…
But…well, this drags in even more, but it’s where I am now. Like we talked about the other night, I’m getting more and more frustrated, not just by the issues themselves, but by the prominence they seem to demand. In a world with so much suffering that I could help actually put a dent in, why would God expect someone to spend hundreds of hours agonizing over whether He sends people with the wrong theology to hell?
[wrong theology?? all of the passages you have mentioned as problematic so far are about evil-doers, not 'bad theologians'! These enemies of good and of God and of grace and of generosity...exploitative hypocrites, dishonest rulers, oppressive leaders...none of these passages can be used to defend a 'judgment not by works, but by theology' position, friend...you have to come up with OTHER verses that you think support 'hell for the theologically misinformed' (irrespective of their works!)--i suspect that your list of problems in Matthew have very, very few verses that are clearly about this later category--and if i am correct in THAT 'sizing', then your 'general pattern' argument doesnt apply to this case...we have too many incidental passages in the Bible, in which the 'theologically off' individuals are commended/accepted by God (e.g., Namaan, Cornelius, Nineveh, even Baalam and Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus!)--mostly polytheists, and HUGELY "ignorant of YHWH" (Namaan even carried dirt from Israel back with him, since he believed YHWH could only be worshiped on his own turf!--yet Elisha said 'go in peace'...)
Whether he DOES send them isn’t the only issue. It’s whether He could possibly want anyone to be unsure of the answer, and provide a Scripture that makes it seem possible.
[I am not sure I am on the same page with you here...I personally am perfectly content to trust God's wisdom, mercy, and better-than-fair approach to this issue...i don't think there IS A WAY to accomplish what you are asking for...I personally DONT WANT the 'incorrigibly treacherous' to be in heaven with you and I, and i unquestionably want the opposite group to be there, but how in the world would God 'give us a list' of these folks AHEAD of THEIR death???? He has given us principles and criteria--to even apply to ourselves--but there's NO WAY to give us a scripture that allows PERFECT PREDICTION (necessary for YOUR 'certainty need'). EVEN IF judgment were based on 'bad theology', you STILL couldn't make that determination about a person--HOW BAD does it have to be? How LONG does it have to be bad? How FIRMLY does the bad have to be believed? etc. And so you COULDNT apply anything to any specific person (and these are the folks you are worried about hopefully), and come up with a certain knowledge about that person.
[I am probably not being clear here, but I am gonna charge ahead anyway (4-year-old grin)...
[In other words: EVEN IF God gave a scripture that said, "IF a person believes the following 3 facts about God/Jesus/whatever, then they will go to heaven--regardless of lifestyle, behavior, attitudes, treachery, apathy, arrogance, etc", you could STILL NEVER BE SURE it applied to ANY GIVEN SOUL. There would always be a question of 'do they understand the facts CLEARLY enough?', 'will they STOP believing them before they die?', 'does their holding beliefs inconsistent with those facts imply that they DONT believe them after all', etc...In other words, you could still never get the 'sure-ness' you are searching for...so you would be stuck with a principle-only, without a way to USE that principle PREDICTIVELY...
[And that is EXACTLY the approach I have taken: I have a principle that God has revealed in scripture, and that I have validated in my experience and i find 'confidence' in that principle: "Shall not the God of all the earth do right?"..."God is good and gracious to all He has made"...His mercy FAR OUTDISTANCES his 'fairness'...but at the same time, i know there is some lines He will not cross: personal violation (He doesn't force someone to believe against 'all their will') and Future community endangerment (some individuals WILL BE excluded).
[I personally don't even presume to judge the eternal destiny of the harshest atheist or Jesus-critic...there are just too many factors involved in the final judgment (IMHO)--like we have talked about (e.g., recompense to victims, rejection of a non-Jesus is NOT rejection of the real Jesus, some skeptical values are borrowed capital and probably are considered 'doing the Law by nature'--a la Romans 2)...i come down to "It's between them and God now--and if anyone can find a loophole of grace, its the Jesus of the Cross..."
[So, i don't have certainty--other than the certainty that my God will do the BEST thing, whatever that it...but as I pointed out, there is no way (short of an exhaustive list) to HAVE the kind of certainty you are looking for...Between my knowledge of God's heart and the numerous cases of non-Israelite (and non-Christian, actually) cases of 'believers' (as discussed in the "What about those who have never heard?" piece) and the numerous 'other judgment consideration ' themes I find in scripture, I have peace with trusting my God for those I don't know...
[Mind you, i have the SAME problem about those I DO KNOW...I have no 'guarantees' about my kids or their kids, but I keep them before my Lord in confidence of His goodness and His listening to my prayers (and their prayers)...i flat out tell God "I want you to save them, Lord--and I'll let YOU work out the theological correctness behind that!" (referring to the Calvinism debate)...smile...
[This sounds scatterbrained, but i am doing the best i can...some of this comes back to what we discussed when i was in New York--what actually WOULD IT TAKE for you to have the certainty? what kind of verse would you want? (and how would you bypass the 'problems' of application/prediction i mentioned above?)...and why doesn't a "Look at the nailprints in my hands, Ralph, and trust Me that my moral governance is better than you could possibly imagine...trust Me that ONLY I can balance the needs of community-life and My own desire to reclaim and reconcile the masses" suffice? How would a more 'specific' principle from God be any more a source of comfort/confidence if a 'less specific' principle from that God COULDN'T be trusted? If you couldn't trust the generic character statement ("trust my love and wisdom on this issue"), and if you couldn't trust the generic principle statement ("trust my love and grace and commitment to peace, that I will allow into YOUR future ALL-and-ONLY those who 'allow me' to turn them into worthy, appreciative, cooperative, and celebratory fellow dancer-citizens") then why would you trust a specific, yet inapplicable statement ("All who believe 3 basic, general, non-Scriptural facts strongly enough will be allowed into your future")
[Now, it dawns on me that the real point of intersection between 'theology' and 'deeds' is 'values', and THIS is the area that seems to be TRULY revelatory of the human heart. Something like "All who come to hold--even weakly-- to the values of trust, non-treachery, egalitarianism, compassion/cooperation, honesty, etc will be included in the New Future" seems to be EXACTLY what the scripture seems to assert (but we STILL have the 'predictability' problem--"HOW consistently do they have to hold it?" kinda-issues--and so you would STILL need to trust God's 'goodness' in drawing the line graciously, so I am not sure this STILL would solve your problem)...But Holy Writ DOES seem to indicate that we reflect our values in how we treat other humans (and God uses this as indicative of how we would treat HIM, apparently--Matt 25 esp), and how we expect others to treat us (i.e., what we complain about in what others do to us, is used to delineate our morals--and then we are judged by that standard)....
[but i digress...maybe you'll speak more of this below...besides, its been another 6 hours since i started this..and i have to crash now for a work day tomorrow...i'll try to finish the rest of this email tomorrow night...and the "non-scream one" (smile) over the weekend...but I want to get through the written material before we visit live (since your questions deserve my deepest--read: "slowest"--thinking and reflection)...this is deep stuff (and good, btw), but not sure I can think fast enough on my feet to do this justice...once i churn through these emails, i SUSPECT/BELIEVE that i might be able to think aloud better with you over the phone soon...
[Fading Fast...good night, my good friend...
I continued working through his email:
part two...[only 4 hours, but i have noticed that i don't get very much actually WRITTEN during these long periods of time I 'claim'...granted i pace and think a lot about it, but wow--such low levels of verbosity! such meager literary residue!...smile]
And why should so much of the content of anyone’s life turn on whether this passage means more of this or that, given the nuances of the original Greek and the 1st-century Hebrew mind and the way the first Church fathers understood it? I know that at their heart the gospel and relationship are supposed to be very simple, but I can’t get there without wading through this stuff.
[hmmm...i suspect there is an evidential priority problem here...it APPEARS that you see/encounter a passage, which to YOUR eyes has a moral problem in it. You already know that it's a first-century, middle-eastern book and that in that specific historical and cultural situation this problem might not even exist at all. But without you doing all the spade, investigative, time-consuming, and advanced/specialist work to determine that, you are left with your initial impression of the text -- that it is morally wrong. This looks to me just a tad bit like you are STARTING with the position that the passage is 'guilty until proven innocent' (and you don't have the time/tools/expertise to prove its innocence)...Normally, "guilty until proven innocent" is not the 'correct' forensic position (smile)...
[The passage LOOKS guilty to your western eyes, but you probably KNOW (historically) that it DIDNT LOOK GUILTY to those who first heard it and were transformed by the LOVE and GRACE and HOPE they saw in it. They saw through "eastern eyes" (let's say), and saw no problem with it--but rather saw (a) hope of a renewed relationship with the Giver of Life; and (b) hope of a restored, healthy community in the eschatological future. The success of the Church in the hostile environment ALONE should count as evidence toward "innocent until proven guilty", and the fact that the love of the early church literally TRANSFORMED G-R culture into our "more enlightened" culture should be further evidence that the message was more beneficial-than-abusive.
[This might be a point for you to check out, actually. You might read a wonderful book _The Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History_ by Rodney Stark. It discusses (from sociology, of course) how the early church 'conquered' the Roman Empire. His conclusion that it was due to their acts of love, their ennoblement of the marginalized, and their theologically exalted message should (besides humbling you like it ALWAYS does me!) suggest to you that your temporary construal of the message of Jesus as 'mixed at best' is out-of-touch with its impact/understanding at the time.
[one might object that this is a RELATIVE thing ONLY: that the early church (following Jesus) was simply LESS-barbaric than the Roman empire. And that the LESS-barbaric (but still 'semi-barbaric', following Jesus) is STILL MORE-barbaric when compared to our enlightened post-barbaric Western eyes. But I demur: I am not at all convinced that the internal ethos/pathos of the inner-circle of the early church WAS IN ANY WAY 'inferior' to Western 'enlightened' culture. The transformation of gender roles, social relations, community sacrifice, inter-group honesty, etc--before the 'institutionalization' of the Church under Constantine--is HEADS ABOVE our western culture. We don't treat women as good as they did within the church, we don't treat the marginalized NEARLY as good, we don't risk our lives consistently for our former enemies and our secular culture...but this is a digression, but one that might profitably be considered... e.g., there are many that think Western values have lapsed into a justice-less, sloppy, irresponsible and community-destructive sentimentality that is not willing to 'fight for social justice' any longer...not willing to stand up for absolutes...not willing to draw a moral line and say 'no further'....everything is 'relative' and 'tolerance/social 'recognition' of even evil is the only absolute value'...
[Two things should flow from this historical data: (1) it should render your non-understanding of a passage into a 'at LEAST neutral' stance, instead of a 'guilt assumed' stance; and (2) the fact that the early believers understand the message of Jesus as MANDATING such acts (instead of mandating a 'mixture' or 'more abuse than good' of acts), should serve as warrant for believing that there was TRUE and CLEAR good in the MAJORITY of his message. [You are struggling with a 'quant' issue, apparently--seeing more 'bad' than 'good' in it--and this would be contraindicated by the interpretation of that early, transforming-by-love-and-values early Church.
At least right now, I believe there are enough of those passages to affect whether the Jesus of the Gospels is someone I can truly love…
[I suppose at this point you would need to make the GOOD-list, wouldn't you? You would have to place the lists (of surface phenomena, of course) side-by-side and compare them. You would need to make a rank-assessment of (1) relative clarity-level, of (2) how 'subject to re-interpretation' the passage is; and (3) how to mesh the two--how to incorporate them into a single view of Jesus (assuming you don't decide that He was schizoid or something--as some have...but this has the problem, obviously, of how so many found Him to be the very model of sanity, wisdom, integrity, practicality-and-idealism, etc.)
[For example: take the (assumed) poles of Jesus' riotous John-the-Baptist type/level of rebuke of the religious elite: "O brood of vipers, hypocrites, etc"; with His prayer for the Centurions and Roman authorities at the Crucifixion: "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do":
(1) Of these two which APPEARS TO YOU to be more clearly revelatory (or indicative) of Jesus' heart? Use common sense: does his treatment of one type of enemies (exploitative religious leaders, parading as the agents of God) in some way CLEARLY reveal an unworthy, merely-sub-human heart? does his treatment of another type of enemy (mindless soldiers, only hurting HIM--instead of the little ones--yet scorning, executing and shaming him) in some way CLEARLY reveal a worthy, above-human heart?
(2) which of these two is easier to 'explain away' into something OPPOSITE? Is it easier to understand Jesus' rebuke of the Leaders as an expression of love for the little sheep and a forceful call to the leadership to 'wake up' and change before its too late? or is it easier to understand Jesus' prayer to the Father as some kind of 'put down' of the soldiers (perhaps calling them 'ignorant'?), or of an implicit call for vendetta on those who DID 'understand what they are doing', or some kind of weak-willed manipulation of the soldiers to perhaps get them to face death themselves by going easy on him??? [I personally can see how a heart of love could rebuke someone publicly and harshly, but i cannot think of ANY other 'kind of heart' other than a loving one which could pray for forgiveness for its tormentors and executors--cf. also Stephen in Acts]
(3) and the meshing is fairly obvious (to me) in this: in both cases, Jesus is acting on behalf of the little ones. In the rebuke cases, the little ones are the incessant victims (and probably also the pre-Nicodemuses [Nicodemi? (smile)]among the rebukees; In the Crux cases, the little ones are the soldiers, simply caught in the machine of history, and Jesus is interceding on their behalf. He is acting consistently in each case--albeit with different behaviors due to the different circumstances.
[And at the end of the day, you will have to 'assimilate' (or suspend judgment, in some cases) the two 'lists', based upon the factors above--NONE OF WHICH required any knowledge of Greek or Hebrew, obviously--and only a smattering of NT historical background, much of which is present in the Gospels, btw. And remember, that love does NOT preclude judgment, in a moral universe at all...passages on accountability and judgment are NOT 'opposite' to passages on love, reconciliation offers, salvific mission, and forgiveness. God takes a PR hit for all His 'warnings of judgment', but doesn't get 'credit' when He delays that judgment as long as He has--'not willing that any should perish, but that all should be saved'.
so does the future of my faith hang on my learning Greek and Hebrew and God-knows-what else before I can even decide if there’s enough information to decide with?
[i don't think so...i think simple inductive study of the English bible, with a book on Bible Backgrounds would be adequate, for the textual work. But the trick here is to compare scripture with scripture, and make sure ALL the data is considered and that ALL the data is 'used', adjusting for clarity, non-ambiguity [and consequent 'weighting' of the data], and coherency. and you must also consider all the obvious historical data as well--the simple stuff, like the existence of the church, its moral vision, etc.--as above]
[this is, of course, assuming that you are not able to accept the life experience of God BY OTHERS as evidence. The early believers, of course, did just this--they KNEW Jesus was 'good' because the people who came from Him (the apostolic crew and the trickle-down from them) both (1) walked in love; and (2) extended a message of love to them. It was obvious to them that 'water doesn't flow uphill'--that the source of this love-in-the-deeds-of-these-strangers MUST HAVE BEEN a 'stubborn, resistant to re-interpretation' kind of Life/Love. So, had there been any 'moral disturbances' (or inconsistencies) within the message of Jesus (when they later/finally encountered the gospels)--and remember, i have already argued that the evidence for moral dissonance 'back then' is low-to-non-existent--they would have opted for 'give Him the benefit of the doubt', instead of 'guilty until proven innocent'.
[remember, some of Jesus' words WERE considered hard--the John 6 example comes to mind--but the net must have been overwhelmingly positive (for the women to follow, and the Rash One to utter--'to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life')....
Because that IS about what you seem to have had to do, except, of course, you
felt you had enough warrant to keep believing during the whole process.
[actually, there's a bit of difference...i have answered questions that DID NOT bother me at all...many Tank questions were not at all troublesome to me, but they were eating some other heart for breakfast/lunch/dinner...
[and my warrant--in the case of those many which DID bother me--was a growing one...my earliest warrant was the love of a couple of Jesus freaks, followed by the intro-books of apologetics of my day (McD, CSLewis, Schaeffer, FFBruce)...my earliest (and massive) reading of Scripture--over and over--generated a significant numinous experience base for me...
[btw--have you ever TRIED that? you HAVE TO, if you haven't so far...take a book of the NT and read it through-without stopping or without interspersing some other cognitive task--30 times or so. Try Philippians, or I John...it would take a couple of hours)...approach it calmly, open-hearted to our Lord...after about the 5th pass through you can start marking the text with a pen, connecting similar words and noting argument structure (so you might want to use a COPY of the text--so it can get messy)...but DONT do ANY background research! do NOT leave the text--let it speak for itself, let it suggest its own answers...immerse yourself in the 'Given'... I recommend you do this IMMEDIATELY, now that I think about it...this COULD BE a pivotal experience for you (or at least a 'HUGELY constitutive' one)...Read it--don't STUDY it.
[apart from this last point, and getting back to the argument flow, you probably should try to assess what warrant(s) you CURRENTLY have...do you have any answered prayer (not simply the 'ONLY explanation is God' kind, but also the 'MOST PLAUSIBLE explanation is God')? do you have experiences of Christian love and/or comfort and/or encouragement from other believers (including Yours Truly...evidentially suggestive warm smile, LOL) that might be 'suggestive' or evidential of God's warmth toward you? How significant might those be, as warrants for believing in the warmth/goodness of Jesus and God's heart? Any providential elements?: (a) things God STOPPED you from doing somehow, that made sense "parentally" later; and (b) things God LET you do, but helped you recover from--after the pedagogy was done? Does the miracle of human physiological resiliency and auto-directed healing mechanisms (e.g., the clotting of blood at contact of air, the immune-response system, even partial brain function recovery after brain-matter loss) suggest a health-loving God or a pain-loving God? What about sunsets and silk and cinnamon and songbirds? is the total of the more-good-than-bad universe adequate enough warrant enough to allow Jesus' stated message of "i didn't come to judge the world, but to save it" to be semi-determinative in interpreting His frank/vivid/sobering messages and warnings of judgment/exclusion as being expressions of a divine-heart-driven and TRUE concern for the welfare of us little folk?
[one thing that might be important to note is that my warrant grew one-difficulty-at-a-time, although the challenge was sometimes all-difficulties-at-once. You seem to be facing a similar quant problem...you need ALL the problems solved at once, but 'merely' solving ONE doesn't seem to grow your warrant--BUT IT SHOULD, BTW...you probably should consider this...can you remember any morally-disturbing passages which you came to peace with EARLIER?...do you have any puzzles that were resolved EARLIER than now? if you have ANY of these, they count more heavily (as positive data) than ALL the passages for which you do not YET have solutions (absence of data). [This, btw, is why the experience of deep, mature believers counts SO MUCH MORE than the experience of all the Xtians and what not...one person who credibly and non-dogmatically affirms the existence of a warm-hearted God, counts INFINTELY MORE than a thousand who say "I didn't experience anything'...the former is positive evidence, and latter is 'absence' (not 'negative') evidence--under most circumstances [there are exceptions to this general rule, but i don't want to do into all the complexities of this here]...
[the point of the immediate-above is to make sure you are dealing with ALL of your experience...if you DO have a case or two of 'answered moral problems', then be sure they are weighted appropriately (to speak for God...) in assessing the 'probability' that a majority (not 'all') of the remaining puzzles have 'heart-friendly' answers...be sure to allow God's work in your life so far to be able to be a witness to you here...
Do I even get a choice in whether that’s the kind of life I want? You have managed to make your own searches a vehicle of love and grace to others, but without the same interim certainty as I go along, I couldn’t even do that as effectively.
[friend, i had YEARS of barely-avoided doubts before God healed me through the Tank! I remember being HUGELY discouraged my FIRST YEAR as a disciple (second year as a believer) over the "which systematic theology is right? out of the 50 competing ones in the library?!!"...I suppressed the question forever--and it would pop up and take me down for a week every couple of years...i didn't get an answer to the question, but oddly enough, God changed the question sorta--the question seems 'odd' to me now...but that's later...
[but i did accumulate practical evidences of grace in my life: my kids, answered prayer, semi-miraculous deliverance and providence, moments of sweetness, and of course, my times with Jesus each day. I poured scripture into my heart constantly--it was and is my life--and my exceptionally wounded heart is testimony to me that 'my grace is sufficient for you' means exactly that!...
[during the years between 1982 and say, 1992, there was very little intellectual development in terms of theology and worldview...very little outside reading, no questions but those of my kids, and an occasional Class I taught...i only really started getting answers when I started seeking them from God FOR OTHERS...in my lone-wolf world, this makes perfect sense of course (chagrin, chagrin...grin), so i don't think its relevant to YOUR SITUATION at all.
[but your day may come...smile...
Besides which, that certainly isn’t the NT picture of what it’s like to come to believe.
[yes and no...true enough for the vast majority of those whose lives were touched by Jesus and his followers, but there was/will always been the Thomas's of the world who need a little more, and the people like Peter who find some of Paul's 'things hard to understand'...but 'believing' is simple--its discipleship that is a challenge...
[in discipleship, the array of anti-god forces are arraigned against you , Ralph...they are the 'persecutions and difficulties' that kill that second type of seed in the Parable of the Soils ('they receive the word with joy, but because of persecution or difficulty, they bear no fruit'). The simple believer who aspires to only the status quo, is not hassled by the doubts of a mixed-nature heart or by the fears of a young-believer at an approaching storm..."Lord, don't you care that we are perishing?!'--hearts of those who saw the very teaching and touching of Jesus! Should you or I be any different? But those who 'desire to live righteously' will 'suffer persecution', says Paul...and believe me, they know our weak spots--and so does our Lord ("But i have prayed for you Peter, that your faith fail not, and after you have recovered (word choice should have told Peter what to expect!!!!), strengthen those around you...")
[But I BELIEVE (I'm the one with all the warrants right now, remember...smile) that the promise in 1 Cor 10:13 is still true--this difficult challenge is CALIBRATED to your ability to withstand it, and profit from it, and later use it to prosper others...i find it a bit 'auspicious' that you have hit this SO EARLY in your Christian life, though--I am pondering this carefully as we work through this...
It’s just, there are SO MANY difficulties in scripture. You know them all already anyway, but what I can’t figure out for the life of me is how you get such a different big picture.
[maybe its because, between the two of us,I'm the one who's put in the 'several hundred hours' you keep speaking about...cheesy smile and mild chuckle...]
[when i read this next paragraph, i was initially puzzled--i would bet money that you yourself could answer these one-sided observations to someone else who asked YOU...and then I remembered that you said you were 'screaming'...I have every confidence that you could play "Gods advocate" on these quips and come up with honest, data-sobering considerations with even a minimal amount of study (assuming you have SOME basic commentaries--i recommend ALL the NICOT and NICNT by Eerdmans, btw! New International Commentary on the New/OLD Testament, that is.
[Just to be sure, i will ask a few 'Socratic Sarcasm questions' as I go through this (smile)...
Paul’s deprecating attitude towards marriage (and his characterization of it as being driven by lust),
[That's probably why he used it to illustrate the despicable relationship of Jesus to the Church, isn't it? Good point.]
his (to me) gratuitous level of contempt for human character
[I guess that's why he was so willing to praise all his coworkers, and to argue that the depraved Gentiles were often morally superior to the Jews, and to become all things to all men, and to call himself the least among all believers, and to forbid people to look down on fellow believers...good point.]
, the NT disgust toward unbelievers (‘hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh’)
[I guess that's why Jude took that verse from Zech 3.2-4, where it applied to Joshua the faithful High Priest of Israel (no doubt a closet unbeliever!), and why its in a verse about mercy and outreach, eh? Good point.]
, the punitive view of doubt (‘the man who doubts should not think he will receive
anything from God’…’without faith it is impossible to please God’.)
[I always WONDERED why Doubting Thomas was driven away by Jesus and kicked out of the Apostles, in favor of someone who DIDNT doubt? Now it seems clear.
…even Jesus’ intermittent apparent contempt for the people He ministered to (‘if you then, though you are evil, give good gifts…’
[I always thought this was--although it was an obvious contradictory admission that these 'evil' people did 'good' things!--a simple contrast between the good acts of 'limited goodness' of humans and the 'higher goodness' of God the Father, a la the end of the verse, but NOW I SEE that its actually an expression of Jesus' CONTEMPT for the people He poured His life into for years and years, whom he shared His deepest emotions with, whom He longed to share His final meal with. I had never noticed that obvious and explicit contempt in the text before. Good point.]
; ‘how much longer must I stay with you and put up with you?’)
[Wow--I had always understood that a simple expression of frustration (or Teacher's pedagogy, more probably--"This project is too hard for you folks: you're all gonna fail"), but NOW i see its CLEARLY contempt, as it was on the lips of Moses in Num 11--where HIS frustration was also OBVIOUSLY contempt for the grumbling, faithless Israelites...
- to me these currently add up to a genuinely mixed picture, a document in which there are many good things and many bad things.
[okay...i'll end the Socratic sarcasm here (but i DID have fun with it--Thanks!)...since i anticipate that you could have probably done a better job than I at illustrating how 'scream-level' unbalanced that staccato list was...
And part of the problem is, I don’t even know how to judge the way in which I’ve ‘dealt’ with these things in the past. Depending on your perspective, you could say I’ve let them pile up in my mind without investigating them sufficiently,
[done this myself over and over...and still have problems just waiting back there...its just I can only address the 'trouble in each day' as it comes...someday they might become TODAY'S TROUBLE, but right now they are just brooding and taking a backseat to other issues...
or you could say that the reading and rereading and pondering I’ve done on them IS sufficient and they really are problematic.
[or they are problematic ENOUGH FOR YOU TO HAVE TO FACE UP TO, in God's program of increasing your honesty & disciple's integrity level--as he has to consistently do to mine!
How do YOU decide when you’ve investigated a problem enough to be responsible in drawing a final conclusion?
[the standard answer is that old saw about being able to defend a position to the satisfaction of its proponets. When i can argue an objection (IMHO) as good as, or better than, the original objector can...AND...when I can defend AGAINST the objection to the satisfaction of ITS proponent, then I can feel confident that i have not slandered, nor 'answered a matter before i hear it'...SO, in THIS CASE, you would need to create a defense of Jesus' character for each problem passage--perhaps to my satisfaction (smile)????--
[but two notes:
[1. you will have to make the problem in each passage VERY EXPLICIT. Using value-laden terms like 'contempt', 'punitive', 'disgust' is not enough--you have to defend that 'emotional' reading/nuance in the text. When a prophet says "My people are fools" (Jer 4.22) how 'morally evil' is that really? And in the case of human emotions--anger, frustration, discouragement--these are only 'morally evil' at certain 'magnitudes' and extremes...
[2. you do NOT need Greek/Hebrew for ANY of this. You might need (but not for most of the cases, IMO) a good commentary and background books. I recommend for commentaries only two: (1) the NICOT/NICNT series I mentioned; and (2) the Expositors Bible commentary (10+ vols); For background works, I recommend a couple: (1) The Bible Background Commentary series (2 vols, IVP)--my fav; (2) a new Zondervan series: Zondy Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary (4 vols). [Obviously you need a Concordance, too.] The text alone (comparing to parallels and OT antecedents will answer TONS of these) will solve most of these types of issues.
[but remember point 1--do NOT settle for vagueness...be SURE you can get someone else to agree that 'contempt' is clearly indicated in the text, and not something else (less obviously evil). And you MIGHT have to even escalate it some: contempt itself is not evil (contempt can sometimes be a legitimate stance toward true malice and treachery. It just cannot be 'arrogant contempt'. we ARE supposed to 'hate evil and love the good', so you may have to prove that the contempt in some text is actually CULPABLE...as opposed to obvious things like malice and avarice.]
I don’t feel at the moment like I ‘need’ Scripture, with all its difficulties, in order to believe in a loving God…
[?? oh, DO YOU ALREADY have adequate extra-biblical warrants to believe that God is loving? If so, then do you have any reason for believing that this 'lovely God' is in fact to be identified with the God of Jesus? or is this lovely God someone else, perhaps revealed in some other sacred (revealed) writings? (To tip my hand here--the ancient God/gods portrayed in other religious traditions fall much, much lower ethically than Jesus and the Judeo-Christian God could EVER be construed, even on a bad day...most humans in other religions GREATLY outperform 'morally' the deities present in their sacred traditions--!...but this is another discussion, for another day...)
[Now, if it turns out that you DO identify this lovely-God with the God of the Bible, you only have two ways out (other than resolving the issues like we have been discussing: study, trust, patience, benefit-of-the-doubt, allowing the audit trail to speak, etc.):
(1) mysticism: you can take a (very) legitimate mystical path, believing that the surface texture of scripture is NOT to be taken 'non-metaphorically', and develop allegorical/alternative views of the text. This would allow you neutralize the bad ones (even allowing the 'moral repugnance therein' to be a divine 'cloaking device', to throw the non-initiated off). I suspect this would not satisfy your head, though, and God generally is focused on 'holistic humanity'. Unless you REALLY weirded out into Fringe Alternative Medicine, I suspect your bright mind would find the dissonance between deliberate unknowing/zen-level disengagement of mind and the REST of your objective, medical, reasonable life intolerable.
(2) biblical 'selectionism'. You can take the biblical critic route, and excise the passages that you are convinced are 'below' the morality of the lovely-God. Many have taken this route, and it is not altogether culpable/mistaken. we already excise passages based on text-critical and historical matters (woman caught in adultery, ending of Mark), some wonderfully-evangelical-and-godly scholars excise other gospels texts as being 'out of character' (e.g. the resurrection of the Jerusalem saints immediately after the Cross in Matthew), and more liberal scholars excise WHOLE passages based on their estimate of 'coherence' with the portrayal of Jesus ELSEWHERE. [Some non-scholars even adopt the age-old OT/NT dichotomy: the God of the OT was a bellicose, false God, created by the Israelites for nationalistic reasons, but Jesus revealed the TRUE love-centered God...obviously, though, this would NOT work for you--since YOUR problem is centered on Jesus himself!]
[But the position that accretions and distortions crept into the Gospels--perhaps to justify some morally repugnant view of the mid-late church leadership--is one that CAN BE HELD with integrity, as long as it is not used as an irresponsible 'way out' (a reverse 'God of the gaps' approach--smile!). But until you have pared down your 'large list' of disturbances, this would not be workable--the gospel texts cannot be torn in half, with half or more being discarded because it is morally repugnance or unworthy of Jesus or something...but this is a digression...i still think you need to work on identifying the problem more precisely, less ambiguously, and more clearly ethically-nuanced...that step has to be done to actually IDENTIFY the real problem, before solutions to it can be investigated and evaluated...but you do have other options than just the accidental-inerrantist view I hold, and which I feel is defensible and peace-making.
I don’t see why my life and my relationship with Him should have to turn on my verdict on something that seems so peripheral. Of course, chances are good that even that fundamental belief is an unrecognized gift from my Christian upbringing.
[i don't understand what you mean here...what is the 'peripheral'? what is the 'fundamental belief'? what was your Christian upbringing (pre-College, college)?
And…well, maybe this part is simply wrong of me, and I hope you’ll tell me if you think so. But I would like to at least have the CHANCE to love some girl and marry her, and how can I even hope for that until I get this settled one way or another?
[i really don't think there's a problem here that wont be solved in time for marriage, my young friend! There are so many practical issues involved in the marriage arena, that have NOTHING TO DO with your Christological questions...believe me...
[but you need to get this issue 'settled enough' for you to be of ANY VALUE TO ANYONE--esp a wife!...your peace of mind is essential to who you are, Ralph...and perhaps you need to learn--FROM THIS ISSUE--that God is patient, gentle, and warm to you..that He WILL meet you at the problem text...
[i WOULD decouple the Christological issues from the marriage/relationship issues, though...you are DEAD RIGHT that the God-built desire for companionship can subtly affect our honesty ('when she saw that the fruit was good...')...something to pray about--esp as you work through this issue...
That area of life has been brutal to you…I know you’ve found your joys more despite it than within it, and I’m so sorry if my mention here makes it hurt again. I would be making more effort to keep it out of the picture right now if this hadn’t gone on so long and didn’t seem likely to go on so much longer.
[its not a problem for me, at this point, but something to be mined for experience and wisdom.
But I miss MJ (the girl I’ve told you about, of course) very deeply, every moment (we’re not talking, at my request) and I KNOW that’s wrecking havoc with my judgment, which is why we’re not talking…but Glenn, I’m so tired of this. I want to live my life simply and have it not be dominated by these things. She became the brightest, sweetest thing in my life, and we WERE good influence on each other, and it really hurts to have to cut her out so ruthlessly. But THAT part I’m not really questioning the necessity of…no matter what’s true, she DOES mess with my judgment, and she deserves better than to have me wrecking havoc with her the way I would if we were talking…I just wish it were otherwise. And I know that creates a lot of unjustified resentment in me, and makes me want to justify coming to certain conclusions...but even if you know you're untrustworthy, you still have to make decisions...
[there are deep, powerful, long-reaching lessons in there, deep-friend...you are wrestling with the very core of our human spirits and the very fires of our choices...nothing is simple there, and it WONT BE simple until we arrive in the New Future...i just wish you could enjoy MJ's friendship WITHOUT extrapolating it onto romance and end-game scenarios...its hard, and i have NEVER been able to do that...I have to stick to simple things like Christology, Theological Method, and Philosophy (smile)...
[I am gonna stop here tonight...this next paragraph seems more 'core' than even the preceding stuff, i just noticed...if the three items of (a) predestination; (b) the Xtian; and (c) blind-faith brother are the BASIS of a mistrust of God (to the point of associating 'treachery' with Him), then no amount of 'interpretive answers' to the textual passages in the gospels are likely to suffice. Instead, I will have to shift gears and deal with those specific three items, before we get much farther...(I will at least read the second/next email from you, to see if there's anything there that might need thinking about first.)
[I hope your pediatric exam went well... I'm gonna have a MaiTai and crash... later, talk to you soon, your bud-in-the-ditch-wid-you Glenn (smile)...
A few more emails flew, and I had to comment on one of them from him:
i just sent you that 2nd email, and i was scanning your 2nd (non-scream one) and I ran across this comment of yours:
"interesting, about using the more-evil to punish the less-evil ...instinctively i might see at least one side of that as "using those who won't currently benefit from discipline to punish those who might benefit from it"...?"
THAT IS AMAZING INSIGHT! I have NEVER seen that, NEVER considered that--THANK YOU, THANK YOU for sharing...what a GREAT insight into that...i have to go back and rethink some other themes now!...
...we really ARE in this all together, helping one another see and understand His ways and heart...
dancing around the fire of His wisdom and warmth tonight!
final comments on this one...
(i have to do some research for a few hours tonight, so i probably wont be able to do more on this til tommorrow...but i have been wrong before (smile)...
What’s sad to me is that so much of what I’ve written seems to be ‘talking past’ your last email…you have been ruthlessly betrayed by men again and again, and always found your solace in God, enough to have a sincere, spontaneous, unforced love for Him, and ultimately found Him reflected truly in the pages of the Bible. I had a little of the same unhappy background, but the deepest experiences I’ve ever had with ‘treachery’ have all been associated with my concept of God. Since my church group leader gently explained to me his concept of predestination, and since I read the autobiography of an ex-preacher who claimed he begged God for help as he lost his faith and got none, and since I met this poor brother who keeps clinging to the faith despite seeing no evidence God loves him, I have never been able to fully trust God – or at least the conception of Him I was committed to believing in. In a sense, I can recognize this as a defect in me, but it’s not like I haven’t been trying to overcome it.
[There are two issues here:
(1) the 'historical' damage done to you be these three experiences (or at least by your RESPONSE to them); and
(2) the evidential-impact, epistemic-load, or theological-implications of these events per se.
[These are TWO very, very different things, as you no doubt probably already know from your (presumed) study in psychiatry. Although understanding a traumatic event from childhood can help heal us, the healing is still separable from the understanding.
[And it is the 'cognitive' aspects--number (2)--that are the easiest to deal with. Of course, these events have both cognitive and 'emotional' dimensions. Knowing full well that a leg amputation is required to save the life of a professional skater doesn't IN THE LEAST mitigate the emotional response to what life will be like for them after said event... but sometimes its only the cognitive that allows us to 'accept' or live with the emotional pain...(of course, a GOOD use of the cognitive will 'size' it, too--it will also project what life would be like if the skater died slowly: impact on family, kids, etc, and perhaps one can live with a tad bit less pain in such a comparative world...)
[So, I am going to make a few comments (some i have made to you before on the phone, if i remember correctly) about the 'cognitive' side of these three items:
[1. Predestination (in the Unconditional Reprobation to Damnation sense) is a complex, and multi-versioned thing. Some versions are fairly benign, in that they asset that there WAS no 'active reprobation' and that all decretal decisions WERE NOT arbitrary. God had a good, wise, just, better-than-fair REASON for choosing whom He did (and did not), and that God's way of doing things is not only 'higher' than ours, but somehow also 'more merciful and gracious' than any decision criteria WE WOULD have used. That's a fairly benign position (IMO), and is sustainable as long as one doesn't try to get more precise (which they seem to invariably to do).
[I have pointed out on the Tank in numerous places that the Scripture doesn't speak much about such matters at all...all the commonly-used texts refer to OTHER things.
[There ARE, to be sure, amazingly perverse (IMO) theological expressions within subgroups within the 'Reformed theology', but most 'normal' Predest-folk wouldn't be aware of such subtleties. For example, the God that is imaged in some of the hyper supralapsarian sub-theologies is quite ALIEN (morally) to all the morality the BIBLICAL God has tried to teach us...Normal Reformed folks simply hold that God can do whatever He wants without culpability (Sovereignty), and that since God is also 'good and gracious', that any such decisions He makes under 'sovereignty' can also be trusted as being consistent with the Cross, grace, love, etc. They cannot DEMONSTRATE this consistency, of course, but this is not a requirement for us to trust the Revealed God. What HE has shown us and explained to us is MORE THAN SUFFICIENT to convince us that His heart is good (They use Dt 29.29), and we should not try to reason 'from the inscrutable' back to the 'observable'. I.E., we cannot allow our theological reasonings in the OBSCURE, VAGUE, supra-natural 'decretal arena' to undercut what His CLEAR and bottom-shelf revelations in natural and everyday arenas teach us.
[To them, God's position runs something like this: "I have revealed to you My heart in scripture and in history, and shown you, and proven to you--in the matters in which you are competent to judge (e.g., history, practice, community, biblical history, nature)--that I am a lover of the good, the beautiful, the pure, the fair, the low-loving. I have asked you--on the basis of my revealed character--to TRUST Me as I 'apply' that same character to matters beyond your ken...the only reason you could REASONABLY doubt my goodness in 'inscrutable areas', would be if you UNREASONABLY doubted my revelation of My character--in the areas in which you ARE competent (by reason of My teaching, MY structuring of community ethics, and My creation of YOUR human conscience--BTW!) to judge. So, to believe that I act either amorally or with duplicity in the 'BEYOND', then you must be able to make a case that I have done so within the data of your purvey. Otherwise, trust Me, okay?"
[I personally find this argumentation to be 'emotionally' compelling--i.e., I COULD BE a 'with peace of mind' predest type if i thought it was the right system--but ONLY BECAUSE my experience of God in scripture, experience, and community is overwhelmingly GOOD, and hence provides the warrant for trusting Him...
[You, on the other hand, may not have such a uniform present-day view of His heart. (But note that you would have to EXCLUDE the emotional impact of the predestination 'emotional turbulence' from your consideration. If the argument runs FROM Character-as-revealed-in-OBSERVABLE-life (and hence, not from our projections backward to OUTSIDE of that OBSERVABLE life), TO Character-as-assumed-in-PRE-OBSERVABLE-life (that is, decrees and such), then your emotional difficulty with predestination cannot be used as 'evidence' of God's 'badness'. That's a logical sequencing error.) Your OBSERVABLE-life data would have to come from scripture (which is problematic for you, currently), from your personal experience of God (prayer, providence, meditation, Scripture encounters, community), from reflections upon 'natural revelation' elements (e.g., beauty, design, order, scale, diversity, etc), and from your interpretations of these elements in the lives of others [your points 2 and 3: the Xtian preacher and your missionary friend]. You would have to decide what WEIGHTs 'more': your personal understanding of the content of scripture, your personal experience of God in your life, or your interpretations of the lives of others (both biblical and extra-biblical characters; e.g., the Psalmist and the Xtians).
[I personally submit to you that you are on MUCH FIRMER ground (conscience-wise) to weight YOUR INTERPREATIONS of YOUR OWN LIFE/EXPERIENCE MUCH, MUCH MORE Heavier than your interpretations of the accounts of Xtians (and maybe even the Psalmists, although I will retract this category in a moment, due to the difference between positive and negative 'evidence'--as mentioned yesterday).
[But in any case, you cant really USE predestination to draw conclusions as to what God's character is like, because the 'direction' or 'flow' of the argument is wrong. You cannot reasonably argue from the OBSCURE and OUT-OF-SCOPE and EXTREMA and INSCRUTIBLE to the less-obscure, arms-reach, bell-curve-normal, and simple area of What God's heart is like...You have to move in the opposite direction: either (1) God is good-and-bad/morally alien NOW---as evidenced in scripture, my personal experience, and my understanding of the personal experiences of others--, and therefore was/is likely to have been so when He made such (theoretically) sweeping decrees; or (2) God is CLEARLY 'good'--in the areas I can 'test' Him in--and therefore was/is likely to have been so when He made such (theoretically) sweeping decrees...that direction works (logically); the opposite flow is 'bad logic'...
[2. The Xtian preacher who begged God to help him with his faith and lost it.
[We have mentioned already a couple of points about it--in phone conversations, i recall:
[1. For every one of these, there are 10x-100x of those who GOT answers and kept the faith. To use this Xtain's experience as MORE-HEAVILY-WEIGHTED data is to SLIGHT the evidence of an order of magnitude or two MORE/OTHER individuals. The 'sizing' of the data is DECIDEDLY against using this case 'at face value'.
[2. (Not to appear 'heartless' here, but:) Jesus and the Scriptures SPECIFICALLY predict such fall-out. Jesus' parable of the Soils, and the 'many will fall away' (Olivet Discourse); John's "they went out from us because they were not OF us, really"; the defectors in Hebrews 6, etc...This kind of data is NOT at all discordant with a good-hearted God, especially since God has chock-fulls of encouragement, urging, warning, instruction on how to DEAL with temptations to not persevere -- which (in this model) MOST/MANY of the faithful apparently avail themselves of. At a practical level, again, this kind of data cannot count for/against a particular characterization of God's heart.
[3. I realized after one of our conversations two weeks ago (when i was in Atlanta), that this guy's experience is nothing out-of-the-ordinary, so why did he give up? I reflected on MY personal experience:
I begged God for ten years to heal my marriage--He didn't.
I begged God for the longest 3 days of my life to heal my little girl--He didn't.
I begged God to shield my kids from the dysfunction of my wife and I--If He did, it wasn't' complete.
I begged God to let me get out of CompSci and into the ministry--all these years...but He hasn't.
I have begged God to heal my deepest wounds of fear of people-in-small-groups, and I keep getting the "My grace is sufficient for you" type-of-answer.
I begged God all last year to let me help this little town (and not have to travel)...but He didn't bring it to pass...
(This list would fill pages and pages...)
[But my faith is not dead--its actually stronger than ever. The outcome of all this in MY life (and I don't think i 'beg better' than the Xtian) has been life, growth, vitality, beauty etc--NOT a death-of-faith... Why did all these non-yes experiences not drive me away? Because there were
(a) plenty of 'yes' events to my prayers;
(b) plenty of 'yes' events even WHEN I DIDNT PRAY; and
(c) plenty of 'soft' events surrounding all these no-events (i.e., there was evidence of God's presence in ALL of these no-events).
[So, why didn't the xtian preacher draw upon his (presumed) yes-experiences? If he didn't have ANY, then he was a dishonest man to get into the ministry of proclaiming the power of God to affect our lives. If he DID have them, then he was dishonest in a different way...what was he looking for?--intellectual respectability? a certainty of the 'walking by SIGHT, not by FAITH' type? What? If he didn't know God, then he was a 'minister of death'--apart from a vibrant relationship with the Vine, the branch can do nothing--except mislead those who NEED the life-of-God.
[God has NEVER blessed 'zeal-without-knowledge' (but he has forgiven it--"I found mercy, because i did it ignorantly in unbelief"--Paul): it has not life in it, and misleads the hungry into 'drinking at cisterns which have no water'. Formalism--"having the form of godliness, but denying its power"--has always been abhorrent to our Lord. It is empty, a waste of good hearts, and sets the sights of the hungry too low ('lets work ourselves up into a froth, and pretend we are eating--maybe the psychosomatix will helps us for a few minutes')...sorry, on a soapbox here...zeal-without-knowledge is always so self-centered and ultimately self-serving...anyway...i'm calming down now (sigh/smile)...
[The xtian stories I am familiar with often/sometimes focus exclusively on unanswered prayer, be it for their OWN faith, or (more often) some legitimate need of their parishioners (in the case of workers). When they don't get the answers, they start a cycle of doubt and then bail... But unanswered prayer is a fact of life--why do some 'take it' personally, instead of humbly? Parishioners who die of some disease--in spite of the Pastor's earnest, heartfelt, long-term prayers--how is this any different from MY EARNEST PRAYERS for my little one?? Who are they to conclude that God 'doesn't exist' from a specific case or limited pattern of unanswered-suffering...The Problem of Evil is--i have argued MANY times--is simply NOT a reasonable and/or sustainable argument against God (or against His good-heart even, Actually). Whether it's the problem of evil/suffering in GENERAL (e.g., incurable diseases) or in SPECIFIC (e.g., why did i have to experience such pain in my marriage), its the same thing...it HURTS, but it doesn't provide a warrant to say either (a) God must therefore not exist; or (b) God must not care about ME; or (c) God must not hurt enough/or like me in this event...I have argued (and believe more strongly than ever) that God's experience of OUR suffering is MUCH MORE acute than our own...and that His joys at ours are likewise scaled-up...
[I am certain that there is not a SINGLE horrific disaster or SINGLE unanswered prayer that an Xtian uses as an excuse/rationale to dismiss God THAT SOME VIBRANT BELIEVER has not LIKEWISE experienced, but come to a RADICALLY different conclusion...and at multiples, too...
[The net here is this: I don't want to judge the Xtian, and try to 'uncover the truth of their guilt', but EVEN IF their surface presentation is 100% correct, IT IS STILL INADEQUATE to overturn the VASTLY LARGER reservoir of contrary experiences by the 'faithful'. And even if i take this 10x-100x larger pro-God sample, and reduce it SIGNIFICANTLY (trying to weed out the zeal-without-knowledge fundamentalists and 'census-form-only' Christians), I still come up with a MUCH larger body of data. Laws of induction alone would lead one to 'throw out' the extrema as 'exceptions, to be classified later'...(We have talked about this one)...I don't want to moral judge the Xtian (in order to use that experience as data), but IF I HAVE TO, then I have to juxtapose ALL the CONTRARY experiences of believers ALSO... You don't arrive at truth by 'counting noses, but if you ARE GONNA count noses for this, then you have to COUNT THEM ALL!
[note: i find it 'culpable' when some Xtians--upon deciding that God doesn't exist--then goes back and 're-interprets' all the evidence God HAD PROVIDED. Answered prayers are explained as 'coincidence' (even when the 'more plausible' pattern was that of divine providence), numinous experiences are explained as 'naturally induced', and providence is explained as 'chance favors the prepared mind'...! Some experiences (at least of mine) COULD BE explained away, but SHOULDNT BE--the parsimonious explanation is of God moving in someone heart, or of God triggering group consensus in a certain direction...Humility--a requirement of faith/trust in ANYONE/ANYTHING--is based on HONESTY (an honest appraisal of the problem, one's own resources, the Benefactor's resources and heart)... Dishonesty is a very, very bad thing in Scripture (and its closely related consequence--Arrogance), and i think some Xtians are at least as guilty of this as some Christians are...
[BTW, This doesn't mean you cannot grieve or pain with their unanswered prayer (as you should also with any believer's unanswered prayer for relief/rescue)--its just that you cannot move from that to 'God must not exist/not care/be adequate'...
[I should also add her that the Xtian 'problem' is more complex than I have descried there, and that I am slowly working on a piece about this issue--but the analysis above WOULD apply to much/most of the evidential value of their stories--relative to YOUR issue.
[3. The missionary 'clinging to faith without any evidence that God loves him'. We have talked a little about this case, and--to use specialized vocabulary--what 'presents' is just too odd a problem to make a diagnosis. I don't know what to make of this--its difficult not to judge this guy in the zeal-without-knowledge category, based on the data I remember from our conversations two years ago--Why DID he go into the ministry? Why did he become a believer in the first place? Has he NEVER had an answered prayer? Has he never wept tears of joy in worship? Has he never felt the invisible-but-tangible comfort of God in tragedy or grief? Has he NEVER experienced a "random" act of kindness/grace from a friend-sent-from-God? Has God never 'opened a door'--unexpectedly, or unexpectedly easy-- for him, in his travels and dealing with authorities? Has God never provided forms of support for his work?
[In fact, has he EVER experienced personal contact with another HUMAN person, either? How 'open' is he in relationships? Would he recognize and/or 'admit' such a thing? Is he 'built' for only certain types of 'evidence'? There are too many questions--at least from my side--and unless you have a therapist's level of insight into this dude's psyche, motivations, defense mechanisms, value-development paths, etc, I would caution you about drawing FIRM and WEIGHTY conclusions based on this case.
[Granted, there are NO DOUBT (IMO) many, many SIMILAR-looking cases in which a do-gooder implicitly asserts his 'superiority' over God (by doing altruistic acts for God or for God's loved ones, without any 'help' from God). Some atheists who live/teach ethically--just to show you don't need God for this!--fall into this category, as well as those of us (including me) who sometimes fall into the 'suffering for Jesus' martyr-mentality. People's motives for service can be really confused, really bad (cf. Paul's antagonists in Philps 1!), mixed, good, insincere, poorly thought out, inconsistent, etc...
[My vantage point may be different from yours--due largely to time/age, perhaps: I personally have SO MUCH MORE confidence in God's description/demonstration of His own pure heart and of our mixed-hearts (e.g., the Cross, Jesus' treatment of women, legislation toward the disadvantaged in the OT, etc), than I do in any INFERENCE drawn about those from a VERY, VERY ODD "waterbird of the family Anatidae"...smile...
[gosh...this was only supposed to take a few minutes before I got to work...but at least I wanted to deal with the "cognitive" aspects of these three...to provide at least SOME DATA and SOME ALTERNATE/COMPLEMENTARY PERSPECTIVES for you to mull over...
[the historical 'emotional' debris of these, we'll have to think through later...but if/once you get the cognitive issues 'back to normal', and if/once you get the 'passages that bother me' sorted out, the 'emotional' elements may simply be resolved by a simple-but-sweet 'Hug and make up' session with your Loving Father, a time to heart-hug with His then-appreciated-for-sure, uniquely Good, Good heart ("no shadow of turning")...But He's warmly patient for that time, though He longs to see your heart set free, and to see you sing in the abandoned trust of a wiser-but-newly-innocent-again child of the King...
He sent a list of problem passages from Matthew, and I wrote back:
coupla top-of-mind things:
i did notice one/two patterns, btw, in some of the MT jesus quotes:
1. I noticed the harsh tone of Jesus to his disciples (in some of the quotes) contrasted with his soft tone with His WOMEN disciples. The Mary/Martha's of the world got a different tone from Him. And this led me to extend my taunting-teacher model (you're all gonna fail this test--except maybe 1 or 2 of you) to the coach-starPlayer model, where the language of challenge, provocation, and 'steel' is much, much more like some of Jesus' admonitions to His students. (The Drill Sergant/Rookie Cadet language game also came to mind..."You Weaklings! Get your butt in gear up that hill!"). But these are relationships of actual care/closeness even, and its usage is not unrelieved: sometimes Jesus can say "Blessed are you Simon..." and sometimes its "Get behind me, Satan...", depending upon the situation. It seems to adapt itself to the need: He gently uses a child to teach them about humility when they are arguing among themselves as to who would be the greatest (i PERSONALLY would have been MUCH LESS GENTLE than Jesus with such a situation!!!!), and He can pass by the "Shall we call fire down on them from heaven?" question from John/James with a simple "You don't know yourselves very well!"...so I begin to see the RANGE of 'edge' might be correlated to the needs of pedagogy (and NOT simply a reflection of an ethically-confused Jesus-Character). It dawns on me that i don't want to judge Jesus with a "2D model", when real life (having been a teacher and parent myself) sometimes calls for a range of language--some gentle, some forceful, some shocking, some puzzling, some challenging, some wheedling (sp?)..
2. similarly, i noticed the 'let the dead bury their own dead' might have been NECESSARY to wake the guy up about the condition of his family (something YOUR VERSION--'the living need you more'-- would have left to implication, for good or ill)...But then i noticed that when others were healed and asked to go WITH jesus, he sent them home to share the good news with the families. It was NOT a consistent pattern--it seemed to float with the need of the individual. Harsh might have been necessary in some cases--i know it has been so occasionally in parenting and teaching...? (and the ANE mind worked in strong binary-oppositions, black-and-white, and strong hyperbole too).
3. the Warnings of Future Judgment were straight out of the OT, mostly--including all the fire and worms, gnashing and weeping images. The Jews of the day had already formed a wide range of literal-to-allegorical views of these images, and 'downsized them' accordingly (it was, btw, only the VERY WICKED which were going to get the bad part--the regular gentiles would just cease-to-exist, but without pain--in much of the leading Jewish theology of the day). But Jesus would have been mainly interested in affirming continuity with the stream of antecedent prophets (as the Final Son/Prophet), and, as the prophets in the OT 'reused' EARLIER OT prophetic themes, images, and language, so too did Jesus (and John the Baptist, and the apostles, obviously).
4. But warnings to an arrogant and hardened elite need to be 'violent' (as in 'apocalyptic'--its function was to shock with violent, but imprecise, images). But so were the Promises to the non-elite (the Beatitudes come to mind here).
The last thing i wanted to mention here--as I thought about our 'judging' Jesus' use of language--was the principle of "By what standard you judge...". As i found more and more cases from my own life where I USED (relevant to the situation, imo) vivid and forceful language, and/or where it was used appropriately ON me (as a student, grunt-level employee, ROTC hemi-soldier, or pathetic 7th-grade athlete), i began to realize that it would be hypocritical of ME to disallow at least SEVERAL of Jesus' 'harsher' statements--since I had uttered/used 'western versions' of some of those MYSELF (in contexts similar to what Jesus was in)...You, on the other hand, may not have been in such contexts so far--except on the 'receiving' end--but i suspect that you can see how some of this language makes sense for SOME of those situations. (it is interesting to notice, though, that the 'student rebuke'--you of little faith--is in the minority, compared with taking them aside and explaining, opening His perspective to them (see this window? she has offered more...), and going OVER and OVER and OVER the material to a VERY STUBBORN group ('we are going up to J and I am going to die and come back...' over and over and over...just like He has had to do to me...smile)...Commentators note moments of seeming-exasperation on His part, but this is not 'evil' per se.
Subject: might want to read this first
yes. 92% of what you wrote I agree with, and what's more, ALREADY - cognitively - agreed with. Why do I keep making you answer the same questions again and again? I'm truly sorry, Glenn, and getting sorrier with each 32K email I get from you. I don't know what I'm expecting, but at the same time, it seems the repetition IS very helpful. maybe I'm also mistaking slow healing for no healing...these heart-issues ARE much better now than they were years ago. Anyway, in general, I think you're right, and right especially in the sense that there almost certainly can't be any FURTHER answer on this side of death - eg, this ex-preacher is almost certainly NOT going to turn back and write ANOTHER book explaining his self-deception - so there's not much point (in this case) continuing to hold out for a more complete answer. So...i would like to make a reasonably-firm commitment to you not to resurrect these any more...
Looking over the remaining letter i sent you, i think only the first two paragraphs really want a reply, and would probably encourage you to ignore the rest (much of it you've dealt with recently in other letters). I THINK the most useful "final" thing for us to deal with, if you agree, might be just methodology on investigating these things myself...it SEEMS to me that most of the places we see things differently come from differences in this area (the buckshot obsess-for-years-then-scream-for-help approach is going to be hard to give up, though... :) )
Um...I know words are cheap, but I do NOT intend to keep abusing your generosity while apologizing copiously for it...i am now truly, truly trying now to boil our discussions down to the things that will let me become more permanently independent in dealing with these issues...thank you for your patience in the meantime.
There was then an exchange of emails about Paul's quotation of "Cretans are evil..." (Tit 1.12), where I THOUGH Ralph was holding that verse out as an example of morally culpable NT language....Followed by:
actually (and i think we'll speak about this), i think you DO (unconsciously) 'MEAN to slur', Paul--if I understand the pattern of your over-all objection (to scripture problems, at least).
And THIS is where the vagueness issue has bothered me.
When you brought up the "All Croutons are evil" (smile, said the cholesterol-conscious glennster) issue, I specifically understood you to be raising it as a MORAL difficulty for you--that such a passage was INCOMPATIBLE with a high-view (or warm-view) of God's heart (as allegedly revealed by Paul), and that this incompatibility was specifically 'detected' by the fact that the passage "BOTHERED" your legitimately-sensitive heart. I didn't 'sense' any problem in the passage (with MY heart), so I dove into the content issue about how the bothersome statement was APPROPRIATE to its historical/textual context.
So, maybe I misunderstood this Pauline case, but it got me thinking...('lotta good THAT will do, bud')...and it SEEMS to me (esp given your response to the Dead-Undertakers passage that your argument SEEMS to be structured like the ole Problem of Evil:
(POE short form):
1. This particular instance of moral evil exists.
2. The existence of (such a) moral evil is incompatible with the existence of a SIMULTANEOUSLY all-good and all-powerful God.
Ergo: Such a god cannot exist.
It 'lost its punch' (among academics and professional philosophers), because a missing premise was detected and shown to be UNPROVABLE.
1. This particular instance of moral evil exists.
(1.5) (There is no possible reason an All-good, All-powerful deity could allow such an event to occur)
2. The existence of (such a) moral evil is incompatible with the existence of a SIMULTANEOUSLY all-good and all-powerful God.
Ergo: Such a god cannot exist.
It didn't matter that each 'possible reason' advanced by theistic (and non-theistic, for that matter) philosophers advanced was shown to be 'slightly defective to carry the load'--the cat was out of the bag. Since the Argument-maker simply could NOT PROVE that there were 'no good reasons'--who could EVER prove that a good/adequate reason COULD NOT BE FOUND?!--the argument was downgraded from a 'proof' to something like 'evidence against god'.
To further weaken the resulting 'evidential' argument, all the theistic philosophers had to do was to come up with one or two semi-plausible reasons (e.g. soul-making, mobilization of community response, ethical outrage resetting the community 'norm',etc) which CONCEIVABLY, and/or UNDER SOME CONDITIONS could function (alone or in conjunction) as such a reason. In this case the mere POSSIBILIY of a reason was adequate to defeat the 'proof', and the mere PLAUSIBILITY of a specific reason was adequate to additionally lower the force of even the 'evidential' argument. (This is probably just a refresher course for you--thanks for bearing with the restatement, but i wanted to get the formal elements on paper first, to make the comparison--this would be IMPOSSIBLE to do over the phone).
So, when I turn to your arguments about SPECIFIC 'unworthy' passages, i see at least a strong resemblance:
(RPOBP - Ralph's Problem of Bothersome Passages)
1. This particular statement of X (Jesus, Paul, YHWH, etc) is an instance of moral 'inferiority' (relative to your standard) and therefore actually 'unworthy of God/Jesus/inspired Paul/etc'
2. The existence of such passages (individual or in quantity) is incompatible with the existence of a good-hearted God (or with the authorship of such a document by a good-hearted God)
ERGO: (1) Such a god does not exist; or (2) Such a god/person did not author this; or (3) if said "speaker" exists, then he/she/it/they are not morally good.
This looks like the POE to me...and if i insert the Missing Premise piece (which was the method/direction i unconsciously took in our discussion of the Dead-UnderTakers), it looks like this:
1. This particular statement of X (Jesus, Paul, YHWH, etc) is an instance of moral 'inferiority' (relative to your standard) and therefore actually 'unworthy of God/Jesus/inspired Paul/etc'
(1.5) (There is no possible reason why a good-hearted deity/Jesus/Paul would say such a thing.)
2. The existence of such passages is incompatible with the existence of a good-hearted God (or with the authorship of such a document by a good-hearted God)
ERGO: (1) Such a god does not exist; or (2) Such a god/person did not author this; or (3) if said "speaker" exists, then he/she/it/they are not morally good.
And, following in the "footsteps of Giants", we note:
1. There is no way to sustain 1.5: You could NEVER think of all the historical settings in which that utterance could have eventuated and show them ALL to be inappropriate. (the mere POSSIBILITY of a case where Jesus' utterance were morally appropriate defeats this)
2. Even the 'softer version' (evidential) version of this is weakened with every PLAUSIBLE situation in which this utterance MIGHT be appropriate (i.e., my suggested situation is at least a PLAUSIBLE one). I don't even have to show that it is the BEST 'plausible' or even that it is the PROBABLE setting.
So, I think this is a STRUCTURAL problem with the overall flow of the objection-pattern.
Now, as i reflected on the 'bothersome' aspect of (some of) your issue, I noticed two things:
1. It 'looks a lot like' our legitimately bothered responses to problems of innocent suffering, moral evil, etc in the world. So the emotional element of response might NOT have a huge amount of variability; BUT
2. I noticed in a little more detail how the initial premise worked:
a. You see a surface text of scripture
b. It troubles your emotional sense, since it reflects wording that you find generally offensive (in different ways).
c. I/(We) assume that the emotional disturbance is DUE TO a clash of morals between the (ASSUMED morals of the) presenting text and our own internal moral standards.
d. We have already agreed that our internal moral standards are more-or-less supposed to be 'in synch' with God/Jesus' moral standards.
ERGO: the passage conflicts with God/Jesus moral standards, with the further implication that:
(1) God/Jesus could not have authored the passage
(2) IF god/jesus DID author the passage, they are either
(a) ALIEN to our moral notions; or
(b) INFERIOR to our moral notions [and therefore in either case not worthy of our admiration/love]
My 'vagueness' issue lies with the movement from a-to-c. The moving from the linguistic/literary conventions of the text (e.g., hyperbole, 'harshness', sarcasm) to ITS MORAL STATUS ('evil') is NOT An AUTOMATIC and/or natural conclusion. Verbal statements are HIGHLY situational, and their morality or immorality is HIGHLY related (if not exclusively related) to their 'appropriateness' to the situation/context and the needs of the "actors and audience". The harshness of 'let the dead bury their dead' MIGHT HAVE BEEN THE MORALLY PREFERRABLE utterance--given the needs of the situation. YOUR version (the milder one) might have been MORALLY CULPABLE, because it wouldn't have met the 'largest possible set' of needs of the moment [it might have met ONE need better than Jesus' statement, but perhaps NOT the complex of needs which needed addressing in the situation]. There is NOTHING in the surface features of a text (IMO) that determine the "ethicality" of a statement. [I personally do not generally fault 'modern' mindless 'profanity' and 'expletives', since in the sub-cultures in which they are used, they generally don't carry any real 'profane' content any longer--they function more as loud versions of 'ouch' and 'thats horrible' or "i disagree strongly' etc. but this is another story...]
[I DO think there are statements which COULD be 'universally bad', statements of a highly-refined theological blasphemy, but nothing in the list of passages i have seen so far from you fall into this category. Warnings, judgments, rebukes, challenges, etc--these are often/easily could be the MORALLY REQUIRED utterance of particular situations, IMO. They certainly fit with what I KNOW about the historical and worldview context in which Jesus/Paul/the Prophets operated.]
[I think an emotional 'bump in the road' IS SUPPOSED TO alert us to 'look into the issue'--its function is something like 'early warning radar', but its not an arbitrer...once we are bothered by a comment someone makes to us, we ask for clarification ("did you mean X by your statement Y?"), give them a chance to explain, and THEN 'make a moral judgment' of their stance. To do so BEFORE is counter-relationship and borders upon a 'presumption of guilt'.
[In THESE textual cases, I think the same approach is warranted--the emotional bump should prompt you to a next/ONE-level-down INVESTIGATION (not necessarily a 'ultimate-level-down' work-effort!), and NOT to judgment-before-INVESTIGATION.]
[This gets us into the investigation question, and suspending judgment question, etc--which perhaps we can do later. But right now I wanted to articulate the 'missing link' that i see in the movement FROM 'text bothers me' TO 'text is morally inferior' and eventually TO 'text reflects a morally ignoble God/Jesus'. I think some of my "vague intuitions of vagueness" (smile) have to do with these subtle and implicit assumptions/hidden premises...
.......... to be continued...(smile)
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