Tag Archives: god

Arguments

Boing Boing: Dawkins: Why There Almost Certainly Is No God

I grow weary of continual “he said, she said” rhetoric. It’s a major part of why I’ve more or less tuned out politics, why I’ve even, to some extent, tuned out of religious and philosophical discussion recently. This is more of the same.

It’s interesting to me that the religious say this nation was founded on Christian principles and that secularists say it was founded on secularism. In truth, this nation was founded, in part, on religious freedom, granting each citizen the right to worship as they see fit. So it’s increasingly ironic that Christians and secularists alike continue to try to force their way of thinking on others via politics and strong-arm techniques rather than through the power of persuasion and one-on-one discourse. Regardless of who is right and who is wrong, I don’t believe there is any room for anger, hatred, bitterness, and strife in the mutual pursuit of truth. And let’s face it – aren’t both sides looking for truth? Naturally, different people are going to arrive at different conclusions. People are going to disagree, sometimes even violently so. That, unfortunately, is the nature of humanity. It doesn’t make it right, of course.

I guess what bugs me the most when I hear this kind of dialogue being spouted in a public forum is the fact that so much of it is laced with anger and bitterness. I can understand, to an extent; frankly, I find my hackles going up everytime I hear someone harshly criticizing my own beliefs. It’s a natural reaction; no one likes to be told they’re stupid and foolish for believing a certain way. No one likes to be made fun of. But just because those emotional reactions rise up does _not_ mean that we should allow them to rule us and govern our reactions. Just because I’m angry and hurt at what someone said about me, whether directly or indirectly, does not give me the right to respond with anger of my own. Don’t you see? That just makes the problem worse.

“A soft answer turns away wrath…” Words to live by, folks. Do you hear me?

Finite to Infinite

I’ve been delighted that a “friend”:http://fadingdust.wordpress.com of mine has joined the ranks of bloggers. He never fails to stimulate my thinking, and his “entry”:http://fadingdust.wordpress.com/2006/09/03/evil-problems/ from the other day is no exception:

bq. As to another application, while studying philosophy here in seminary, I’m curious about Plato & Natural Theology. Philosophy has always been ‘searching’ for a conception of God that is ‘pure-God’, consistent, full, beyond disbelief. But it’s a search without an end. Who’s to say your conception of God “is”? You conception of God will never be The Concept of God, it will always only be Your Conception of God, in-so-far as it’s based only in your head & not in external info (like God’s own self-revelation).

As usual, I’m taking one piece of his monologue and running in a slightly different, but related, direction with it. Yes, I like philosophical rabbit-trails. They’re fun.

He’s correct in saying that no conception of God will ever be consistent, full, or beyond disbelief. Ultimately, none of us can ever have a concept or understanding of God that is comprehensive and total. God is, by definition, infinite; we as humans are, by definition, finite. It is simply impossible to fit the infinite into the finite. The finite will never be able to contain it all, let alone comprehend it or understand it. This is the nature of the created to the Creator. He will always, ever be so much bigger than us that all we will ever be able to understand of Him will be just the very, very tip of a massive iceberg. In point of fact, it is safe to say that our human (finite) understanding of an infinite God will always be infinitely small.

This is exactly the reason why faith is a necessary factor in relating to an infinite God. We have to understand that, since we are infinitely smaller than Him, there will always be an infinite number of things about Him that we simply cannot comprehend or understand, that will be forever beyond our reach to see, know, or experience. This is why faith is absolutely crucial to our ability to relate to an infinite God. We have to trust that God is good, despite the fact that He does not reveal everything to us, knowing that we are simply unable to grasp all that knowledge.

This is also why science will always fail to fully explain everything that exists and happens in the universe. Science is, by its very nature, a finite tool. It is a construct of finite men and so is inherently limited. Because the ability of men to see and know and understand is limited, so too is science limited in the same ways. Science _is_ a useful tool for learning more about that which finite men can experience, but science can never be the all-encompassing, comprehensive tool of study that mankind would like it to be.

Faith and science are not mutually exclusive tools. They are, in fact, complements to one another, particularly when wielded with wisdom and patience.

Hold the Line

It could be I am simply overworked and weary right now, but I find that I have little more than an apathetic interest in the broad view of the world right now. It is a fine line that one must walk, an acrobatic tightrope of sorts. On the one hand, the broad view is necessary for forward motion to occur – on anything, in any issue. On the other, too much focus on the broad view causes one to lose sight of important trivial details. So a balance must be struck with one eye on the broad view, with the end goal in sight, but with the other eye focused on the details that must be considered and put in place so that one may ultimately arrive at said goal.

Sometimes the balance can be found by looking at both the broad and the narrow views simulatanously, skillfully juggling the two to manage one’s state of affairs with grace and poise. Sometimes, though, one must place one’s total and complete concentration on one or the other view (never forgetting about the forsaken view, merely pushing it aside for a spell) in order to deal with the issues at hand. Generally, one must look away from the broad view for a while and focus on the narrow. The little details of life, the pebbles of minutiae, pile up such that there is a gargantuan pile of rubble in your path, and the general must be forgotten for a time in favor of handling the very specific.

These past few weeks, whenever I attempt to look at the broad view, to focus on the issues and their corollaries, I am blinded and overwhelmed. All I see are conflicts and divisions, strivings and contentions. It’s not that these battles were not there before; they certainly were. The issues and the folks involved in them have not changed. It is simply that I have become more burdened by matters closer to home and so do not have the personal resources available to invest into solving the world’s problems. ((A bit of tongue-in-cheek there, for those who missed it.)) What I know is that I see folks everywhere who claim to be striving toward unity yet who seem not to notice the ‘us-versus-them’ mentality in their own thinking. I also see folks who know they have such divisions in their thoughts and who simply don’t care, nay, who even foster such strife and animosity.

This is, of course, the way of men, the way of a fallen world, and ever will it be so until God completes His work of redemption. For now I must pull back from the fight and tend to matters at home. I may stick a sword in here and there, but it is swung only halfheartedly. It is simply too much for me when those under my charge more immediately require my attention. I have not completely disengaged from the fray; I can still hear the battle sounds of my comrades in the heat of the fight. They hold my place on the line, knowing I shall soon return and lend my strength once again to the greater good of the whole.

Relating to the Powers-That-Be

My Bible study from a couple of days ago wanted me to write out what I have learned about submission from a series of verses. This was the second one on the list.

bq. ^5^Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.
Romans 13:5

There wasn’t much to go on there. The ‘therefore’ indicated that there was an entire discussion prior to this verse and that this phrase was simply the conclusion. Additionally, because I read the verse alone, ‘because of conscience’ left me wondering exactly what Paul was talking about. Context is always critical in the exposition of Scripture, so I backed up a few verses to the beginning of this thought.

bq. ^1^Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. ^2^Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. ^3^For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. ^4^For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. ^5^Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.
Romans 13:1-5

Now, this passage clearly indicates that all authorities in all governments the world over are put into place by God Himself. There is no leader that has his position that God has not willed to have that place of prominence. Therefore, rebellion against these authorities is also direct rebellion against God. In rebelling against our leaders, we are, in essence, shaking our collective fists at God and saying that His choice of a leader for us was bad.

What I find interesting about this passage is the statement that doing what is right will reap a commendation from the one in authority, where doing wrong will reap only terror. Now, granted, this is not always the case. Sometimes doing the right thing will, in fact, earn us an undesirable result, but I do know of stories where someone did the right thing, even under a merciless dictator, and was rewarded for doing so. The principle applies – doing the right thing will usually earn the respect of those in charge.

I do think that this passage supports the notion that we get the leaders we deserve. I think of a country like Iraq, burdened for so long under the cruel government of a murdering dictator. Or Iran, with their continual problems with harsh leaders. This begs the question – would an entire nation that serves a god other than Jehovah naturally find themselves governed by ruthless leaders? Is that why Iran continues to have problems with bloodthirsty authorities? Another question then – would we, as a nation, then be wrong or unjust to interfere with what God has established by removing these leaders from power? Or would that, too, be in God’s will, either by providing a new, hopefully better leadership (i.e. democratic government) or by instituting an equally ruthless dictator (i.e. putting Saddam in power)? Either way it goes, I believe that it still works out in God’s will. He still provides the leadership that the people deserve, for however long that may be.

Ultimately, the admonition is clear and still relevant to today – we submit to God’s appointed authorities, whether they be political, religious, or social, so that we might avoid His judgment but also because it is the only right thing to do. He placed them where they are for our benefit, and as such we are to obey them.

Voice in the Wilderness

Another atheist blog got added to my blogroll today. Obviously, I don’t agree with the vast majority of this young lady’s opinions, but I do find that her articles are articulate and very thought-provoking. I also find myself deeply saddened (though, I’m sure she would probably say that there is no reason for me to feel that way).

Here is one of those individuals whose writing gives me so much to think about and say in response – counter opinions and counterarguments to every belief, perception, and conclusion she poses, assurances that there are ‘religious answers’ to all her questions, promises that there really _are_ religious people out there who _do_ actually seek unity in their faith, rather than divisions and sectarianisms. But she is also one of those individuals who is widely read by a diverse audience. There are already many believers who are shouting their own thoughts and opinions in response – many of whom seem to have both correct theology and an appropriate attitude of respect and compassions, many of whom do not.

It seems like it would be a vain effort to add my own voice to the throng. I would be just one noise in the din, one that would, in all likelihood, be lost or ignored. Would it even be worth the effort to add my opinion to those already offered, my assurances to those already given? It seems like a futile effort, particularly when there are others who are already saying exactly what I would say, particularly when those others have already been shrugged off.

This is one of those times and places where I feel like it might be wiser to just remain silent. I don’t know if she is even still searching for answers; it certainly seems like she has arrived at an ironclad conclusion, one that she will not be shaken from – at least not easily.

This is possibly the first and biggest proof as to why virtual relationships will _never_ replace real ones. As much as I love the digital realm for sharing ideas and furthering discussion and the expansion of one’s own mind, when it comes right down to it, blogs and discussion forums will never prove an adequate substitute for a physical presence in someone’s life.

It has been “suggested”:http://www.rmcrob.com/?p=2697 that the next “Billy Graham will be a geek”:http://www.e-church.com/Blog.asp?EntryID=53109 ; to wit, the next great evangelist will be a blogger. And this may be true, to an extent. Blogging has certainly allowed many to give voice to their convictions and inspire and encourage others with truth from Scripture. “Talk”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/?p=201 is “cheap”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/?p=8 ; it will only convince an unbeliever of just so much. Ultimately, your actions must back up your words, and they have consistently proven to be far more persuasive than anything that can ever be said.

I don’t know if someone like this young lady can ever be convinced that God really does exist, let alone that He loves each and every one of us. I do know that no amount of talk has convinced her to this point, and the actions that she _has_ seen by the religous at large has proven to her that God does _not_ exist. But I also know that a single person can have a profound impact on an individual. I know that even the most hardened atheist can come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. But I also know that it is usually those personal relationships with other living, breathing human beings that serves as the catalyst. So, as much as we all love our little digital worlds, as much as we all love our writing, there comes a time when the keyboard needs to be set aside and the computer turned off, when we need to put on our shoes, tie up the laces, and take a walk in the real world. The sunshine will do us good, and maybe, just maybe, _we_ will be the one who impacts someone in a profound way so that they can see Jesus.

Finite to Infinite

Science and rationality cannot _disprove_ the existence of God, just as they cannot _prove_ the existence of God because God is far larger than anything that exists. Nothing that we have available to us can ever explain something that large. It’s just like the way the “created”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/?p=498 can never be anything but less than the Creator. Science and rationality are so much smaller than the Creator that they cannot ever hope to prove, let alone explain, His existence. Science and rationality are products of a limited universe. There are boundaries, by definition, on what we can see and know. God, on the other hand, the Creator, is by His very nature, by His very definition, infinite and boundless. It’s kind of like trying to fit a miscroscopic point to an infinitely large three-dimensional figure – it simply cannot be done. The finite point can never be made to fit to an infinite figure because by its very nature it is limited, finite. So science and rationality are to God. They are the finite point, and God is the infinite figure. Science and rationality and philosophy and theology all are limited because they must be able to fit inside the finite, and thus limited, minds of finite, and thus limited, men. So they, by their very nature, will only ever be able to describe an infinitely miniscule part of an infinite being. If you find any or all of these woefully lacking in their ability to describe and define an infinite God, it is because they _are_ woefully lacking, as ever will they always be woefully lacking.

Yet, God allows us, His finite created beings, to know and understand some miniscule part of Himself. How “wild”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/?p=467 is _that_?

It’s Not About Christians

It’s always sad when the Body of Christ drives its members away. I’ve written at length in the past about the state of the American church and how we need to strive to refocus it toward the ideals that Christ taught, spurning the lackadaisical attitudes that have become so common in our culture.

But I want to focus on another perspective, that of the “former Christians”:http://deadyouthpastor.blogspot.com/. I understand where people are coming from here. I’ve been there myself — bitter and cynical and tired of the way things are in so many of our churches, among the very people who are supposed to demonstrate a higher calling and a better way of life. And when Christians turn their backs on God and church and begin calling themselves ‘former Christians’, that says one of two things to me — either they were never Christian to begin with, or they have simply allowed the flesh to rule out over the power of Christ to renew and restore, a very easy thing to do, I might add. I hurt for these people because I know what it feels like to be in that place, angry at Christians for being just regular people, for saying they represent a Higher Power but acting like everyone else and for not being different or special.

But it’s not about Christians, and it never has been. It’s always been about Christ, and while it’s extremely easy to focus on the people, that is not where our eyes should be set. I am learning again what it means to set my eyes on things above, what it means to live by the power of God exactly because Christ is my focus and not the people around me. When you focus on people, all you see is failure and shortcomings. When you focus on Christ, all you see if holiness and light and joy and peace. Focusing on people leads to the kind of bitterness and anger that we see so often in people who walk away from church. We see people who should know better and yet who fall into the very behaviors we are called to reject. It is only by focusing personally on Christ that we can find hope again, that we can see other people as Christ sees them, as people in need and worth reaching out to and drawing into the fold. We focus on Christ, and in turn, He grants us His vision to see the world as He sees it, restoring our spirits, restoring our hope, restoring our purpose. By focusing on Christ, we can then reach out to those Christians who have lost their hope and return them to the place that has meaning, restoring them to fellowship with the Body. But it starts with us, it starts with me. I must be focusing on Christ if I ever hope to help another do the same.

Lust: Defining It, Understanding It

Ben “asks”:http://scatteredwords.com/2005/12/what-is-lust/ another very good question:

bq. Everyone decries it, but no one really explains. I spent some time today trying to find someone, somewhere on line who had a good handle on what it is. Obsessive sexual desire, or just sexual desire? To hear some, you’d think the latter, but I can’t believe that. The investigation continues.

The KJV uses the word ‘lust “53 times”:http://www.biblegateway.com/keyword/index.php?search=lust&searchtype=all&version1=9&spanbegin=1&spanend=73, where the NIV uses it only “31 times”:http://www.biblegateway.com/keyword/?search=lust&version1=31&searchtype=all&limit=none&wholewordsonly=no, usually in a sexual context. Probably the most accurate definition of ‘lust’ is ‘any selfish “desire”:http://weblog.burningbird.net/, particularly one that interferes with a right relationship with God and that dominates the entire individual such that he or she leans in an obsessive and worshipful manner toward attaining said desire.’ There is nothing wrong with temptation, _per se_, since all of life is comprised of temptation. But temptation crosses over into lust when we allow ourselves to succumb to it, when we ruminate on that desire and obsess over it. Such obsession controls us, effectively ruling over us because it dominates our minds and our behaviors, as we fantasize about having it, about what we would do with it, about how we would go about acquiring it. This level of obsession then interferes with any pursuit of God by taking our attention away from Him.

The definition of ‘lust’ has narrowed over the years because few things cause such obsession as sexual gratification. I can lust over a car to the point where it is all I think about and such that it controls my behavior so that the only things I do are focused completely on acquiring said vehicle. But more and more our society is driven by sexual gratification first and foremost, and so when we say that someone has committed the sin of lust, we generally think of the sexual application of the term.

To answer Ben’s question more specifically, lust is _not_ just sexual desire, for sexual desire is natural and part of how God created us. Lust arises out of an obsessive sexual desire that is purely selfish and dishonoring, both to God and the object of the desire. In the instance of sexual relations, for instance, a man lusts after a woman when his only thought is how to use her for his own pleasure and enjoyment, with little care given to her. True romantic love, on the other hand, involves the mutual sexual gratification of both lovers, which is, in itself, glorifying to God. (Note: it should not have to be said that only monogamous, heterosexual intercourse between a man and woman married to one other is pleasing to God.) Ben, I think the reason why so few explain lust is because few people really understand it. Few Christians today, especially, consider it a ‘pure’ topic to think about, let alone discuss, and so it leaves a gap in our teaching and training that really ought to be filled.

Pointless Speculation, Revisited

bq. What about questioning the existence of God, the legitimacy of the Bible, whether or not one should be living to bring glory to God? Are these also questions one should speculativly ask? “#”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/index.php/archives/69#comment-180

Absolutely. I think everyone asks these questions at some point in their life, and probably more than once. Growing up I was raised in a particular way of belief. As a teenager I took that belief system for granted. It wasn’t until I got to college that my belief system was challenged, both by practical living and by my academics. I asked myself a lot of difficult questions — does God really exist? what if He really doesn’t, what then? what would it mean for my life now and in the future if we really are all alone in this universe? could evolution be true? could Christians be wrong? how do we know the Bible is true? how do we know that Christianity is the one, true faith? is God really good? why couldn’t God have created man without the ability to sin? if God knew man was going to sin, why did He create him anyway? what was the point of doing all this? did God need company? I asked myself all these questions and so many more. And I didn’t ask them once or even twice. I ran through them many, many times over the years. I conducted heavy research, talked to a lot of different people, wept and cried and wrestled with the questions and the answers. I was no less a Christian, even though there were points when my faith flagged, even though there were times when I really thought maybe Christianity was a bunch of garbage and lies and myths.

Ultimately, though, I came back to Christianity as the only complete answer for everything. Part of what swayed me was the general revelation of the world around me — I found it impossible to believe that the level of complexity this world, this universe exhibits could come about by some cosmic accident, even one that took billions of years. Over the years I have systematically answered all of these questions for myself. In the process I have made my belief system my own and become more convinced than ever. It does not mean, however, that I am opposed to listening to new viewpoints and contemplating them for a time. But what it does mean is that I subject every viewpoint to the same scrutiny that I ran my own belief system through. What has happened is that every other viewpoint has folded up beneath that level of questioning, leaving my own belief system as the only one able to answer every question and to answer it well.

All this to say one thing — yes, I believe that these are all questions that one can speculatively ask. I believe that it is expected that we should ask them, that it is good and healthy to do so. Not everyone will arrive at the same answers, of course, and many who arrive at different answers will criticize and belittle those who come to different ones. But the process of searching out your own worldview is important, and I do not think that there is any question that is off-limits. Ask the questions, find the answers. Through the process everyone will have the opportunity to choose or reject God. Through the process He will get all the glory.

Just a Single Data Point

It’s always a little bit frightening (read ‘scary’, ‘nerve-wracking’) to “discover”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/index.php/archives/60#comments you are being read, and then that you are being “taken at least somewhat seriously”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/index.php/archives/60#comment-108 (but then again, isn’t that exactly part of _why_ we write?). Frankly, I find this fact to be both humbling and gratifying at the same time — humbling in that my thoughts are being shared and my words being read and that they are having some sort of impact on the world around me, and gratifying in that this fire to write is being satisfied, that there is discourse to be had about the things that interest me, and that God is using this to (hopefully) further His Kingdom.

I think that what I find so frightening about actually affecting others with my writing is two-fold. First, there is always the fear that my thinking is incorrect. This is part of why I write, though, to share my thoughts and to let other people try to punch holes in them as best as they can. How can I ever grow in my philosophy, theology, and ideology if I am never challenged to defend them? And what cannot be defended should be looked closely to determine why it cannot be defended. In the process the chaff is discarded and what is left is a pile of golden nuggets of truth. I just fear, sometimes, that in this process of discourse I will inadvertantly steer someone wrong. I can only hope that others are seeking truth in much the same way I am and that they will also critically analyze everything with hopes of filtering out the junk.

The other fear that niggles at the back of my brain is the recognition that not everyone recognizes the fact that a person’s individual writings are, generally, representative only of that individual. They are but a single data point in the entire population and should be analyzed as such. For instance, while I “believe”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/index.php/archives/60 that worship is probably best placed at the end of a church service, not everyone is going to feel that way (hence my suggestion to mix it up). My opinion may, in fact, be in the minority, since a lot of people don’t like to deviate from tradition. My point is simply that I fear someone may read my thoughts (sounds a little bit ESPish, doesn’t it?) and ascertain from them that this is the general consensus of the population, when, in fact, I am typically just tossing out an alternative idea. (Don’t get me wrong, “cindy”:http://www.cindybryan.com — I’m not worried that you have fallen prey to this error. Your comment just reminded me of this little brain-niggler.)

These fears are probably actually a good thing, to an extent. They force me to be careful in my writing, to really think through my arguments and make sure I spell them out as clearly as I can. And then I share them and wait for the feedback that helps me shape these thoughts in an ever-better perspective. We can learn from each other, and _that_ is the real reason why I write.