There's lots of good blog fodder out there, but I don't want to let too much time go by before finishing my discussion of Stephen Fry's presentation of the Problem of Evil. See Part One for the full context.
Of all the responses I've seen to Fry's interview, there was one that was so bizarre and demented that we just have to take a look at it. And it came from an unexpected source--Larry Moran:
This video is making the rounds and a lot of atheists are wetting their pants over Stephen Fry's response to the question of what he would would say to “he, she, or it” if he encountered god when he dies.
My questions would be “Who are you? Which groups of humans (if any) got it right when making up a religion? Tell me about yourself and why you didn't reveal yourself to me.”
That's not what Stephen Fry would do. He makes the assumption that he knows the mind of god and attacks the god for not being nice to humans. In other words, he accepts the problem of evil and assumes that the god he is facing gives a damn about some obscure species on a minor planet in one of billions of galaxies. Later on Stephen Fry concedes that he could be talking to the Greek gods or some other gods but by then it's too late.
What's gotten into Larry? Where do we even begin to unpack all the crazy in those paragraphs?
Fry's question is premised on not understanding the mind of God. One suspects that if he knew God's mind, he would also understand why God allows evil.
Fry didn't actually protest God not being nice to humans. He objected to afflicting children with dread diseases. Why do you need to understand the mind of God to attack Him for that? If it turns out that God just doesn't care about human suffering, well, then there's your answer. But that doesn't make it a poor question.
I have no idea what it means to “accept” the problem of evil. The point of Fry's question was simply that evil and suffering are facts of life, and we can reasonably wonder why an agent with the power to stop it nonetheless chooses not to. As for why we might think that God gives a damn about us, one possible reason is that He created us in the first place. Are we to assume He did that out of malice?
Fry “concedes” that he could be talking to the Greek gods? What interview was Larry watching? Fry initially took it for granted that his interviewer was referring to the Christian conception of God (the interviewer specifically mentioned the Pearly Gates after all), and then went on to muse about the way other civilizations regarded their Gods. How does this reflect poorly on Fry?
Larry excoriates Fry for not considering the possibility that God does not care about humans. Yet one of his own questions is premised on the idea that God ought to have revealed Himself to him.
But we're just getting started:
The god he is addressing may or may not have done any of the things in the Bible. If he isn't that god then he will know that Stephen Fry is attacking a strawman. If he is the god of the Bible then presumably he/she/it had his/her/its reasons for doing apparently evil things and Stephen Fry is about to get educated about the real mind of god. That may turn out badly for Stephen Fry.
It just gets weirder and weirder. Attacking a strawman? What? Fry was asked what he would say to God were he to meet Him. He replied that he would ask God why He allows children to suffer from horrible diseases. How does that constitute attacking a strawman?
Regardless of whether or not we are talking about the God of the Bible, we can assume that if He exists, He has His reasons for allowing evil. I, for one, would like to know what those reasons are. Why does that reflect poorly on me?
If Larry fears it will go badly for Fry when he asks such questions, why does he think it will go any better when Larry asks God petty questions about human religions and the problem of divine hiddenness?
Many of my atheist friends think that Fry's response is fantastic because he really shocks the interviewer, Gay Byrne. That's naive. Most intelligent Christians have developed some very good rationalizations concerning the problem of evil. They've heard it all before and they know how to respond. One of the classic responses is that cannot they know the mind of god. But Stephen Fry knows the mind of god and this is puzzling because Fry is an atheist.
We can debate how good those rationalizations really are (the very fact that Larry refers to them as rationalizations suggests that he doesn't think much of them), but what has that to do with the merits of Fry's questions?
It is, indeed, very common for Christians to respond by saying that we cannot know the mind of God. The prevalence of that response is an admission both that evil and suffering is a serious problem for theists, and also that we have no good answer for it. I would say that only lends urgency to Fry's question. Given the chance to finally get a definitive answer to this difficult question, I would think that a lot of Christians would ask the same question as Fry.
But Larry wasn't finished! He then opened a subsequent post with this:
I think it's ridiculous for atheists to get dragged into the argument from evil. As soon as you start down that path you are conceding that you are willing to debate “sophisticated theology” and not whether god(s) actually exist. The atheist must then be prepared to read a massive amount of literature beginning with St. Augustine of Hippo through Thomas Aquinas and including the most famous “sophisticated” theologians of the 20th century like Alvin Plantinga and Richard Swinburne. If you don't engage the arguments made by those people, and many others, then you are not being honest.
The “problem of evil” is not simple and atheists do not do themselves any favors by pretending that it is. That's exactly the criticism we level at theists who don't even try to understand nonbelievers.
Okay, now he's just messing with me. There's no way a smart guy like Larry could believe anything he's saying.
Atheists get dragged into the argument from evil? Really? I'm pretty sure we're usually the ones who bring it up. We do that because it's a good argument.
Larry notes that there is a massive literature on the problem of evil. Indeed there is! Does Larry think that's evidence of the argument's weakness? The reason theists have to write so voluminously about it, and the reason that theology and philosophy of religion journals to this day routinely publish new papers trying to defuse it, is that the argument is very strong.
Some of us have gone through that literature. Speaking for myself, it is precisely because I have spent so much time considering the panoply of responses on offer that I am so confident that there is no plausible refutation of the argument to be found. But why is it dishonest to raise the argument without having done that much homework? Am I not allowed to accept evolution until I have read and considered every argument that creationists have ever offered?
You don't have to think the problem of evil is simple to think it's a compelling argument against theism.
Larry sometimes lets his desire to be contrarian get the best of his good sense. Hopefully he will return to his senses soon.
As for "not understanding the mind of God", why does that have to be, anyway? A God with the abilities ascribed to Him in the Bible would know what experiences would be required to convince anyone of the necessity of evil, and would have the ability to cause those experiences to occur. Free will isn't an issue here, since all that is required is effective communication and persuasion.
I told you I would drop this once the previous thread closed, and that remains my plan. However, you wrote:
"Regardless of whether or not we are talking about the God of the Bible, we can assume that if He exists, He has His reasons for allowing evil. I, for one, would like to know what those reasons are."
I merely note here that in comments on the previous thread you did not seem interested in exploring the possibility with me that there is a good answer, consistent with the Bible.
What I had to concede in the last thread was that the official explanation of Genesis 3, as distilled by the churches into the doctrine of Original Sin, does fail to make sense of the Problem of Evil. Indeed, I agree with your statement here that:
"The reason theists have to write so voluminously about it, and the reason that theology and philosophy of religion journals to this day routinely publish new papers trying to defuse it, is that the argument is very strong."
In short, no one to date has written a convincing refutation of the argument. As the article I linked to pointed out, the official church doctrine of Original Sin completely sabotages the Free Will defense I was trying to raise.
So perhaps you missed the fact that I intended to take things well beyond the standard Free Will defense (which I am sure you are familiar with), starting by ditching the official take on Original Sin and explaining the Garden of Eden story in different terms.
I have now made clear the need to rework church theology so as to explain Original Sin in a manner that also answers the Problem of Evil. I am prepared to do that, if you are interested.
But I will repeat that my real argument is with established church theology, and not with you. So if you do not accept my offer, I do understand. In which case I will make good on my plan to take my argument elsewhere.
Let me once again congratulate you for demonstrating objectivity and good manners, and for attracting to your blog a refreshing collection of thinkers.
You don’t have to think the problem of evil is simple to think it’s a compelling argument against theism.
Really? How many Hindus have become atheists because of the problem of evil? How many Jews?
In order for an atheist to use the argument from evil you have to accept the premise that gods exiist and they have the power and desire to create a universe where there's no evil.
Then you point to the existence of evil and declare that all of your premises can't be true. QED
You already know that the first premise, gods exist, is untrue but before you know it, you are debating whether these nonexistent gods have the power to prevent evil or wether they even want to. You are drawn into a debate about the properties of imaginary gods and you have to prove thst these imaginary beings have both the power and the desire to prevent evil.
It's like debating the cut of the naked Emperor's new suit or how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.
I thought Larry's comments were "interesting" and unexpected. But I would not call them "bizarre and demented".
Like Larry, I was unimpressed by Fry. A theist would probably see Fry's argument as cartoonish. Unlike Larry, I just walked away and did not go into a rant.
Theists accuse atheists of all kinds of views that the atheists don't actually hold. And atheists accuse theists of all kinds of views that the theists don't actually hold. Is anything gained by these exercises in talking past one another?
How many Hindus have become atheists because of the problem of evil? How many Jews?
True, the problem of evil is really only a problem if postulating a "tri-omni" god. If you're willing to dump at least one of the "omnis", the problem goes away. That said, it is harder to then provide transcendental arguments for gods when they don't possess those infinite powers. (And we all know the empirical arguments for gods are completely absurd.)
Moran’s questions are pretty good given the assumption that he’s found himself before some deity. But so is Fry’s question.
I also don’t understand what Moran means by “accepting the problem of evil”.
Regarding, “As for why we might think that God gives a damn about us, one possible reason is that He created us in the first place. Are we to assume He did that out of malice?”
Or perhaps we are the side-effect of some act that did matter to God. The saw dust from his carpentry shop? But is indifference very far from evil?
Moran wrote that Fry’s questioning “may turn out badly for” him.
If asking honest questions is all it takes to piss off the deity, then we’re all screwed anyway. It will go badly for all of us.
I think that if I found myself in this situation, I might start with Moran’s questions just to get my bearings, and then ask Fry’s question.
Attacking a straw man? What would they prefer he attack, the actual arguments offered by God? That seems...that seems awfully difficult. "We asked an impossible hypothetical, but then Fry's answer is bad because...BECAUSE REASONS." I don't think Fry is always right on the money, but the handwringing over comments that I think most tween atheists would take as a given is pretty funny.
The idea that Fry didn't address the arguments of every single piece of Christian apologetics ever written are patently absurd. As is the "well, you don't know, maybe there is a perfectly good reason the invisible pink unicorn allows evil to happen, did you even consider invisible purple manticores might be to blame?" If you are mad that someone grants your impossible axiom & then doesn't create MORE impossible axioms to justify it? You might want to rethink your underlying assumptions.
First, I believe the POE is really a problem only for religions in the Abrahamic tradition. Hindu’s and others seem less impacted by it.
Next, I think the greatest value of the POE (vis-à-vis Abrahamic religions) is that it severely undermines claims by those theists that atheists (and doubters like myself) should trust their accounts of the God they believe in. The POE does not disprove any deity, but it does reveal that accounts of Abrahamic deities are rife with contradiction and confusion. Theistic credibility is what the POE attacks.
The POE is just a variant of the “well, if you’re right, then shouldn’t it be that ...” kind of argument.
All the writing by Abrahamic theists on this topic are precisely because the POE is so powerful. The only coherent response a believer can give is “I don’t know” but there seems to be a lot of hesitation to say that out loud.
I tend to agree more with Dr. Moran on this one. The problem of evil is mainly one for liberal Christians, who would like to believe that "God is Love". As for things turning out badly for Mr. Fry, Dr. Moran is accepting the premise of the question that Fry has an afterlife in which he is confronted by a god who presumably created him. We may all be in trouble if those premises are true - we could find ourselves in the hands of a sadist. (The sort who would throw his children out into the street after they disobeyed him and lied about it once. How many of us would have survived childhood with that kind of parent?) (Not I.)
However, from Fry's point of view, I think he is responding within the context of liberal Christianity. It would have been better for him to establish the context more clearly. (Are we talking about Jehovah, or Ra, or Odin, or Brahma, or what?)
However, evolution makes imperfect creatures, with imperfect knee joints and imperfect reasoning powers, and lacking x-ray vision and all the other great things a wonderful god could have given us, so everyone's take on this - yours, Fry's, Dr. Moran's, mine, all the other commenters' - is perfectly consistent with and predicted by ... the theory of evolution.
(Whether or not such discussions evolve to a consensus based on reality depends of course on the selection criteria we use to evaluate our opinions for survival.)
The problem of evil is mainly one for liberal Christians, who would like to believe that “God is Love”.
The problem of evil impacts any Christian, "liberal" or "conservative", who argues for the omnibenevolence of their god. And almost all Christians do.
From what I understand, a fair number of Jews have at least struggled with a version of the problem of evil, namely how could God allow such an atrocity as the Holocaust to befall his chosen people?
Although Gordon is an untrustworthy commenter, he posted something in the past that should be considered and discarded. A falsehood left unchallenged is a dangerous thing.
Regarding free will (FW), in #281 over at “Proving God Exists” (a closed thread) Gordon quoted from the Catholic Encyclopedia that,
“On the one hand, does man possess genuine moral freedom, power of real choice, true ability to determine the course of his thoughts and volitions, to decide which motives shall prevail within his mind, to modify and mould his own character?”
And then from Webster’s Dictionary:
“1: voluntary choice or decision
2: freedom of humans to make choices that are not determined by prior causes or by divine intervention”
Although the source of the first one is itself problematic, I can accept this statement at face value. But neither of these considers the vital link between FW and responsibility. We attach just punishment to FW only because we link FW to responsibility or culpability; a link which these two quotes (and the rest comment) simply omit.
Taking into consideration only the meaning of ‘freedom’ as given in the comment, one could conclude that "strong arm robbery" is not a crime. "Your money or your life" does offer a ‘choice’ even if the thief puts a gun in your face. If you give your money to the thief, then it was a gift. That’s what you chose, right?
When someone--anyone--forces another to choose between unlikable options or deceives about the choice, or withholds significant information about the choice, or otherwise takes advantage of weakness, inexperience, or vulnerability, that choice and its attendant consequences are not freely chosen, knowing, and voluntary. Because of that, no responsibility nor culpability attaches to such choices.
There’s a word for ‘freedom’ without information; we call it innocence
the state of being not guilty of a crime or other wrong act; lack of experience with the world and with the bad things that happen in life; lack of knowledge about something
Adam and Eve’s manifest innocence (and the fact they were lied to) destroys any explanatory value to the Story of the Fall.
"The atheist must then be prepared to read a massive amount of literature."
No, the atheist doesn't, because another atheist has done so and got paid for it:
Some more than 400 pages, but not nearly all of them are devoted to the Problem of Evil. However LM's comment above shows cleary he hasn't read that one.
Re: "The problem of evil impacts any Christian, “liberal” or “conservative”, who argues for the omnibenevolence of their god. And almost all Christians do." (#10)
Perhaps, but I had the impression that was a somewhat recent view (as is the modern usages of liberal and conservative, e.g., conservatives often get "liberal educations"). "Sinners in the hands of an Angry God", Cotton Mather's famous sermon, doesn't sound like he thought his god was omnibenevolent. When I asked Paster Lamos of my hometown Wesleyan Methodist church at the age of about 16 whether that sermon made sense to him, he replied, "Yes, that's what we Wesleyans believe (note: the Wesleyan Methodists split with the Methodists over the issue of slavery, being abolitionists, or so I was told) . At best I think most Christians would say their god was benevolent towards those that deserve it (the sheep versus the goats, as the "good book" says), which is not my idea of omnibenevolent.
At worst, any Christian who believes in both hell and an omnibenevolent god must have cognitive dissonance, it seems to me. I wouldn't torture even Hitler for an eternity. After he had been tortured for all the suffering he caused times a billion, that would still be just the start of eternity.
In order for an atheist to use the argument from evil you have to accept the premise that gods exiist and they have the power and desire to create a universe where there’s no evil.
You have to posit it for the sake of argument, but that's not accepting that it exists. I very much doubt Sci-Fi author Larry Niven believed in Superman when he penned "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenx," yet despite his nonbelief it makens for an interesting examination of the superman concept. The same is true for theodicy; but given that many many people actually profess belief in a tri-omni God while very few profess belief in Superman, theodicy is the more important sort of examination of the two.
As Larry says, one has to accept the premise to work the POE. But as eric says, one does not have to accept the truth of the premise to work the POE.
It can (and usually is) a "for the sake of argument" thing.
And the premise is only that some deity has the power to create a universe without evil. What that deity would desire is the point of the POE.
I find it incredible, in this day and age, to continue to see questions like this from ostensibly intelligent, educated people:
“It is, indeed, very common for Christians to respond by saying that we cannot know the mind of God. The prevalence of that response is an admission both that evil and suffering is a serious problem for theists, and also that WE HAVE NO GOOD ANSWER FOR IT.”
In the last 2,000 years the Catholic Church hasn’t spoken clearly, directly and definitively on this question? Here’s something from more recent times:
“The reason theists have to write so voluminously about [the “problem” of evil], and the reason that theology and philosophy of religion journals to this day routinely publish new papers trying to defuse it, is that the argument is very strong.”
Similarly, the reason atheists have to write so voluminously about, say, abiogenesis, and the reason that evolutionary science journals to this day routinely publish new papers trying to support it, is that the argument is very weak.
“Am I not allowed to accept evolution until I have read and considered every argument that creationists have ever offered?”
Of course you’re allowed.
But similarly, am I not allowed to reject evolution until I have read and considered every argument that evolutionists have ever offered? (In fact, though, I’ve rejected evolution AFTER reading and considering every argument that evolutionists have ever offered.)
To Gordon #2:
I don’t know what your apparently unorthodox view is on original sin, but are you going to start your own church soon?
What would it be called?
"You already know that the first premise, gods exist, is untrue but before you know it, you are debating whether these nonexistent gods have the power to prevent evil or wether they even want to. You are drawn into a debate about the properties of imaginary gods and you have to prove thst these imaginary beings have both the power and the desire to prevent evil."
This is such a poor argument by Moran it is embarrassing. The argument regarding evil is an argument AGAINST the existence of God. Engaging this argument isn't an acceptance of God's existence. On Larry' basis atheists show not engage theologians on any theological claim where God is claimed to be the agent because this presupposes His existence. I guess that rules out original sin, transubstantion and the resurrection for starters.
Yes, it does rule out "original sin," "transubstantion," and "the resurrection." It's ridiculous for atheists to argue with a Christian about these beliefs. If you accept the premise that their imaginary and omnipotent gods actually exist then surely it's trivial for them to turn wine into blood in a manner that's only significant to true believers. You abandoned logic and entered the realm of superstition as soon as you started to argue about the attributes of imaginary beings.
If you accept the premise that their imaginary and omnipotent gods actually exist then surely it’s trivial for them to turn wine into blood in a manner that’s only significant to true believers.
But we don't accept the premise. Larry, do you understand the difference between argument soundness and validity? This is basic philosophy stuff, taught in 101 courses. Do you understand that you can analyze and argument's validity without reference to the soundness of its premises? That is basically what the theodicy argument is: an argument that the mainstream religious conception of God is invalid, regardless of the truth value of any given premise, because several of those premises appear to be contradictory.
What is the mainstream religious conception of the Christian god that you think is contradictory? Is it the idea that Jesus is the son of god and he came to Earth to forgive humans for their sins? Then god let him be crucified? That seems pretty mainstream to me and it clearly allows for a god that permits evil.
As for basic philosophy stuff, let's see how it works, Perhaps you could make up a little outline of the argument as you see it?
What is the mainstream religious conception of the Christian god that you think is contradictory?
God is omnipotent, omniscient, all-merciful, yet pain and suffering exists.
But this is somewhat beside the point. In your OP, in @3, and again in @22 you make the claim that atheists must accept that such a god exists in order to make a theodicy argument. This is patently and ludicrously wrong. Can't you just admit that it's perfectly possible to have a debate about the validity of someone's argument without conceding that their premises are true?
Pardon me for jumping in, but perhaps I can shed some light. The thing that is contradictory is not God in and of itself, but rather a particular conception of God. The problem that orthodox Christians have is that this conception of God matches their theology pretty well. To outline the argument:
Premise 1: God exists.
Premise 2: God is omnipotent
Premise 3: God is omniscient
Premise 4: God is omnibenevolent
Premise 5: Evil exists in the world.
At this point please note: those 5 premises are pretty well in agreement with mainstream Christian belief. It would be pretty tough to call yourself a Christian if you deny #1. Premises 2-4 are the "tri-omnis", which are pretty standard fare in orthodox Christian theology. Premise #5 is accepted also; without evil, there's no need for a savior, and hence no Christianity.
Now, given those premises, a God exists (P1) who is knows when an evil act is about to occur (P3), is capable of stopping that act from occurring (P2), and desires that this act should not occur (P4). The conclusion then from P1-P4 is that evil acts should never occur. That is in direct contradiction, however with premise 5. It is therefore logically valid to conclude that at least one of P1-P5 must be false.
Obviously, for atheists, this argument poses no problems at all. Atheists simply deny premise #1. Christians have no such easy solution, however, since denying premise 1 is denying Christianity itself. Christians must pick one of the other 4 to deny. Generally, it seems that the most common response is that they tend to implicitly deny omnipotence, usually with some type of argument that human free will does not allow God to eliminate evil acts.
All reasonable Christians deny Premise #4 because it leads to an obvious contradiction. They will argue that their gods don't want to make everyone good for reasons, X, Y, and Z.
I order to continue the argument, atheists have to insist that X, Y, and Z are wrong and Christians MUST believe in an omnibenevolent god. How in the world does an atheist know that their imaginary gods have to be omnibenevolent?
What's the point in arguing that they have to be omnibenevolent instead of semi-benevolent or evil? They don't exist.
To eric #25:
Moran: “What is the mainstream religious conception of the Christian god that you think is contradictory?”
Eric: “God is omnipotent, omniscient, all-merciful, yet pain and suffering exists.”
“All-merciful”? Why would God need to show mercy?
if it isn't compassionate sn why is
in his written word?
(For the LORD thy God is a merciful God;) he will not forsake thee, neither destroy thee, nor forget the covenant of thy fathers which he sware unto them.
For the LORD your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your ancestors, which he confirmed to them by oath.
Other than, of course, the fact that the bible is simply a collection of feel-good stories that have been written and re-written over the past couple thousand years, that is.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought that the whole basic premise of Christianity rests on God being merciful. Nobody is without sin. No human is worthy of receiving divine grace. The only reason that we can even hope to be saved is that God has mercy on us; so much so that He sent His only son to earth to be sacrificed for our sins. Seems to me that mainstream Christianity certainly rests theologically on a merciful God.
All reasonable Christians deny Premise #4 because it leads to an obvious contradiction.
That's flatly wrong. That vast body of literature you referred to when you first brought this up is all about showing that there is, in fact, no contradiction between the existence of evil and the existence of a tri-omni God. As it happens, I agree with that assessment, which is why I prefer the evidential form of the of the POE.
The premise, as described above, is that the gods are omnibenevolant AND they want to create a world where there is no evil. I assumed that the second part was part of the definition of "omnibenevolant."
In any case, we are now quibbling about how to define "omnibenevolant" and whether Christians should actually believe in one definition of another.
What's the point of that when there are no gods to begin with?
I'm not so sure you're correct. Most Christians with whom I've discussed theodicy try to defend against the problem of evil based on free will, which as I said before, implicitly denies omnipotence. Most Christians certainly believe in a benevolent God; otherwise why should we pray for God's intervention? Why would a non-benevolent God intervene to help us? The denial of benevolence leads precariously close to deism. Most Christians, believing as they do in a personal God who intervenes in His creation, would probably think that God does not desire that we suffer.
Larry - as others have said, yes in fact most Christians appear to believe a set of claims you think are obviously contradictory.
So the next obvious qusetion you might ask is: why verbally joust with such people, that believe obviously contradictory things? Because they vote. They make education policy. Their opinions matter and insofar as we might help change those opinions to be more rational or at least inject a little more critical thinking into their daily routine, we are making a positive difference in the world. Moreover I very much doubt that the most vocal hardcore believers are representative. I expect there are a lot of believers who don't see the contradiction(s) merely because they've never thought deeply through it all before. Not everyone does. So, we have the theodicy conversation every generation because every generation there is a new generation of mostly honest seekers of truth confronting the complications and seeming contradictions in the beliefs they grew up with.
Larry, I think our posts 'passed in the night' but hopefully my second paragraph answers your last question.
One would assume that an omnibenevolent God would want to create a world with no evil. That seems implicit in the definition of “omnibenevolent” There's still no contradiction, or at least no obvious contradiction, between assuming a tri-omni God and the existence of evil. It might be that the existence of evil is something you have to accept in order to achieve certain greater goods.
To Sean T #26:
“Now, given those premises, a God exists (P1) who is knows when an evil act is about to occur (P3), is capable of stopping that act from occurring (P2), and desires that this act should not occur (P4). The conclusion then from P1-P4 is that evil acts should never occur. That is in direct contradiction, however with premise 5. It is therefore logically valid to conclude that at least one of P1-P5 must be false.”
No it is not logically valid.
Your Premise 4 (“God is omnibenevolent”), though, is not adequate for Christian theology. A human being can be benevolent to his pet hamster, but this is not the “benevolence” of Christian theology, ultimately.
Your Premise 4 should be restated to be the deeper, more comprehensive “God IS Love” (cf. 1 John 4:8). The Trinity is love, it is a love relationship among three persons in one God. This love relationship is decidedly different from the relationship between man and pet. Or perhaps more to the point, it’s decidely different from the relationship between man and robot.
THIS love is the ultimate love, the only true love – for it is FREELY engaged in and MUTUAL between the two parties.
Thus, free will is God’s greatest gift to man. For without free will there can be no true love, and God is all about love.
However, free will is also the scariest gift, for its misuse (i.e. sin) will lead to the opposite of love. And there is no end to how bad and disordered the opposite of love can be (cf. Mat 6:23). An individual’s sin can have ferocious and far-reaching effects. And an individual’s love can have fabulous and far-reaching effects.
A world of robots would have no sin, would have no evil.
But it would have no love. It would have no God.
To dean #28:
“if it isn’t compassionate sn why is Deuteronomy 4:31 in his written word? … For the LORD your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your ancestors, which he confirmed to them by oath.”
You seem to have overlooked the immediately preceding verse:
“When you are in tribulation, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, YOU WILL RETURN TO THE LORD your God AND OBEY his voice”.
God’s mercy follows our repentance and obedience.
To Sean T #30:
“SN, Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought that the whole basic premise of Christianity rests on God being merciful. Nobody is without sin. No human is worthy of receiving divine grace. The only reason that we can even hope to be saved is that God has mercy on us; so much so that He sent His only son to earth to be sacrificed for our sins. Seems to me that mainstream Christianity certainly rests theologically on a merciful God.”
OK, I’ll correct you.
You’re seeing only one side of the Coin. God is merciful, yes. But God is ALSO JUST. As St. Thomas Aquinas put it, ‘Mercy without justice is the mother of dissolution; justice without mercy is cruelty.’
One of the reasons that, for instance, Protestants, get their theology wrong is that they focus on one truth to the exclusion or subordination of other truths. You’ll find that the one true Church so often teaches a ‘both/and’, rather than an ‘either/or’.
God’s mercy follows our repentance and obedience.
That is not benevolent when we're considering weighty matters such as a person's eternal damnation. It is not consistent with a loving relationship to permit eternal suffering and withhold relief from it until after the person agrees to repent and obey you.
Gordon #2: I merely note here that in comments on the previous thread you did not seem interested in exploring the possibility with me that there is a good answer, consistent with the Bible.
... the Free Will defense I was trying to raise.
You're going to run into serious problems there. The term "free will" appears precisely zero times in the Bible. And there are multiple episodes in which YHWH fails to respect free will. You would have to give up a sizable portion of the Book of Exodus, for example, in which YHWH "hardens the heart" of the Pharaoh so that He can show off by killing more people & animals.
Your attempt is part of the "bait and switch" in which arguments for a more liberal, possibly Deistic, God are mixed with claims of support for a more closely defined Christian God.
To eric #40:
“It is not consistent with a loving relationship to permit eternal suffering and withhold relief from it until after the person agrees to repent and obey you.”
Just to make sure there’s no misunderstanding on Church theology,
1)Yes, it would not be consistent with a LOVING RELATIONSHIP to permit eternal suffering. It is only those who are NOT in a loving relationship with God who have something weighty to worry about.
2)Once a soul has entered eternal suffering, there is no hope of relief, for the TIME to repent and obey has PASSED.
I think it was St. Augustine who said ‘God promises his forgiveness for our repentance. But he does not promise tomorrow for our procrastination.’
Just to make sure there’s no misunderstanding on Church theology,
1) Yes, it would not be consistent with a LOVING RELATIONSHIP to permit eternal suffering. It is only those who are NOT in a loving relationship with God who have something weighty to worry about.
You didn't get my point the first time, so let me rephrase. IMO it is not consistent with God loving someone to permit them to suffer eternally and withhold relief until they agree to repent and obey God. It makes no difference if the person doesn't love God back. What you are describing is quid pro quo, not love.
Once a soul has entered eternal suffering, there is no hope of relief, for the TIME to repent and obey has PASSED.
Yes I understand this is the theology. I view it as a powerful example of your God's nonbenevolence, not as any sort of explanation of the sort of benevolence God has.
Heck, what you are describing in 1) isn't really even consistent with Jesus' teaching. You're telling me God doesn't do unto us as he would have us do unto him, instead he does unto us as we do unto him.
Doesn't Luke have a parable of the lost sheep - where the shepherd leaves the 99 "good" sheep and goes after the 1 "bad" sheep? Shouldn't God be tracking down all of us lost sheep? What is taking God so long?
To eric #44:
“Heck, what you are describing in 1) isn’t really even consistent with Jesus’ teaching. You’re telling me God doesn’t do unto us as he would have us do unto him, instead he does unto us as we do unto him.”
No. It IS consistent.
What you’re describing is the Golden Rule, which Jesus DID quote and recommend. HOWEVER, Jesus quoted the GR with a PROVISO which atheists don’t have nor recognize: “So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS.” [Mat 7:12]
And what is the FIRST and GREATEST COMMANDMENT of the LAW from the PROPHETS? ‘You are to love the Lord your God greatly and above all other things.’
Basically, we are to follow the GR, among other things, BECAUSE the one and only, all holy GOD COMMANDED US TO. Not coincidentally, when we follow God's commands we come to see that they are indeed good and what is best for us. [Atheists follow the GR only as a matter of utility and, ultimately, only as a matter of fickle taste.]
God ALSO says
"Not every one who says to me, `Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
On that day many will say to me, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?'
And then will I declare to them, `I NEVER KNEW YOU; DEPART FROM ME, you evildoers.'” [Mat 7:21-23]
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth;
I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and a man's foes will be those of his own household.
He who loves father or mother more than me is NOT WORTHY OF ME; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is NOT WORTHY OF ME;
and he who does NOT TAKE HIS CROSS AND FOLLOW ME IS NOT WORTHY OF ME.
He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.” [Mat 10:34-39]
Both the Golden Rule AND the above verses are true, properly understood.
As I said before, the Catholic Church teaches the WHOLE truth, which can often be seen as a “both/and”, NOT an “either/or.”
See Noevo @ #20,
Nope, no plans to start my own church. The church does change, just slowly. Witness Vatican II.
Martin Luther's error was in leaving the church and starting his own, rather than seeking to reform the church from within.
I merely believe that Original Sin needs to be defined in terms that give greater emphasis to the fact of Free Will we see demonstrated in the Creation story. We caused the problem, and therefore it is up to us to fix it. It is true that we cannot fix it on our own, but this is different to the notion of sitting around and waiting to for God to fix it.
God has already done his part. Now he is waiting for us to follow the instructions. People miss this because they think that Original Sin has destroyed all possibility of them doing things God's way.
This lack of clarity on Original Sin eventually led Calvin to take it to its Gnostic extreme, and that essentially crippled Protestantism right from the outset. Even while rejecting Predestination, the Protestants I was raised around all believed we were to merely sit around waiting for that great train to glory, and that it was futile to try to make any improvements to this fallen world.
"Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, in Earth as it is in Heaven" has no meaning to most Christians, exactly because of their wrong understanding of Original Sin.
I’m not a theologian but what you say in #47 seems in synch with Catholic teaching.
“ “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, in Earth as it is in Heaven” has no meaning to most Christians, exactly because of their wrong understanding of Original Sin.”
That phrase has significant meaning. But Jesus didn’t pray those words expecting that the Kingdom would come as a result of the efforts of mankind, even the redeemed portion of mankind. I understand that you have a dim appraisal of Paul, but he did write with inspired candor when he said “I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing”, which is the resulting condition of original sin, and physical kinship with Adam.
If you recall from the first thread on the Problem of Evil, I am a Protestant convert to the catholic faith.
I am glad you see the consistency in my position. I have no argument with the fundamental doctrine of Original Sin. I simply think a better explanation is in order. That would both address certain objections raised by non-believers and clarify things for believers.
I have no problem at all with Paul. When read correctly, he is completely in harmony with the teachings of Jesus. Funny how most Protestants misunderstand Paul, but feeling that they have understood him they then become confused when they try to make sense of the teachings of Christ.
Do a study of Paul's use of the term "flesh" in Romans. The start of chapter 8 is almost enough in itself. He repeatedly contrasts it with the "spirit". I have yet to hear a Christian discuss this distinction meaningfully.
To put it bluntly, most Christians I know are Gnostic at heart. They view this world as Evil. They view their own bodies as Evil. They believe, as did the Gnostics, that they are trapped in these physical cages and doomed to keep right on sinning until such time as their spirit is set free, by Death!
This is not Christianity. Gnosticism was condemned as a heresy in the very early days. Yet it has resurrected in the modern church, just without the label.
Paul was not saying that his body was Evil. But modern Christians hold this peculiarly scientific notion that their DNA was irreparably broken by Original Sin, and that Sin in now hardwired into their very bodies. Show me the precedent for this belief in the book of Genesis. It comes only from a misunderstanding of the English translation of Paul, that uses this word, "flesh".
Paul is contrasting the physical and spiritual ways of approaching life. In the physical, we rely upon commerce. We mitigate the possibility of loss by demanding equal value in exchange when we give something. We only give when we expect something in return from the recipient.
Only with a spiritual understanding can we give freely, demanding nothing in return, and believe by faith that God will make sure our needs are taken care of. No good thing can come from the reliance upon the physical (tangible, that "provable" stuff the atheists are always demanding). Read Paul this way, and you will find great meaning and great consistency.
Thus, Paul calls the Law of Moses, the "law of sin and of death", that was "weak through the flesh". That law regulated commerce. It governed the physical realm, and led only to sin and to death.
By contrast, the teachings of Christ are "the law of the spirit of Life". Those laws are laid out concisely in the Sermon on the Mount. All commerce/contract can be replaced with:
-Give to him who asks of you
-Ask and ye shall receive
-Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors
These are laws - rules. We either live by one (the flesh) and we sin and we die. Or we live by the other (the spiritual) and we live. Either way, we choose which set of rules to apply while we are here in this earthly realm, and attached to our physical bodies, which God made "good" right from the beginning.
Belief that real life starts in a new realm once we are separated from our physical bodies is precisely what the Gnostics taught. Belief that Heaven will be brought here to Earth by our obedience to the commands of Christ, is a distinctly Christian notion. This is one of the key distinctives that makes Christianity unique from all other religions.
“most Christians I know are Gnostic at heart. They view this world as Evil. They view their own bodies as Evil. They believe, as did the Gnostics, that they are trapped in these physical cages and doomed to keep right on sinning until such time as their spirit is set free, by Death!”
I don’t know of anyone who teaches the ‘keep right on sinning’ part. But there are legitimate reasons for accepting the idea that the world is evil, that our flesh is corrupt, and that we are waiting to be redeemed. Gnosticism is not a well-defined set of ideas. It is varied and subtle departures from scriptural norms.
“modern Christians hold this peculiarly scientific notion that their DNA was irreparably broken by Original Sin, and that Sin in now hardwired into their very bodies. Show me the precedent for this belief in the book of Genesis.”
When Adam was created, he was made “in our image, after our likeness”. He was made with a body, a soul and a spirit. These three elements reflected the ‘our’ composition of his Maker. But when he ate of the fruit, the third part of his essence died. His body and soul were intact, but his spirit was dead.
When Adam was 130 years old, he “begat a son in his own likeness, and after his image; and called his name Seth”. Seth was no longer a man made in ‘our image’. He was a dead man walking. This status is what Paul called “the natural man”, which calls for a distinction between ‘natural’ and ‘normal’.
Jesus, some 4000 years later, addressed this dilemma in a conversation with Nicodemus in John 3. The only efficacious repair for humans is regeneration. “that which is born of the Spirit is spirit”, and that which is not, remains dead. Rebirth comes down to a very exclusionary policy of grace that keeps every thing, and everyone, out of God’s personal business. It is described in fabulous clarity in two verses:
“But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” John 1:12-13
This is grace, and this is truth with no gimmicks. This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Now you are making sense. You have half the story exactly right. The second half is still missing.
As I pointed out before, the modern church does not understand the meaning behind "received him" and "believe on his name". This is NOT talking about walking the aisle and praying a prayer and being issued your ticket to Heaven as a result.
I have asked you what "the Kingdom of God" looks like, because THAT is the proof that one has been "born again". You had no answer.
But follow the clues on death and rebirth, and you will find the answer. The dead are under "the law of sin and of death". To come out from under this law, you must choose a new set of rules. But you reject my detailed explanation of the rules clearly laid out by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount as being "the law of the SPIRIT of LIFE in Christ Jesus."
So what rules do you propose? What was Paul referring to in Romans 8? No rules at all? Some mushy notion about "Love one another, but keep in mind that you are fallen sinners, completely incapable of true love in this life. So do your best, but it doesn't really matter because your best will never be good enough for God."
This is modern Evangelical doctrine I am citing. Completely disempowering and contradictory. This is neither LAW, nor SPIRIT, nor LIFE. So where is this new set of rules that Paul was so clearly referring to?
As I said, you have got the first half exactly right. But you don't see where that leads. You suffer from the same mental paralysis as most modern Christians. "No use polishing the brass on a sinking ship."
Here is another clue. Read the parable of the Prodigal Son. Clear your mind of all presumptions, because it most assuredly does not mean what you have been taught that it means. Then contemplate the last line:
"My son who was DEAD is now ALIVE!"
What killed him? What brought him back to life? Has Jesus lost his marbles? Nowhere in the story does it say that the son died. So Jesus must be talking about the same spiritual death as you mention, and therefore the parable (the longest one Jesus tells) is a detailed picture of spiritual death and rebirth.
Yet it contains so many elements that preachers simply skip over in order to fit this parable into their typical "walk the aisle and pray the prayer" appeal at the end of the sermon. There is so much detail in this parable that is missed. Can you see it?
Why did Jesus not teach us to pray, "Take me to Heaven as fast as you can," rather than "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, in Earth ..."?
The Kingdom is already established in Heaven. What on Earth are we still doing on Earth? We already "believe" the right stuff. What is there left to do? Is there any other reason for us to be here besides witnessing to others? Is testifying to the truth the ONLY thing that gives meaning to our present state of existence? If so, what Bible passage supports that notion?
You "believe" a set of wooden, stale facts. Real belief leads to action. If you "believe" that the building is on fire, you head for the nearest exit. If you "believe" that your house will be robbed while you are on vacation, you buy a security system. But people who "believe in Jesus" don't even bother to try and figure out the meaning of what he taught, much less "believe" that it must be obeyed.
Instead, they turn to Paul. They "believe in Paul" because that is who they preach from. But they don't understand Romans 8, so they don't actually grasp the central core of Paul's teaching either. They just like a few of the peripheral factoids.
Let's argue about whether or not women should be allowed to speak in church, shall we? Far easier than forgiving debts.
So you have the first half of the Gospel nailed down. The problem half. We are dead. But "grace alone" is not going to resurrect us the moment we give mental assent to a list of "beliefs". No, we must actually believe those beliefs, and for a start we must actually know what those beliefs are.
And I will repeat, if you want to know what action the beliefs of the Disciples led them to take, just read the end of Acts chapter 4. Stop explaining away passage after passage and you will find an amazing consistency to them all.
And the implications are terrifying.
“As I pointed out before, the modern church does not understand the meaning behind “received him” and “believe on his name”.”
Oh, I don’t think there is any great encrypted message going on here. It is straight-forward and lucid, just like the works of God and will of the Father verses in John 6. The Gospel is a stand-alone message for dead men. That’s why Paul urged his readers to stick with the “simplicity that is in Christ”, and warned them to be wary of other claims. (2 Cor 11:3,4)
“I have asked you what “the Kingdom of God” looks like, because THAT is the proof that one has been “born again”. You had no answer.”
I could answer all kinds of things about that. The important thing is that the kingdom is a coming thing, not a becoming thing. It will happen soon enough.
“But you reject my detailed explanation of the rules clearly laid out by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount as being “the law of the SPIRIT of LIFE in Christ Jesus.” “
Yeah, I would tend to reject that. The Sermon on the Mount was a fabulous and practical message to Jews hardened and jaded by dead liturgical religion. But it is not actually about salvation. He spoke with great clarity about that elsewhere, and commissioned Paul to expound on the technicals, some of which Peter recognized as “hard to understand”.
“To come out from under this law, you must choose a new set of rules….So what rules do you propose? What was Paul referring to in Romans 8? No rules at all?”
A born again person is literally a member of the royal family of God. This status is about privilege and responsibility, not rules. Paul noted twice, very clearly: “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient…”. There are obviously guidelines and policies, as in any normal family. but we are not subjects. We are children of the King.
“The Kingdom is already established in Heaven. What on Earth are we still doing on Earth?”
Accumulating knowledge and wealth. The former requires diligence in study, and we have a giant Bible to rightly divide. We are not supposed to rightly add to, rightly subtract from, or rightly average the word of truth. We have the provision, and it is up to us to exploit it.
Our eternal wealth, or poverty, will be the result of doing or not doing good works.
“So you have the first half of the Gospel nailed down.”
The Gospel is not a segmented message, and regeneration is not a performance-dependent process. You should have caught on to that by noticing that rebirth occurs not “of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man”. I think you are still having trouble distinguishing between salvation and works. Rebirth is an all-God dynamic, initiated by meritless belief.
“if you want to know what action the beliefs of the Disciples led them to take, just read the end of Acts chapter 4”
We’ve been through this before. Do you think that everyone visiting Jerusalem for Shavuot sold everything they had when they got back home? Did John ever sell his house? Did Lydia sell her house and purple-dye business in Thyatira? Did anyone ask her to?
You have done an admirable job of laying out the tangle of notions that is modern Evangelicalism.
First you quote Paul on "the simplicity that is in Christ" and soon after that you quote Peter on the difficulty of understanding Paul.
You admit the reliance on Paul as the primary source, and put forward that he was "commissioned" by Jesus to make up for some apparent deficiencies in his teaching. If you thought about this notion objectively for about 30 seconds, you would see straight away that it is an admission that it is the teaching of Jesus that you find difficult.
But those teachings are not difficult to understand. Their literal reading is difficult to obey. Which makes Paul so much easier, because he never said, "Sell all you have, give the money to the poor, and come follow me." It is just so much easier to explain away, "The love of Money is the root of ALL Evil."
It is precisely the notion that the Kingdom is a "coming thing, not a becoming thing" that has modern Christianity paralyzed. This has been my big beef all along. You will note that this notion stands in direct contradiction to the words of John the Baptist and Jesus. They clearly taught that, "... the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand."
It was a here and now thing 2000 years ago, yet churches today teach that it is still to come. The reason for this teaching is simple: They cannot see the Kingdom! They don't know what it looks like, and so they cannot see it. Since they cannot see it in practice here and now, they can only conclude that it is yet to come. Because the only other logical conclusion is unthinkable: We have not been born again!
Your take on the Sermon on the Mount as being for the Jews reminded me that Dispensationalism does indeed conveniently explain away all those difficult teachings of Jesus. It puts everything prior to the resurrection as applicable to the Jews only. As damnable a heresy as has ever infected the church, as it effectively negates the words of Christ, making "the word of God of none effect."
So most churches repeat every week a prayer that was only for the Jews? And the Ten Commandments were only for the Jews? Jews can't serve God and Mammon, but we can? And only meek Jews will inherit the Earth?
Ah, of course. The Jews get left behind. Who wants to inherit the Earth anyway? We have our hopes pinned on pie-in-the-sky-in-the-sweet-by-and-by.
You are doing an excellent job of rightly subtracting from the word of truth. Rather than accumulating knowledge, you are busily defending a dogma that is set in stone. And this despite the fact that most of it was newly discovered only 150 or so years ago. It is far removed from the faith of the Apostles.
Think about the words used. Kingdom and Family are not the same. Both apply, so both must be applied. You appeal to the Family side to get away from what is required in a Kingdom. A Kingdom has laws. Paul used the word "law" many times to contrast the two sets of rules. This is crucial. Yet the modern church simply says, "The law has been done away with", and leaves it at that, with no rules at all.
Unless you examine the two sets of rules, and learn how and why each one applies, and under what circumstances, you cannot know which set applies to you. You and most Christians are still under the Law of Moses. This is easy to prove. Try stealing something and see if the victim, the Police and the Judge will all agree that "all things are lawful" for you. Those words of Paul are very significant, and do apply once you understand ALL that he taught about the Law, and not just the modern misunderstanding of what he means in the passage where he says that it has been "done away with".
Paul was equally adamant that as "children of the King" we are due an inheritance. This amazing reality gets bundled together with hundreds of other key biblical concepts and put off to some nondescript "heavenly reward". Once again, the word of God is made of none effect.
The concept that we are accumulating wealth now for all eternity will not withstand 30 seconds of objective thought either. It assumes that life ceases and that we sit around doing nothing for the rest of eternity. That doesn't sound like Heaven to me at all. That sounds like a Hellish existence. If Heaven is anything, it is a continuation of all that was good in this life, only better. Ponder that one.
The Gospel clearly has several elements to it, just like most things in life. I merely separated out the Problem from the Solution, so as to affirm my full agreement with your description of the Problem, and then to point out that you actually present no Solution beyond, "only believe".
I have laid out what Faith and Belief are in some detail. Salvation is by Faith, not Belief, and "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." Faith is not some list of propositions for us to give mental assent to. Yet you claim that rebirth is initiated not by Faith, but by "meritless belief".
I have shown a number of instances where your immovable dogma directly contradicts Scripture. It was these very contradictions that didn't sit right with me and that caused me to dig deeper. The Holy Spirit had to lead me into all truth, because no church I attended could make sense of things for me.
If you remain satisfied with a dogma that is demonstrably NOT turning the world upside down, then you are failing to do the very things that you yourself said are the purpose to be achieved while here on Earth.
Perhaps, due to the adversarial nature of such a forum, you have missed the fact that I am not attacking or demeaning your faith at all. I am challenging you to take it deeper. There is so much more than what you now know. Paul gives us a glimpse of this:
"O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!
For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?
Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?
For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen."
With such riches put before us, I struggle to understand how most Christians can be satisfied with lives that fall so far short of attaining the standards set for us in Scripture. I was never satisfied, and where that dissatisfaction has led me has been on the most rewarding adventure imaginable.
You see, I know what the Kingdom looks like. Once I had an idea of what to look for, God did lead me to it. And it is here and now, and "exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think".
More when I have time, but did Lydia and John fail?
“First you quote Paul on “the simplicity that is in Christ” and soon after that you quote Peter on the difficulty of understanding Paul.”
Yes, but those are quotes, not my own thoughts. The Gospel is very simple, some other things are not.
“You admit the reliance on Paul as the primary source, and put forward that he was “commissioned” by Jesus to make up for some apparent deficiencies in his teaching.”
Paul teaches things that were personally revealed to him, many of them not addressed in the Gospels.
“Their literal reading is difficult to obey. Which makes Paul so much easier, because he never said, “Sell all you have, give the money to the poor, and come follow me.” “
Neither Paul, James, Peter or John ever repeated any mandate to sell everything and give the money to the poor in order to follow the Lord. That was never a commandment. He didn’t even tell Zacchaeus to do that. If you want to understand what the rich kid’s real problem was, figure out why Cain’s sacrifice was evil.
“It is just so much easier to explain away, “The love of Money is the root of ALL Evil.” “
There is nothing to explain away. It is the love of money, not the money. If the money was evil, you’d be corrupting the poor by giving it to them.
“Your take on the Sermon on the Mount as being for the Jews reminded me that Dispensationalism does indeed conveniently explain away all those difficult teachings of Jesus.”
Good gosh. Dispensational theology only notices details and benchmarks. It is not all one big wad where you can’t distinguish between the chosen people and the bride of Christ. There are advents, start points, stop points and covenants.
Go back and read the work of God verses, and the will of the Father verses, in John 6. You explained those away as “misread”. So what is the true reading?
“It puts everything prior to the resurrection as applicable to the Jews only”
Horsefeathers. Nobody, but nobody, teaches this. The Gospels present the fulfillment of the entire Old Testament in a Person, and His work on behalf of mankind.
“You are doing an excellent job of rightly subtracting from the word of truth.”
Well, I’m more than willing to subtract misapplications. But I find no conflict at all between the Gospels and Paul, or any other NT contributor.
You seldom stray from Matthew, and when you do, you seem to not like what you’ve found, like the definitive rapture verse in 1 Thessalonians, or the Revelation. Or even the reality of eternal fire, which is actually in Matthew. That was easy to sweep under the rug.
“And this despite the fact that most of it was newly discovered only 150 or so years ago. It is far removed from the faith of the Apostles.”
Well, the verses have been there since they were first written, and there is good reason to expect that some things would not come into view until it is time for them to be understood. But, I shouldn’t have to point out that the Marian doctrines have no scriptural basis at all, and she was only discovered, out of thin air, to have been assumed into heaven around 1950.
“The concept that we are accumulating wealth now for all eternity will not withstand 30 seconds of objective thought either. It assumes that life ceases and that we sit around doing nothing for the rest of eternity. That doesn’t sound like Heaven to me at all.”
Well, that is tragically lamentable, and a refrain I have often heard from atheists. But again, from Matthew, “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven”.
There will be some who will not have much to show for having been alive. But they will nonetheless be saved, and I doubt that anyone will ever be bored. You can read about how this works in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15.
“Once I had an idea of what to look for, God did lead me to it.”
Did He ever lead you to any revelation as to why there are four Gospels?
Lydia was a new convert. The story in Acts 16 only covers the days immediately following her conversion. It does not give further details. So we simply don't know if she sold her house or not, or even if she was told to do so or not.
But from Acts 5 we see that no one was compelled to sell their land and houses. They did so willingly. The law of Christ was fulfilled by "holding all things in common", and not by what each one sold specifically.
What passage are you referring to with regards to John?
How's this for simplicity:
The Old Covenant was made with Israel (the Jews), and was passing away because Israel could never keep their part of it. Breach of contract.
The New Covenant was brought in by Christ, and replaces the Old. It will last forever, because it is possible for us to keep our part.
The "dispensation" in Eden was a New Covenant dispensation. Paradise = Heaven on Earth.
The Kingdom of Christ is a New Covenant dispensation.
From Adam's sin to Moses there was no Covenant (lawlessness).
From Moses until (some point in time) was the Old Covenant.
The "covenants" of Noah, Abraham, or whoever else do not form part of this picture. They were preliminary, or mere introduction to the main event. Thus the confusion caused by Seven dispensations, when all that matters is Two Covenants.
So my "dispensational" breakdown of the biblical storyline goes:
New Covenant (Eden) --> No Covenant --> Old Covenant --> New Covenant
If you accept this simplicity, then the "details and benchmarks" we can agree on. The distinction between the Old and New Covenants is hugely significant. In fact, lacking a proper understanding of this overarching construct and context of the Scriptures can only result in a misreading of much of the Scriptures.
I favor Matthew because he lays out the entire New Covenant clearly, in one place. First book in the New Testament. Someone else obviously agreed with me. But the balance of the New Testament confirms it again and again.
You imply that I avoid other books, even though I don't. But I could just as readily ask why you don't like Matthew. It is indeed rather inscrutable when read through the lens of modern Bible interpretation. Or just plain harsh, when read literally. Thus the reason I pull it out again and again. There should be a still small voice telling you that until you have come to terms with that book, you haven't truly understood the teaching of Christ.
Now, the key question becomes, exactly when does the New Covenant go into effect? 2000 years ago? Today? Once we are in Heaven?
And if it is a "coming thing", as you claim, then what is the nature of this transition we have been in for the last 2000 years? Dispensationalism labels it "the Church Age", but this does not give it a place as either Old or New Covenant. Scripture is simply silent on such a concept. If the Old Covenant was "nailed to the Cross", then exactly what took its place?
And therein lies the entire problem. Without clarity on the New Covenant, everything else is simply vague. Thus the confusion of modern Evangelicalism.
But there is also a lack of clarity on the Old Covenant. Does it still apply? Did it only apply to Israel? This leads to such confusion as ignoring 80% of the Bible until such time as you need to preach a sermon on Tithing. You never acknowledge such hypocrisy in the church. You simply move along and pretend that all is well.
My present understanding of Scripture started with an understanding of the two Covenants. Once those were clear, everything else fell into place. EVERYTHING.
Now, even as a young Christian I was honest enough with myself to know that I was confused by all I had heard and read about the two Covenants. That confusion lasted for decades and continued through another decade of specifically trying to find a coherent explanation. There is simply no clarity out there in "Bible-believing" churches about THE central issue of Scripture!
My confusion started in Dispensationalist churches. It would continue in Reformed churches, and still not be answered in "Messianic" churches that placed special emphasis on the Hebraic roots of Scripture. I would learn something from all of them, but none of them had one clear, cohesive answer. That would come years later, after leaving the Protestant churches entirely, and prior to my looking into the catholic church.
So this is where the rubber meets the road. Are YOU presently living under the New Covenant? If not, why not? And if you have to wait until you die, why is it not available to us in this life? And if you ARE already living under the New Covenant, then why are you not presently enjoying Heaven on Earth?
I'm pressed for time. I might be a day or two out from responding.
“The “covenants” of Noah, Abraham, or whoever else do not form part of this picture. They were preliminary, or mere introduction to the main event.”
No, both of those are very significant covenants and both of them are still active.
“Thus the confusion caused by Seven dispensations, when all that matters is Two Covenants.”
Well, I look at dispensations as a framework, not hard theology. It isn’t necessarily seven. Anyone putting events and historical markers into a sequence could find many more. There are some people who try to pit dispensations against covenants as if one is better than the other. In my view, both are absolutely valid, they are just a matter of perspective.
“But there is also a lack of clarity on the Old Covenant. Does it still apply?”
There are moral elements of the law which still apply, but I believe those were by and large intact when Abraham, Melchizedek and Job were around. The Levitical feasts and offerings are extremely interesting, and certainly worth understanding. I loosely follow along with the feasts during the year, but only in appreciation. I would not object to using the civil and criminal legal codes as a good reference point for modern laws.
“Did it only apply to Israel? This leads to such confusion as ignoring 80% of the Bible…”
Gentiles were never under the ritual law. I don’t see room for any other conclusion in view of these verses from Ephesians 2:
11 Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands;
12 That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:
13 But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.
14 For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us;
15 Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace;
16 And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby:
17 And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh.
18 For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.
19 Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God
“You never acknowledge such hypocrisy in the church. You simply move along and pretend that all is well.”
Gordon, I haven’t attended a church in 30 years that lives down to your ongoing accusations. There are lots of fantastic pastor/teachers out there who quietly do magnificent work.
“Are YOU presently living under the New Covenant?”
“why are you not presently enjoying Heaven on Earth?”
Because this is not heaven. This is a war zone. We are persona non grata here…subversives.
“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.” Philippians 3:20-21 NASB
You have illustrated the confusion I have been speaking of. You don't actually know what either the Old Covenant or the New Covenant are, or how and when they apply, or to whom.
Modern "Covenant Theology" and "Dispensational Theology" both miss the mark, and there is some truth to be found in both. So yes, I would not argue one over the other.
What I have put forward is a simple understanding of the 2 Covenants that matter in the New Testament. While the covenants with Noah and Abraham have a purpose, and are mentioned, they do not form a significant part of the New Testament teaching. The book of Hebrews, for example, mentions all of these, yet takes special pains to spell out the difference between only the Old and New Covenants. This is the core teaching.
Now, if the moral codes of the Old Covenant still apply, then we are still under the Old Covenant. This is verified by your quote from Paul: "All things are lawful for me ..." Clearly Paul was saying he was no longer under ANY of the Old Covenant, including the moral law. But without understanding the New Covenant, it is impossible to know how this can be so.
It makes no sense under modern theology, as it sounds like I am saying that it is OK to murder and to steal, etc. But there is a bigger picture that is simply missing. I think I mentioned before that in a world with no money or ownership, "Thou shalt not steal" simply becomes irrelevant. Change the circumstances and you change the applicable Law. Hebrews tells us there must be a change of Law.
Our modern laws are presently a curious mix of both Old Covenant and New Covenant law. For example, we still punish murder, but seldom impose the death penalty. Most countries across the globe have already abolished the death penalty altogether. "Thou shalt not kill" is Old Covenant. "Turn the other cheek" is New Covenant. We have both. The perpetrator is under a law that punishes him for killing, but the victim's family is forced to turn the other cheek, because the punishment no longer matches the crime.
I have studied law, and the above is not at all coincidental. We are being "pushed" into a New Covenant reality, even while we insist on clinging to our Old Covenant ways. The march towards Socialism is also part of this. Socialism is merely Acts 4 imposed by the power of the State, since we won't embrace the commands of Christ voluntarily.
The distinction between the "moral" and the "ceremonial" law is a false dichotomy. Show me a precedent for it from Scripture. Most of the ceremonial laws were to atone for sins once one broke the moral laws. Others, such as the feasts, are neither here nor there. The New Testament simply refers to "The Law" or "the Law of Moses". ALL of it, including the "moral Law", was "The law of sin and death."
Unless you want to be under the power of sin and under the power of death, you need to figure out how to get out from under the Law of Moses, including the "moral" law of the Ten Commandments, so that "all things are lawful" for you.
Your citation from Ephesians 2 is read in light of your false separation of the ceremonial law from the moral law. Romans 2 has a different perspective, which places all men under the moral law. Since the ceremonial law was mostly remedial, Ephesians just means that the gentiles did not have the remedy for sin available to them that Israel did. But did that matter, since the point of the Old Covenant was for Israel to prove that it was unworkable!
You have proven to me in many ways, including this latest reply, that you neither understand nor are living under the New Covenant. You have also made clear that this does not concern you. You are happy for life to be completely screwed up while you sit around waiting for that great train to glory. I could not live like that. I don't know how so many people can. But it does prove beyond doubt why this world continues to be so screwed up.
This is not Heaven because most Christians don't know where Heaven is. This is still a war zone because they haven't figured out that the war was won some 2000 years ago. You are persona non grata because you accept the quasi-Gnosticism that is modern Evangelicalism.
How can Jesus pray in Matthew 11:25 to his Father as "Lord of Heaven and Earth", and Paul declare to the Athenians in Acts 17:24 that God is "Lord of Heaven and Earth", if Satan is indeed the ruler of this planet?
Read John 12:31. Jesus was foretelling his death. Satan was "cast out" at the time of Jesus being "lifted up". If this was "cast out" of Heaven and sent to Earth, then Satan was not ruler of this world until Jesus died. A very contradictory notion indeed.
Read John 16:11. Jesus was promising the Holy Spirit. Satan was judged at the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Read Ephesians 6:12. This is not speaking of the "Ruler of this world" as Jesus was. It is only speaking of the "rulers of the DARKNESS of this world".
We are living under sin, not because Satan still holds sway down here, but because we simply choose to do nothing about it. Once again, you do not actually pray "Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, in Earth ..." THAT would be subversive!
You pray, "Take me to Heaven, where your Kingdom already is." And that is NOT what Jesus taught us to pray for! You are doing nothing to change our present world. You are the opposite of a subversive.
The catholic church recognizes the disconnect between our sinfulness here on earth and the impossibility of a sudden, magical transformation into perfection once we die. So they created this notion of Purgatory. It is a logical construct, necessary for everyone who, like yourself, refuses to seek perfection in this life. It is not in the Bible because the Bible tells us to seek perfection in this life!
Phil, you either need Purgatory, or Reincarnation, because the path you are on is NEVER going to get you to Heaven. May I suggest you learn what the New Covenant actually is, so that you can follow the instructions found in Scripture? Then you can dismiss Purgatory and Reincarnation as fanciful notions of man that have no place in God's created order. But you need to choose one of the 3, because "none of the above" leads to the worst outcome imaginable.