True Emotion

September 2nd, 2013 § 2 comments § permalink

Those who rightly experience the world ought to live life in constant emotional turmoil. To understand the world, to see it and feel it as what it is, cannot be a balanced experience, because the world isn’t balanced. The world is full of good and bad and horror and wonder. And if we don’t feel joy and misery and bliss and despair, then I don’t know what we’re experiencing, but it isn’t this world. We should have trouble concentrating at work every day because we are so happy because the sky is blue, and have trouble focusing at work the next day because there is such a thing as a foster system. We oughtn’t be able to sleep one night because a high school buddy’s dad just died of throat cancer, and we ought to sleep like a baby the next night because God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. We were not meant to spend our lives in a quiet contentment, avoiding most pain and experiencing moderate pleasure. No. Because our world doesn’t just sort of avoid most pain and experience moderate pleasure.

Rather, ours is a world of hospital ships off the coast of Africa, fixing the faces of children, bringing together all the ugliness of the vandalism sin has heaped on the innocent and all the beauty of making right what is wrong.

Ours is a world where fish swim under water, where dirt grows green hair, where humans walk like upside down pendulums, where fathers play pitch and catch with their sons, and it is beautiful.

Our world is filled with carnivals and parades and gang rapes. With board games and fish tanks and weapons of mass destruction. With sunny days and blue skies and tsunamis and earthquakes. Every day there are babies crying with their first breath and mothers crying that their baby never got to draw a breath.

If we do not feel that, all the wonder and the ugliness, all the pain and the ecstasy, if we do not laugh in the face of the thunderstorm and then cry to watch the 6:30 evening news, I don’t know what world we are experiencing, but it is not this one.

Then, Let Me Make an Atheist or Two

August 13th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink


Jeff, you’ve responded with ridicule. Allow me to do the same, not because I feel contempt for you, but because we are men, we have minds, we think, and we speak. Let’s respect each other enough for that.

If this is what makes atheists and agnostics, then allow me to make some more atheists and agnostics. For too long the church has been filled with cultural Christians who belong to a country-club community, not followers of Christ who know who their God is. There has been a considerable amount of hot air spent considering what it is that is causing Millenials (among others) to leave the church. Let me propose one more reason: so many of them never believed in the God of the Bible to begin with, and as soon as they come into contact with Him, they flee in disgust. Frankly, they are welcome to flee, not because I despise them and want them out of my church, but because it is honest, and it affords me an honest opportunity to talk about who this God really is. When we relate truthfully, then my opportunity to love them is only greater. So let them become atheists and agnostics.

Perhaps, after all, today’s church is not so unlike the mob in Jerusalem, one week welcoming their coming king, the next calling out for his death, when they see he is not what they wanted. Jesus died so that those, too, could see salvation, but let’s not pretend they were ever following Christ truly.

But that only leads me back to the beginning dispute, the issue of the grand injustice of the genocide of the Amalekites in I Samuel. Frankly, I’m astonished that people get their underpants so twisted about this particular passage. It seems like such a minor incident, at least against the range of Biblical smitings. Allow me to make an argument from the greater to the lesser. This incident is a “lesser.”

Surely we’re all familiar with the flood of Noah. If the Amalekite genocide is unjust for being too broad, the God of the flood makes the God of I Samuel look like a infant throwing a tantrum. Why is this not argued? Or, let’s consider when God threatened to wipe out Israel (Ex. 32). God seems to believe this would be just. Would it have been so? (Though God did not actually wipe them out here, the question is of legitimate significance for assessing the justness of God.)

Honestly, the Amalekites are a people who have tried to wipe out the Israelites, they have remained opposed to God’s plan to bless the nations (which would ironically, include the Amalekites), they are a culture steeped in brutality, and now, above all the examples of in the Old Testament, we shall single them out as the paradigm case of the injustice of God, even when they’re given a chance to repent and escape? Really? (Where is SNL’s Weekend Update when you need ’em?)

Granted, I recall an argument that this was no legitimate opportunity to escape. I quote, “Also we’re not just talking about a country club membership. We’re talking about clan and family ties in the ancient near east. Giving someone an ultimatum of leaving their clan or being killed by yours is the same as not giving them a choice at all. Maybe 1 in 1000 people would take that offer.”

I see your argument, and I’ll raise you this: Isn’t that exactly what Jesus asked of his followers? As we read in Matthew 10, we must love Jesus more than our father or mother. And this isn’t just, well, we love our parents a lot, but we love Jesus even more (!!!), no this is a radical love that makes love for our parents look like nothing at all, indeed like hate (Luke 14:26). Jesus did not come to bring peace, but a sword, to turn a man against is father and a woman against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, so that a man’s enemies will be in his own house. We think it radical that God would require someone to sever their ties to clan and kin? That this is the cost of salvation? Perhaps we are surprised because we have neglected to read enough of the New Testament, where soft, fuzzy Jesus bids us be happy and warm. You say that I Samuel can make an atheist? Then watch Jesus make an atheist, I say.

But let us raise the stakes higher still. God’s justice has been impugned? Let me add fuel to the fire.

In the first book of the Bible, in the first family, where, if anywhere, the earth was least corrupted, where oppression had not yet had a chance to be institutionalized, where the politicians, the mob, the petty criminals, the slave traders and the sex traffickers had never existed, when language did not even have words for such things, there we see our first murder. When Cain killed Abel, God spoke true: “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.” Blood called for blood. Please consider, who, in all of creation has deserved to die more than Cain, who acted against reason, without all of the typical environmental influences we might consider to be mitigating in today’s world of school shootings and drug-addled neighborhoods? Who has killed for less reason? Cain, when disapproved of by God, rather took out his anger at God on the undeserving Abel, who had done him no wrong. Here, I say, we see injustice.

Then, when we get to the New Testament, we see the one being in all the universe who ever did not deserve to die, who alone embodied innocence, whose very righteousness—not unlike Abel’s—arouses the hatred and jealousy of his enemies. It seems ironic: were he less righteous, he would not have had such enemies. But instead here he is, more innocent than any of the Amalekites, for sure, and it is God who crushes him. Nay, here we see God Almighty, creator of all the universe, the cosmic sadist—He was pleased to crush him! You want injustice? I have found a God who is unjust, a God who lets the guilty free and punishes the innocent, who unleashes the full torrent of his own wrath on his own innocent son, but protects the life the first murderer. Am I afraid that the story of the Amalekites will make an atheist? No, but I am afraid that the story of God just might make a few.

Indeed, this is a God who makes a mockery of justice, and I worship him for it.

I acknowledge that I have not addressed every argument made in the facebook comment. Rather, I’ve attempted to set the character of God in a deeper context. The event with the Amalekites is no minor thing. It is vast, difficult, and problematic. I will not pretend otherwise. But I do believe it is in the Bible, and I believe God meant it to be there. It is there primarily to glorify God—to reveal Him to us, so that we may know Him as He really is. He is not (as C.S. Lewis said) a “safe” God. Not all will love Him when they see Him as He is. It is not mine to cause love; I only hope to present Him as He is, as He has presented Himself.

I hope that we have not lost too many teeth in this discussion, but I think we both agree that some things are more important than a few teeth. Jesus, and knowing Him as He is, is more important than that to both of us, or we would not be throwing our fists about so.


My First Sermon

August 7th, 2013 § 2 comments § permalink

Ezekiel 36

Untitled – Written Easter of 2006

July 30th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

Oh I could give the reasons why
A list as long as sees the eye
Of all the goodness found therein
Of beauties shallow and within

But in the end I do not know
whence winds do blow and fortunes go
and why you light my heart aglow
It does not wane, but wax and grow

And so this want to God I give
A sacrifice, this life I live
And will He not then take it now,
For all desire I disavow.

But yet it stays and writes this po’m
And does not fly ‘neath this grand dome
But tortures, tests and bids me wait
Till such a time the feast be ate

Why does He not now make it free?
But bind it to me, bid it be
A ball and chain of thoughts and hurts
as this desire within asserts

And thus, oh soul, I do abide
Though in my pride I have denied
But it is there, deep down, inside
Where for some time, it still will hide.

For the Record, it was a Dark Chocolate Tree

July 27th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

As I sat under the chocolate tree
I thought of what this world was to me
bits of nothings, twisted carefree
in a quest for a bachelor’s degree
(in more ways than one, you see)
But the sun beat down (it was 3:03)
And the tree (it was a fat free tree)
Could not withstand 93 degrees
So it began to drip and run and flee
the solid structure (as it was in theory)

So one day, studying in the University
I thought deep thoughts and much profundity
of shallow things and “all is vanity.”
From the top of the mountains to the sea valley
I traveled and pondered incessantly
But I longed for the shade of my chocolate tree.
Why did the sun, in all its manifest glory
deprive me of the shade of a simple tree
a chocolate tree, (it was so tasty)
It brought such peace (in its lee)
but now is gone, leaving only a cavity
(in my teeth) and I face the sun’s intensity

This sun, the largest of its heav’nly fam’ly,
doth bake and torture none but me
but when looking down at me, wond’ringly
I see that I have become a chocolate me,
melting pleasantly in the violent energy
and, melting done, I flow and pour smoothly
I ebb and flow with currents and eddies
When looking around, suddenly I see
how transparent and thin, this fantasy
is, and how full of empty imagery,
and, though pity I’d felt for the chocolate tree,
I realized the better off it was than had been me

And when I woke (this was a dream, not reality)
I saw that this is, indeed, a fantasy
but unmatched in vibrancy, life, or vitality
and though in me, thoughts were as mere infancy
yet I knew that I was a somebody
moreover, there was a Somebody
Who know all: biology, geometry, futurity
Philosophy, psychology (even theology)
that through existence It traveled comfortably
riding and shaping the seas of time and eternity
Completely acquainted with joy and peace and agony
And sometimes sitting under a chocolate tree.

One God, One Gospel, One Book

October 15th, 2012 § 1 comment § permalink

I heard it said the other day that Christianity would be much more attractive and peaceful if all we had were the four Gospels. The God of the Old Testament and even the God of the rest of the New Testament is a God who is angry and offensive. There is a huge amount of truth to this statement. As Dawkins, Dennet, et al., are correct to point out, the God at the end of the Bible makes the God at the beginning of the Bible look like a pacifist pushover.

Some might wish to argue that the Bible charts the progress of the God-consciousness of a particular group of people. As they progress through history, they learn more of who God is. Their earlier ideas are corrected, and by the end of the book this group of authors is much closer to understanding True Religion, or What God Really Is.

But that argument doesn’t hold water. I agree with my atheist friends, here, at least. The God at the end of the book is worse, in some sense, that the God at the beginning. This is not what might be deemed a positive trajectory. If we want a God who is nice, peaceful, and attractive, we must at least cut off the two ends of the book.

Now we come to the final fall-back position of those who love the Bible but cannot accept much of it as true. The Old Testament is rejected because it is full of a God who throws temper tantrums and wipes out whole nations. Revelation must be rejected because it makes that God look tame and pacifistic. Next we must reject Paul and the other letters because they are full of condemnation, especially regarding homosexuality and all sorts of other things that really aren’t bad. (C’mon, guys, we live in the 21st century. We’ve moved past that.) So we’re left with Jesus.

In Jesus, we find true virtue. He has compassion on the needy. He rails against the self-righteous religious establishment. He hangs out with prostitutes and drunkards. He heals the untouchables. Finally, he gives himself in an act of impressive self-consistency: He does not merely love his neighbor as himself, but he loves his enemy, and does good for those who hate him, even so far as he allows those enemies to kill him.

No doubt, this is love, and an impressive and unparalleled love. We have much to learn and emulate here. With that, no one could disagree.

But Jesus isn’t the tame figure that we may think him to be. More than any other character in the Bible, he talks about hell. As a part of my discussion the other day, I mentioned that Jesus talks about a place where there will be much weeping and gnashing of teeth, this being typically understood as a euphemism for hell. My interlocutor challenged the claim that Jesus would say something like that. To be honest, I wasn’t 100% sure that he used that phrase. So I went home and I started reading the gospels again. (Because one can never read the gospels too many times.) Yes, Jesus did say that. In fact, I’d forgotten how much he said about it. After reading just the first 12 chapters (less than one-third) of Matthew, I felt like my point was made and then some. Jesus was full of compassion, but he was also full of condemnation. To take one without the other is to reconstruct a teddy-bear Jesus, a Jesus who is who we want him to be, who comforts us as we want to be comforted, not a Jesus as-he-is, who comforts us more powerfully than we could imagine from a condemnation more dangerous than we are willing to admit.

Below are just a few references:

  • Matthew 3:12. Here, John the Baptizer says of Jesus that he will “gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Sure, these are not the words of Jesus, but they are how this particular gospel presents him before he’s even said a word. Is it a true characterization, consistent with the rest of this book?
  • Matthew 4:17. The very first words of Jesus public ministry are “Repent.” He does not tell us, “You’re basically good. You just need to tweak a few things about society.” Rather, he says we need to turn around 180 degrees. The ministry of Christ is not one of confirmation and encouragement, but a call to radical change.
  • Matthew 5:21,22. In the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus begins to lecture about the Old Testament Law. Of murderers, he says that they will be liable to judgment. But he goes farther than the law, increasing the burden on the listener when he says, “[E]veryone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment… and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” Jesus here condemns more strongly even than the Ten Commandments. To be murder is bad, but if, in anger, I call my brother an idiot, then I deserve hell.
  • Matthew 5:27-30. We may or may not agree on whether adultery is bad, but again, Jesus goes far beyond the words of the Ten Commandments, claiming that those who lust are guilty of adultery in their hearts. Jesus then launches into this strange discourse where he says that we should cut of parts of our body and throw them away rather than have our whole body cast into hell. What Jesus might be saying about gouging out eyes and cutting off hands is very interesting (and worthy of its own discussion). But that is not the point I’m interested in here. Rather we must see the larger point that we need to get rid of whatever causes us or allows us to lust. Why? Because lust will get us thrown in hell.

Excursus: Jesus vs. Paul

Let’s take a break to contrast the condemnation of Paul with the condemnation of Jesus. Paul is most infamous for his condemnation of homosexuals. But Jesus’s condemnation is actually far more direct and broad. No person gets missed by Jesus’s condemnation. Have you been angry at your brother? You deserve hell. Have you lusted? You deserve hell.

In my case, at least, I find that Jesus has clearly condemned me to hell. This makes him much less comforting. This is a Jesus I might not like quite as much. He does not at all feel like a teddy bear. He takes the Old Testament and does not soften it, but hardens it. If anything, he beats Paul to the punch: “All have sinned” and “The wages of sin is death.” Jesus said that before Paul ever wrote it down.

So of these two, who do you think just condemned more people to hell? Who sets the higher moral standard?

  • Matthew 7:12,13. To over simplify a bit: Many will go to hell. Few will get to heaven.
  • Matthew 7:21-23. Even some of those who claim to minister in the name of Jesus will not be accepted into the kingdom of heaven. (Talk about high standards.)
  • Matthew 10:15. Jesus declares that it will the final judgment will be gentler on Sodom and Gomorrah than for certain towns and houses that he is sending his disciples to.
  • Matthew 10:34-39. Jesus does not talk about hell, here, but he mentions that he did not come “to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter agains her mother, and a daughter-in-law agains her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.” I’m not going to explain what I think that all means, but surely this is not the teddy-bear Jesus we’ve been told to expect in the gospels.
  • Matthew 11:20-24. Jesus condemns an entire city to Hades. He says again, that it will be easier for Sodom at the day of judgment than it will be for that city.

Excursus: Sodom and Gomorrah

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is simple. God told Abraham he was going to destroy the cities because they were so hideously immoral. Abraham begged God for mercy on the cities’ behalf. He was able to negotiate with God to where if Abraham could find 10 righteous people, God would relent from the disaster he had planned.

So God sent a couple of angels down to check out the situation. They stayed at Lot’s house. (Lot was Abraham’s nephew.) During the course of the night, the men of the city came to Lot’s house and told him to let them rape the angels or they would break down Lot’s door and rape them anyway. Lot negotiated with them, saying that he would give his virgin daughters to them (so they could rape them all night long) if they would leave the messengers alone. They did not find that acceptable.

At this point, the angels struck the people of the city with blindness and took Lot and his family to safety. Then, God destroyed the cities with fire and brimstone.

The reason why Jesus alludes to this story (twice!) is this: for some the final judgment will be worse than judgment already was for Sodom and Gomorrah.

But this is also a striking picture of a merciful God in the Old Testament. God did not have to save Lot. In fact, I don’t believe Lot deserved to be saved. He offered to let an entire city rape his virgin daughters. Is that a picture of righteoussness? Frankly, I think that the Jesus I just presented would probably condemn Lot to hell. Perhaps we read a story like this and say, “How could God be so harsh that he would destroy an entire city?” I read that story and I wonder, “Why did God even save Lot?” He didn’t have to. Lot was not righteous. But God is merciful, even on the wicked.

The examples above are taken merely from the first 1/3 (less, really) of the first of the four gospels. I’ve cited examples from less than 10% of the gospels. I’m barely getting started. This is Jesus. This is who he is and what he says. It isn’t pretty, nor is it what we might expect. It is full of talk of swords and fire, of condemnation for trivialities that harm no one, of Old Testament justice visited on an oppressed people.

Some have argued that Jesus was, after all, only human. He was not perfect. He was just a really good example. But when people say that, it is interesting to ask them what Jesus could have done better. they may argue that Jesus was just the best of his age. He understood God better than the Jews of the Old Testament, but we know better yet. We know that God is love, and that he welcomes all.

But then what we end up saying is that Jesus really isn’t that good of an example. He got a lot of stuff right, but we already knew about that, about being kind, not murdering, etc. But we also know that God is a God of love and not a God of condemnation.

So we know better than Jesus.

A Vision of the Good

May 12th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

One of the problems with sections of our Christian subculture is that we’ve forgotten how to feel. There are many things that have contributed to this failure, but one key factor is our set of collective judgments concerning value. The more we value something, the more strongly we feel about it, and the more dramatically we act on it. People don’t get shot because they disagree over the best way to make pumpkin pie. Such a disagreement is not significant to warrant such strong action and the emotion necessary to drive such a decision.

I’m not going to present evidence that many Christians do a bad job of feeling (emotionally). If someone disagrees, that’s fine. Perhaps I’m being far too cynical. But I do have one suggestion to help us learn to feel more strongly and properly.

We need to learn how to view art properly, to interpret it and enjoy it. When we do that, and when we see what it shows us, good art has the capability to move us—to grab us by the shoulders, pick us up, and put us down where we were not—to make us feel what we did not, to make us want what we did not. And this is often something we need.

In particular, art that involves story is able to do this. (I have to admit that I don’t have any knowledge of painting, so I’m going to ignore it and related categories, and music presents its own set of challenges, so it will be ignored, too.) Drama, novels, poems, and films all have a capacity to stir us.

In what way is a film or a novel able to help us feel properly? By presenting us with a vision of the good. Films are not unbiased observers of emotionless events. There is always a relationship that is presented as worth pursuing or a battle that is worth fighting. Someone needs rescued and someone needs punished. These are not detached and uninteresting events, but a presentation of values. We are not merely to see that something is good, but we are too feel it. We are to want what the main character wants, or to hate him. We are to hope that the battle will end a certain way and not the other. Above all, we spend a great deal of time hoping. Something is presented, we are not merely to think that it is good, but to want it and to feel its goodness.

In this way, Gladiator presents a vision of the good. It is a pagan vision, but a vision nonetheless, of a fight that cannot possibly be won, of family, of justice, and an integrity that cannot lose. I do not claim that it is a perfect movie, or even a good movie. I do not claim that it presents a worthy vision of the good, or even an acceptable vision of the good, but it does present a vision, nonetheless, of what its creators think is good. And it picks us up and moves us. It pushes us to want certain things, to love and to hate and to hope.

So, too, Atlas Shrugged presents a vision of the good. It is an atheist vision, but a vision nonetheless. It shows that if we really thing something is valuable, all that is worthless must be sacrificed in pursuit of that value. It is an explicitly philosophical vision of the good; Rand tells us what she thinks is good, and then attempts to portray the logical consequences of her idea in such a way that we will feel its goodness and be repulsed by its opposite. I do not say that she is right, or that her vision of the good even is good, but her novel attempts to make us feel a certain way about the good. It pushes us to love and to hate—to want something.

If we find art that is skillfully made, by artists who do somehow grasp what goodness is, at least in part, we need that. Indeed, that is exactly the sort of thing we are commanded to think on. I do not say that we must go rummaging through the garbage heap of pop culture to find goodness, but I do not think we ought to throw the baby out with the bathwater either. In practicality, we must have the wisdom of Solomon. But if we want to feel rightly, and if we need to learn how to feel rightly, art, and its judgment of what is good, is a good place to start.

Falsifiability and Creationism

September 12th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Falsifiability is the ability of a theory to be proven false. Scientists talk about falsifiability as a criteria by which to consider a scientific theory. A scientific theory that is not falsifiable should not be considered seriously.

For example, suppose I had a theory of that gravity is caused by an invisible witch, who, every Sunday, casts a spell on the universe to keep gravity working for another week. Now, the witch lives on the dark die of the moon, she’s invisible, and she cannot be detected by any conceivable instrument (e.g. heat sensors).

Well, honestly, for all we know, this could be true. We don’t have a very good idea of what makes gravity work. But we still aren’t very interested in seriously considering this theory. Why? well, besides the fact that it involves a witch (or a fairy, if you have young children), it’s impossible to prove it wrong. Scientists are only interested in theories that can be proven wrong.

Now, this may make no sense. Why are scientists only interested in theories that can be proven wrong? Shouldn’t they be interested in theories that can be proven right?

Well, sure, but the problem with theories that can’t be proven wrong is that they might be wrong, but we would never be able to prove it. And that’s very troubling. Consider the Witch Theory of Gravity (WTG). It is (at least I think it is) wrong, but there is no way in the world I can prove it wrong. You can even find the Higgs Boson, but I would just say that the Higgs Boson is a result of the witch’s spell (on Sunday, probably while we’re all so innocently attending the evening service).

Such a theory is utterly uninteresting and unhelpful for the scientist. It’s not even worth investigating, regardless of its truth.

On a sidenote, this is one of the issues that the new atheism has with theism. Dawkins, for example, argues that theism is unfalsifiable—there’s no way to prove it wrong. And that is one point against it. (Dawkins also seems to think that he’s implicitly proven it wrong, but that’s beside the point.)

One area where I think scientists completely mess up their thinking about falsifiablity and unfalsifiability is in the debate over macro-evolution. Scientists often claim that creationism is unfalsifiable. It posits an unobservable past with unique and non-repeating phenomenon. Science is incapable of proving it wrong.

But this is completely backwards. Creation is actually the account that’s easier to falsify. Macro-evolution on the other hand, is unfalsifiable.

For example, to falsify creationism, we just need to wait 8 million years and see if any more fish turn into mammals. If so, we have falsified current creationistic theories.

Macro-evolution itself, though, is not so easily falsified. Let’s say we wait 8 million years (I’m going to spend it on my front porch wearing a very heavy cardigan and smoking a pipe), and no more fish have grown legs and lungs. Humans haven’t grown scales and started laying eggs, apes have not developed civilization and culture, and pigs (still) can’t fly.

“Well,” says the macro-evolutionist, “evolution is evidently slower than we thought.” Eight million years later, given the same data (again), they can still say the same thing (again). There is not empirical piece of data that would prove the theory wrong.

Now I ask, which theory is more like the Witch Theory of Gravity?

God’s Self-Glorification

July 1st, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

I’m engaged in a very challenging and enjoyable email correspondence regarding justification. In the course of the discussion, I mentioned that God’s primary goal is to bring glory to himself.

In response, my interlocutor expressed concern that we might need to reconsider that notion in order to “save” God from “divine narcissism.” I responded with the following email. There are some details which will not be entirely clear because of the nature of our correspondence, but the general gist of the matter is pretty clear.


For someone to worship an idol is for them to attempt to attribute glory to that idol rather than attribute that glory to God. This is wrong, not merely in a moral sense, but in a mathematical sense. It is to treat an idol and God as things other than what they are. It is wrong (in a mathematical sense) to do that with squares and circles. A carpenter shouldn’t treat nails and screws as if they are the same thing. It isn’t right. A carpenter who does rightly will treat each appropriately.

So, too, with God. He must treat himself as God. For God to be willing to allow his glory not to be attributed wholly to him would be for God to commit idolatry. A righteous God must treat himself rightly. As a result of his righteousness, that he always acts rightly (which is the same thing as his justice, that he always dispenses justice appropriately, giving each what they deserve, including himself), he must pursue his glory over all else because he deserves glory over all else.

That may sound narcissistic, but to be otherwise would seem unjust and unrighteous. God cannot but be concerned for his own glory. For him to act as though anything else deserves glory (in the ultimate sense) is for him to act a lie, to be dishonest. It would be like saying that 2+2=5. God doesn’t go for that.

So his righteousness or justice is that he acts rightly and justly, that he treats things (including himself) as they deserve.

(Hmm, I’ve never defined righteousness before. It will be interesting to see if my definition holds up.)

Therefore, because he is righteous, he must pursue his glory. Also, because he is righteous, he must pursue his covenant. (To keep one’s word is to act rightly, especially if you’re omniscient/omnipotent when you give your word. If keeping his word were the wrong thing to do, then he should have known better than to give it. So his righteousness compels him only to make good covenants, and then his righteousness compels him to keep good covenants, which are the only ones he makes.) And lastly, he must keep his covenant because of how not keeping it would reflect on his glory. (That passage in Ezekiel is particularly strong here. Ez.36 (particularly vv.16ff) is considered by many to be the climax of the book.)

Because God is righteous, he not only pursues his own glory, but also cannot permit others to treat him contrary to how he deserves. That would be unjust. We don’t allow people to treat each other contrary to how they deserve; you can file a lawsuit or press charges if someone doesn’t pay what is due or of if they take what is yours. That’s justice. God also is just, so he cannot permit us to treat him other than he deserves; it’s not merely morally wrong but almost mathematically wrong. My math teachers never let me treat a circle like it was a square. So God cannot permit us to treat him as if he is something other than what he is.

But his divine narcissism is actually good for us. For God to treat himself as he deserves is what is best for us, at least for us believers. (And, as if I haven’t been going all John Piper on you already, it’s about to come hard ‘n’ fast now.) We find joy only in relating rightly to what is good, and God is what is good. So for God to permit us to be in wrong relation to him would be allowing us to be miserable. But that God cares so much about his glory that he will not permit me to treat him other than he deserves is to my benefit, because as I begin to treat God as he deserves to be treated, I can be happy, and that’s the only way to happiness. So if God’s highest priority is his own glory, this crazy thing has happened where God’s pursuit of his own glory is the only way that he can cause me to have any sort of happiness. (If that didn’t make sense, ignore it and keep reading. I’ll explain it again differently. Then you can come back and see if this makes sense.)

If God’s highest concern was for the welfare and happiness of his people, suddenly we are the pinnacle and end of his existence. We receive the glory. And that’s not just or right. But if God’s greatest goal is his own glory, then he won’t permit us to treat him wrongly, which means that, for those who are saved, he is transforming us (I don’t think this is justification but sanctification, but we’ll discuss that later, I’m sure.) so that we treat him rightly, and this inevitably results in our own happiness–or “good,” to put it in Romans 8:28 terms.

This boggles my mind, but I think this is true: We want God to be divinely narcissistic, because that’s our own key to happiness. We must enjoy God to have happiness, and God being fully absorbed in his own self-glorification results necessarily in him desiring us also to glorify him which is our greatest source of joy.

Okay, I think I got ahead of myself a bit in the arguing here. Let me step back a bit. Even before we get to glory, we have to start with the fact that God is good. Only good things can cause joy or happiness. (I consider joy and happiness to be basically the same thing. I don’t entirely ascribe to the distinction of C.S. Lewis, though it has some merit.)

When I taught a lesson in Sunday school on God’s goodness and glory, I had the students list all of the things that they thought were “good” in a broad sense, not merely in a Sunday school sense. We compiled a list that, among other things, included ice cream, and Jesus. Isn’t it strange that such different things fall under the same category? But what all “good” things have in common is this: they bring happiness (in some sense) to those who stand in right relation to them. It’s possible to stand in wrong relation to something good. Eating too much ice cream, for example, will eventually bring some amount of pain and suffering. Not standing in right relation to Jesus will eventually bring some pretty severe pain and suffering. But a good thing is that which brings pleasure to those in right relation to it.

Because God is righteous, he is unwilling that any, including himself, stand in wrong relation to himself. Because God is “The Good” this means that he is unwilling for us to stand in wrong relation to him. As we come to be in right relation to the good, we enjoy it (him) which is (obviously) to our benefit.

Therefore, (to repeat the thesis yet again) God’s pursuit of his own glory IS our good, and it is why all things work together for those who love him (those who seek his glory) but not for those who seek to attribute glory to an idol.

Okay, so enough of the glorification stuff. What does this have to do with justification? Well, I’ve given a preliminary definition of righteousness. It is compatible with but not identical with the definitions you’ve given. (Those definitions logically follow from my definition.) The trick then is this, how can God be just (treat us as we deserve to be treated) and justify us (which I’ll define, at least initially, as “declare us to be not guilty,” sticking wholly to the forensic sense until later perhaps.)

But I’ll leave the justification issue to a later email. It would probably be useful to come to some sort of common view of righteousness and glory before proceeding thence.

By the way, you may notice that I use a lot less scripture in defense of my views. That’s definitely a weakness of mine. I don’t believe it’s because I have a bad argument or an unbiblical one, but it’s a reflection of my philosophical process and temperament. I spend a lot of time thinking other people’s thoughts, be they Piper’s or Paul’s, but I tend to synthesize them and repeat them as my own. I don’t remember sources, by the Biblical or otherwise. It’s a weakness I’ll need to address if I intend to go far in academia, but it also means that I don’t depend on the crutch of other writers’ authority when I propose a logical argument.

But I will take just a moment to address the scriptures you gave regarding glory. First of all, I think they’re spot-on when they indicate that God’s primary motivation for his action is his self-glorification. Ez. 36, taken by itself, is clear on that. Of course, we shouldn’t take on passage in isolation. Other passage seem to fall into line with this idea, though, Ps. 143:11, for example, where God’s self-glorification is the basis of appeal, not the predicament of the psalmist.

Now, you give the counter example of the Exodus, where God looks down and has compassion. Is this a case of God having compassion? Well, of course it is, but even the pattern of the Exodus shows God’s interest in self-glorification. If you were to try to rescue a people from Egypt, would you, over and over again, harden the heart of Pharaoh? It’s like God’s playing against himself, trying to get the people set free, but also trying to draw out the process as long as possible. This is because his ultimate goal wasn’t merely to free the Israelites, but to demonstrate his power (to glorify himself). Exodus 6:1-9 expresses this implicitly. The tone of that passage is one of self-revelation. God says, “This is who I am, and this is what I will do.” His actions are not only from compassion, but are also intended that “you will know that I am God.’ (Ex 6:7; 16:6,12; 29:46). God’s motivation of self-revelation is much more strongly noted in Exodus than his motivation of compassion. They are not exclusive, to be sure, but God’s primary motivation was that the Israelites know him. Of course, this is the basis on which we glorify God. We cannot praise that which we do not know. Also, the very end of Exodus, the conclusion of the book is a statement of God’s glory. This is the result of true knowledge of God and what he was seeking by doing the Exodus as he did.

Simply, then, God’s righteousness is that he does right. This means that he must glorify himself and he must keep his covenants. He must conform to his own nature; he must treat himself as what he is and us as what we are. That’s righteousness/justice. That’s why God’s highest priority is his self-glorification. That’s why divine narcissism is a good thing for us, not something from which God needs “saved.”

Apocalypse Now

May 23rd, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

I was rooting for Harold Camping. I mean, I think he was wrong, showed a horrible inability to interpret the Bible, seemed to misunderstand the gospel, and showed a stubborn and arrogantly willful ignorance of his own fallibility, but I would have not minded one bit if the world would have ended.

Let me clarify: I really love this world (not in the “do not love the world, nor the things of the world” sort of way), and I have high hopes for my own future, but, number one, this world really is royally messed up, and number two, the next world is going to be way more amazing than we can even imagine. What’s not to like about the end of the world?

Of course, there is a huge sense of tragedy that comes with the cosmic cataclysm. I do believe that it will be a pretty rough (to make a small understatement) for a lot of people. There is a sense of relief, then, to the world not ending. God continues to patiently wait for more to repent before he finally and fully makes all things right.

But there’s also a huge sense of tragedy among those Christians who were misled by Mr. Camping. In the first place, there are those who sold everything and used up their life savings waiting for the end. They have lives to piece back together again. What was supposed to be a tragedy for the rest of the world has now become a trial for them.

But more importantly, I’m seriously scared for the spiritual condition of those who were led astray by this false prophecy. Now they have to piece their spiritual life back together again. Many will wonder, was it Harold Camping who failed, or was it that the Bible was proven false? this non-event will (no doubt) send many genuine Christians into a serious time of doubt, and perhaps some level of falling away. For this, God will hold Harold Camping responsible.

This is the first tragedy of the non-apocalypse, but the second is perhaps more significant. The perceived failure of God to deliver on his promises has delivered yet more ammunition to those members of society who are already quite willing to make fun of God and Christianity. Our primary objective as Christians is to glorify God, but this event has instead given non-believers yet another opportunity to drag his name through the dirt and ridicule him for his non-existence. The greatest evil of Harold Campings teaching is that he provided yet another opportunity for people to mock God. This is doubly dangerous, both for Camping, and for those who take advantage of the opportunity to mock. This is the ultimate tragedy of the non-apocalypse.

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